Let’s start off this blog post by pointing out the elephant in the room …. GUILT.
Lots and lots of guilt. Attached to the idea that I should be taking time out for myself.
Who is this crazy woman?
I figure I’m a pretty normal sort of person most of the time, but when it comes to what goes on in my head when I bump up against the burn-out wall? Well, let’s just say it’s not that pretty and it’s not that normal. If you consider normal to mean that you value yourself as much as you value others. Interestingly, no one else around me seems to think I’m less valuable in terms of needing time off than them. They all actively encourage me, but there’s a nasty little gremlin in my head that tells me… they’re my priority and it’s my job to be educating them or looking after them 24/7.
Okay, so maybe I am crazy after all.
In fairness, I’m now a recovering crazy person.
The realisation that one of the best ways kids learn is by seeing behaviour modelled for them was a nasty moment for me. The idea that it’s not an ‘either them or me’ situation also took a while to bed in. But now I get it. I need the time for my own benefit, my family’s benefit and as an important life-lesson for my kids. They need to see that their Mum values herself, and that she looks after herself. I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking this is the right way to go about being a parent. So now I have an extra incentive – I’m teaching them a life skill just like I did with brushing their teeth and making food.
So, what does a struggling, recovering, guilt-laden parent do for self-care? Well, whatever flicks your switch, even if It needs to be a small thing to start off with.
I instigated a daily walk with my kids. I’m the sort of person who needs to get out in the sunlight as often as possible, especially through winter, in order to feel good. The walks get us all out in the fresh air, with a light amount of exercise thrown in. When the time permits I try and do really long walks on my own, but they are still a rarity. I’m a work in progress and as my kids grow up I’m hopeful of making these walks longer and with a little more speed to them.
I indulge my creativity whenever I can. I take photographs, either out on my own, or if I can’t get free time to myself – with my kids. It isn’t always possible to have time to myself, and sometimes the guilt of taking big chunks of time out of our weekends makes it hard. So I compromise. We take a family field trip and as part of that I make sure the camera comes out and that I sneak my creativity in to my day that way.
I write whenever I can too. Blogging is a great outlet for me and can be crammed in to a spare hour or so. Often I write book reviews as a way of combining two things I love to do. And there’s nothing quite like the bliss of going to the library on my own, to browse quietly and without distraction. The urge to rush through the process and head home quickly still strikes every now and then, but it is getting better. And on my good days (read: feeling less guilty) I even indulge in finding a cafe for an added treat.
I still have hurdles to climb – like getting fit and eating better. But at least I’m finally on the road to better self-care, and like I’m always telling my kids – mastery comes from practice, so practice I will.
Edited to add:
Every now and then the hurdles get pretty big, and sometimes the best self-care is to take a guilt-free break. It’s pretty hard to face that sort of decision when your inner driving force is all about working for the betterment of others. But that’s where we sometimes need to go. Self first, others second. Only then can we hope to keep giving our best efforts to those around us.
It’s also a bit of an ego issue, albeit a subconscious one and not related to a narcissistic temperament. They need me to always be available. Things will fall apart if I’m not the one doing and organising and driving us forward. Well, guess what sunshine? The world doesn’t stop when you take some time out. In fact, it might just be the perfect thing for everyone if you stopped trying to be in control of everything. Maybe they will learn to take control. Maybe they can be self-organising. Maybe they will learn to step up to the plate when they need to. If you don’t give them the space to try, then they and you will certainly never find out if it is possible.
Take the break. Fill your bucket with fun, creative, healthy adventures to re-invigorate yourself. Let those around you step up for themselves; let them stretch their abilities and grow as people. You are, in fact, doing the opposite of being selfish – you are empowering others.