Self-care: Part Two
Self-care is essential to the happy functioning of your family.
Self-care is not, however, ensuring that everyone in your family is behaving according to your plans and standards so that you can finally have a rest.
Self-care happens in the middle of the muddle, when things are at their most stressful, when you feel the least capable of meeting your own expectations and hopes. That frazzled feeling? A flashing red warning light that you need to take a self-appointed time out.
Check your body:
- your jaw,
- your neck,
- your shoulders,
- your brow,
- your temples.
Check your energy level:
- ordinary tasks sound overwhelming,
- resentment toward those around you for not cooperating with your plan for their lives,
A few principles will help you get what you need:
1) Stop requiring others to meet your expectations for them. It’s hard to do, but it helps once you get the hang of it. This looks like letting go of your idealized vision of your child or partner, and accepting the person in front of you as that person is.
Today, you can practice by withholding suggestions. Make no behavior suggestions for the whole day. If a toddler or too young child needs some guidance to avoid certain death or vandalism, step in wordlessly and help. Take judgment, nudging, guilting, and shaming out of today’s vocabulary.
2) Stop matching your home to a picture in your head. Focus on the home in front of your eyes. Make one or two adjustments to what you see that bring you pleasure when you see them. Move a sofa, vacuum behind it, change the pillows, add a vase of flowers. In the midst of the mess, make one or two positive changes to the home rather than wishing you had time to overhaul the whole space.
3) Call a spade a spade. Don’t forgive so easily. If you are wounded by words (from a child, from a spouse), say so. Show your hurt or pain, don’t swallow it. Say it with feeling words, “I feel unimportant to you when you say…” or “I feel sad, bad, mad when you say…” or “I feel taken for granted when…”
There are even times when a shout as response is perfectly appropriate: “Hey! Stop that! That hurts!” or “I don’t like that! I feel used/mistreated/taken advantage of when you do/say/yell that!”
The biggest source of “energy drain” in anyone’s life is pretending that things are okay when they really really really are not. Stop pretending.
4) Ask for help. People love to be valuable. Ask for help sincerely, not to guilt anyone. Ask a family member that drives to go get you your favorite drink or to pick up bath salts. Ask your oldest child to run herd on the rest of the kids while you take 15 minutes to read a book in a different room. Ask the youngest children to set the table any way they want so you don’t have to. Ask a spouse to give you 20 minutes so you can take a walk or go for a run.
Don’t steal time—you know you should be with the children but you just want to read one more blog, or one more response to the forum post… We do this when we are bored, stressed, or not attending to our selves. We sneak what we need and then feel badly about it later.
Use that blog or that forum thread as a time out for yourself, deliberately taken, at a time in the day when you can give yourself to it without guilt or the vague sense of shame that you are not quite taking care of the kids, but you are also, darn it, so tired and you deserve a break….
Self-care is intentional. It’s also a great model for your children (and your spouse). When they see that you choose to go out with friends once in a while, or take up a new course of study, or need ten minutes to regroup, or that you are more interested in your own life than in regulating theirs, they become aware that they can live that way too. When you let them know when they hurt you, when you speak up for what you need, when you ask for help, you are teaching the whole family how to care for one another.
You are not the sole designated need-meeter, nor are you responsible to fashion a vision for this family that you single-handedly foist upon or require from everyone.
Your true vocation in the home, in your family, is to be a source of care—for others, but also for self. The symbiosis of these two will create the momentum you need to sustain all kinds of wonderful activities and intimacies for a long time to come.
See Part One here.
Cross-posted on facebook