More and more we keep hearing the words “self-care”. So many of us parents don’t practice self-care, and recently I discovered how legitimately important it is. Allow me to take you through how I landed here.
Do you revel at the pure happy that pours out of children- your own and other people’s children included? A child that doesn’t smile or exude joyfulness often sticks out like a bluejay in a sea of canaries. I think it’s because most children, naturally, just ARE happy. So when we see a child that doesn’t seem happy, it sort of gets stuck, almost like a pause button has been pressed. Fast forward to adulthood and try to apply the same observation. It doesn’t quite work does it? We adults were once young, ebullient, energized, smiling children. But now, having experienced the real word, disappointment, responsibility, and perhaps parenthood sometimes we find ourselves wondering- have I smiled yet today? All of us are different;some people are more serious, reserved, some are shy, bubbly, etc. you get the point. Whatever personality type you are, the unjaded childhood version of you that was once there changes. This made me realize for these last 8 or so years, I’ve been of the serious type more often than not. My general manner for the bulk of my life has been happy and upbeat. But time and time again throughout my thirties, my sunny disposition felt like it was in hiding. Which begs the question-what changed? Well, I became a parent when I turned 30.
It’s no secret that when you become a parent life as you know it shifts. It’s no longer about you and your every breath and action revolves around this precious life that you’re trying to raise, nurture, and keep safe. While there are extreme highs and lows within the role of parenting, there is one thing that is constant-the lack of time for one’s self. Then think about how you spend the time you actually DO get for yourself. You’ve likely heard the term I referenced at the beginning of this article: self-care. For some of us though, if we were already used to not practicing self-care before becoming parents, then the idea of it seems like a farce once you actually are a parent.
It wasn’t until a few months ago through EMDR therapy that I discovered why self-care felt so incredibly foreign to me. Our experiences up to the point of becoming parents shape how we view ourselves – these experiences define and contribute to how we value our self worth. It turns out that inner voice everyone has can really dominate your decisions. I’ve come to learn my inner voice happens to be quite mean. I wonder how many other people out there have a negative inner voice in their adult life, that has somehow snatched a megaphone during parenthood? Perhaps as a result of this critical voice, the idea of prioritizing self-care feels the same as it would to someone with germaphobia and OCD trying not to wash their hands after touching a door handle. To put it simply: it feels like an impossibility that we should make ourselves a priority.
I understand that of course our younger years were very different from adulthood. Think back to your own childhood for a moment. If you’re like me, and you were raised in the 80’s and 90’s, then you were raised on tree climbing, kickball, outdoor tag, flag football in the street, catching lightning bugs in jars, and pushing frogs in your buggy. The outside world was our jungle gym and we were certainly “free range”. The elementary school years were just sheer happiness for the most part. Even in spite of rockiness that ensued at home for any of us, the happiness was just sort of there regardless.
As your life progresses, you meet your love, get an apartment together, you get married, you travel for a minute, and you decide to take the plunge and have a baby. Suddenly your world is flipped upside down. No one can prepare you for this wild ride or the emotions that come along with it. Someone once told me “You wear your heart outside of your body now and forever when you have children. The more you have, the more of your hearts are walking around -and the more you worry”. This pretty much sums it up.
However, as your children get older, and you’re not as panicked about them running into the street or falling down the stairs, you find yourself starting to turn your attention for the first time in a long time to yourself. Having the time to focus on yourself means listening to what your mind and body needs. All of a sudden you’re paying attention to why you do the things you do. You’re starting to focus on aspects of yourself that maybe you’ve never given a second thought to.
For me, personally, I have learned that I book over my “me” time subconsciously on purpose. I somehow make myself think that I’m undeserving of time for myself. Think for a second what you do for yourself as it relates to self-care. Do you take a bath? Do you exercise? Do you take an hour to do something you love each day? For those of you that are nodding and saying “Yes, I have always done this and will continue to do so”–you’re way ahead of the game, and I’m just now catching up.
Now that I’ve done the work, I’ve acknowledged the voice is there, and I should fight as hard as I can to ignore it. I’m not talking about ignoring a gut feeling- that’s different. I’m talking about the voice that tells you to ignore what you NEED to do for yourself. The voice that says to just answer one more email, make one more call, or do one more thing for the kids. It’s wrong about my worthiness, it’s wrong about the guilt I should feel any given day about my kids, and it’s wrong when it tells me I don’t deserve time for myself.
If you find yourself taking a call right at the time you had planned to work out, or saying “yes” to something for your child right when you had planned to take a bath, or scheduling over your short time you’ve alloted for your “me” time again and again, ask yourself why you perpetually sabotage your “me” time. If you don’t feel it’s perpetual, then you’ve likely got a healthy grasp on the importance of self-care. If you’re like me, and it’s something that happens every day, I’m telling you it’s completely subconscious and you should try to seek out the “why” so you can head it off at the pass.
Through this EMDR therapy, I’ve come to learn several things about why I do what I do. Specifically, why I’ve never truly understood what caring for myself actually means. Everyone and everything else has always mattered significantly more.
When we make time to exercise regularly, meditate, read a book, or relax however we see fit, we feel like the best, happiest versions of ourselves. I can attest to feeling this way, because recently I’ve been making a conscious effort to do it. If we’re caring for ourselves and making sure we’re still having fun and being active in life not just for the benefit of others, but for ourselves, then naturally the happy follows. In the moments after practicing self-care, that carefree childhood happiness comes back to visit, allowing our solid self worth to take up permanent residency.