Nobody could have prepared me for this. Even when a cousin of my husband’s, upon finding out I was pregnant with my fourth child, commented to my husband and me, “You know, you can have sex without getting pregnant.” But even if Mr. Snarky would have tried to lay it all out for me, I would have been unable to comprehend the trajectory of my life with four kids spanning a decade. It would not have made sense to me, nor would it fit neatly in my brain. Because having four children with a large age span is not tidy. It is messy and complicated, exciting and surreal. It forces my brain to expand like a rubber band threatening to snap at any moment.
Yes, I am feeling it. The intensity of the holiday season is in the air and it is nearly impossible to escape the droplets of frenetic energy that invisibly dissolve into our pores this time of year.
For me, I notice that my thinking gets more scattered, I have a hard time writing, and a slight heaviness sets in as early darkness shortens our days, and it is so damn cold outside.
But the blessings…oh the blessings. So many of them. It is the deep gratitude I feel for these blessings that help me embrace the intense beauty and fragility of life and the increasing awareness of the passage of time. This week, I enter a new decade of life...
Upon my return from visiting my daughter two weeks ago, I came down with a case of “the crud,” which started with the swallowing razor blades feeling in my throat, then moved into my head with a pounding, ferocious headache, then moved into a seemingly never-ending flow of that grossness that clogged my sinuses and rattled in my chest.
Okay, I will stop there and promise you that the purpose of this post is not to complain about my nasty sinus infection. Not at all. In fact, I have absolutely nothing to complain about right now as I sit poolside looking at the Sea of Cortez with six girlfriends for a special birthday celebration. I am all good.
But in looking back on these the past two weeks, one of which my husband was working in London and India, I noticed a few revealing aspects about myself that clearly illustrate how self-care is a value that is developed early on, and the patterns of behavior that we form around these values are very tough to break.
Here's what these "old" patterns looked like for me: During the time I was battling a nasty cold and my husband I did the following: I said no to offers of help when I actually needed to say yes. I said yes to meetings and other commitments that could have waited. I did things for my children that they could have done for themselves. I stayed up late at night to work instead of going to sleep early. I told people I felt fine when I didn’t. And all these actions most likely doubled the amount of time I was sick.
Why did I do this? Why do we push through our self-care needs when we know better? Because I did not want to stop, or even slow down. I didn’t want to listen to my body’s signals that it needed a rest; that maybe the stress of Soph’s accident, and the sleepless nights I spent worrying about her, and the impromptu trip to see her had weakened my immune system.
I didn’t want to admit to anyone or myself that I couldn’t do it all; that I was "weak.". I didn’t want to let anyone down.
Except that I did. I let myself down. And spent two weeks feeling crappy, which led to this: I snapped at my kids, and my husband when he arrived back home. My mind was foggy, which caused me to move at a much slower pace. I was late to my son’s doctor’s appointment that had been scheduled for three months. I banged on the steering wheel and maybe dropped a few f-bombs after being caught in rush hour traffic for 45 minutes because I didn't leave on time and upon finally arriving at the clinic, we were told that the doctor could not see us for another hour, which was the exact time I had to pick up my daughter’s soccer carpool. I looked at the nurse flabbergasted and started to cry, my son watching me in dismay, still recovering from my meltdown in the car, as the nurse tried to apologize. What she didn’t realize is that my tears were not because I was upset with her.
I was upset with myself that my not taking care of myself was causing a negative ripple effect on those I love.
And it does. And yet, we still tell ourselves that we “don’t have time” to time to heal from or even deal with illnesses—physical or mental. We don’t have time to deal with dysfunction in our relationships our partners, our kids, our friends, or ourselves. We don't have time to exercise or to eat well, or to get enough sleep. There is too much to be done. We gotta keep plowing through. We gotta be "strong" and just keep it together.
But the real work of self-care is to challenge those thoughts, which most of us battle periodically throughout our lives. Those internal (and sometimes external) messages that pull us away from our innate need to care for ourselves are not based in kindness or love. In fact, those messages actually steals pieces of our joy, health, happiness, self-worth, and self-esteem. They need to be overpowered with the following messages:
We are born to be happy and to feel good. Everyone has a right to want that and to strive for that. When we do honor ourselves and are honest about how we really feel and what we really need, we give ourselves a fighting chance! We increase our level of happiness and the quality of our lives, our relationships, and our overall well-being and the well-being of those around us.
Which brings me to the present moment where I am incredibly grateful to be feeling good again, and for the fact that for the next three days, I get to focus on friends, fun, and decompressing. And while I am well aware that this kind of get-away does wonders for my physical and emotional well-being, we all need to be mindful of how we take care of ourselves amidst the stress and pressures of our every day lives.
So, I will make you a deal: I promise to send you some relaxing Mexican vibes this weekend if you promise that you will do something for yourself that you know you need but you just "don't have time for."
Deal? I would love to hear what you decide to do to honor yourself!
“It must be so amaaaazing having all four of your kids under one roof again,” is the question of the month since my oldest son arrived home from his freshman year in college, and oldest daughter breezed in from her five-month college junior “study” (or is it "touring"?) abroad program.
“Oh yesssss,” I concur. “It is just the BEST!”
And I am telling the truth. Mostly.
It goes without saying that I love my family unit. I love the feeling of completeness I feel when the six of us are together. Seeing my four kids interact with one another can be downright heart-melting (and yes, the teasing can be mortifying). But I love how the six of us fit together—each family member with his or her own distinct personality set within the building blocks of our ever-evolving family unit.
While I try to bask in the euphoria of family wholeness, it is only a matter of time before the challenges I encountered while mothering all four kids in my home for ten years inevitably find a way to bubble to the surface again, and I can see very clearly that there is indeed a time when adult children need to fly the coop.
Not only are there more dishes in the sink, crumbs on the kitchen counter, clothes in the washer and dryer, wet towels on bedroom floors, shoes sprawled all over the mudroom, various items of clothing and shoes missing from my closet (usually my favorite ones that I was planning to wear as I realize they have "disappeared"), cars rolling in and out of our driveway at any given hour, teenagers and 20-somethings eating every morsel of available food in the fridge, freezer, and pantry, texts sent to me at any time of the day or night including the hours between midnight and 5 a.m.) begrudgingly alerting me of my college kids’ whereabouts (“Mom, you don’t know where I am when I am at college! Why do you need me to tell you now? Don’t you trust me?”) Oh, and did I mention the arguing and the YELLING? Well, there is much more of those too!
So, in the flurry trying to manage my family of six, my writing and teaching work, and launching a new book, I am reminded of what prompted me to write The Self-Care Solution in the first place.
Self-care is so damn hard!
Part of my self-care journey over the past few years was to let go of my two older kids in a healthy way, which was far from easy for me, and to reestablish my life with the younger two at home. It took a lot of time, soul searching, and hard work for me to do this. But by using the physical, emotional, and relational self-care tools outlined in the book, I stayed true to myself, set appropriate boundaries, and advocated for my need to work and create, I did it. And lo and behold, I was finally able to accomplish what I had set out to do decades earlier—finish my book on self-care and continue to practice what I preach.
But what I have realized over these past several hectic weeks is that our self-care work as moms is never done, and we will be challenged over and over again to hang onto our sense of self while mothering our children.
Having all four kids home triggered some old stuff for me. Negative patterns of thinking and acting popped up. I found myself worrying about and micro-managing my kids far more than necessary—trying in vain to find some control amidst the inevitable chaos and discomfort of this transitional time. I have found myself frustrated that I am not writing enough, or practicing yoga or meditating the way I need to be.
And then I remember. These are my continual self-care work-ons, and it is indeed a marathon not a sprint. I remind myself we all have our own work-ons and triggers that threaten to throw us moms off center. But there are three things that remain constant for all of us:
1. Someone will always need us.
2. No one is going to hand over the time and space
we need to take care of ourselves.
3. We need to be intentional about caring for ourselves
or we are not able to take care of our family the way we want to.
So, in trying to embrace this short period of time when all my kids are back in the nest (my oldest leaves for an out-of-state internship on Friday), instead of thinking about all the ways I am "failing" at self-care, I realized that I am forgetting one huge component of self-care—self-compassion.
My self-care may look and feel a little different right now, and that is okay. I need to embrace what is good—the wonderful walk I took with my cousin Joy this Memorial weekend; dancing during the fun (albeit excruciating) Kayla work-outs that my oldest daughter led me through; watching my two daughters, 10 years apart, giggle like best friends; the warm hugs I receive regulary from both of my sons, and the gratitude I felt in spending time with my husband, friends, and family over the long weekend.
Sometimes self-care can be simply a matter of reframing. Letting go of what we think self-care “should” be, releasing ourselves from expectations and the frustrations of what is not, and opening ourselves up to the joy and the beauty of what is.
During this busy time of transitioning from spring to summer, when school is ending, graduations are occurring, college kids are coming home, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball are in full swing, and the to-do lists threaten to overpower us every day, can you carve out five minutes a day, even in your car, to find compassion for yourself, to say something nice to yourself, to tell yourself you are doing the best you can, and that you are indeed good enough? Can you breathe deeply, taking it all in, and then letting it all go?
Yes you can.
This is the real work of self-care.
“Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” —Brene' Brown
“Who do you think you are?!” I said it. No, I said it REALLY LOUDLY to my son the other night when he made fun of his brother who was already upset about something. I promised myself I would not poke my kids with the shame stick (my made up reference to the destructive words that, when used, can cause a person to question their own self-worth). And yet, I spoke out of anger and frustration, and said things that I wished I wouldn't have, because I wanted his behavior to change, to stop, and this was certainly not the first time I had asked him.
I realized, after I calmed down, that there were two main thoughts that screamed in my own head before they came out of my mouth. When I saw behavior in my son that I didn’t like, I immediately thought, “What is wrong with him that he would act like that? He should know better!” And then, I turned it inward, “What is wrong with me that I have a son who acts so insensitively to his brother? I must be doing something very wrong.”
Using that damn shame stick on both of us—a double whammy!
Since we all know that this kind of thinking will get us absolutely nowhere, it’s time to back track and look at what is real and what is completely blown out of proportion. First of all, siblings pick on siblings… can’t think of anything more normal (my sister has the goods on me for sure!). Cajoling amongst siblings certainly does not mean there is a “character flaw” in any of them. In fact, most of the time, my kids are good to one another, and I know that they all care about each other tremendously. And then to take it a step further and throw myself under the bus for how my son acts…that’s a bit of a stretch. Last week, I looked over and saw that my older son had his arm around my daughter and was helping his little sister with her homework, without me asking. Do I take credit for that? No.
I have given my kids messages their whole lives about how important it is to be respectful to one another. I have always called out any one of my kids who is mistreating one of their siblings. They understand that it is not okay to make fun of one another or put each other down for kicks. Yet, they still do it, and probably will continue to do so for the remainder of the time that they live in my house, and maybe throughout their lives. And I will continue to point out that it is not okay.
Sibling rivalry and tension is not new. Me, losing my cool with my kids every so often, is not new either, unfortunately. What is relatively new is my awareness of how sometimes, when I have been extremely upset about one of my kid’s behaviors, I have poked them with the shame stick.
This needs to go.
“Who do you think you are” needs to be changed to, “I know who you are. I know you are a good person who cares about and loves his siblings. When you pick on one of them, it seems like you are being insensitive and unkind. This isn’t consistent with how I know you feel about them.”
At first, however, I probably will need to yell this messages. Otherwise, my kids will for sure think that I have been brainwashed by Dr. Phil.
For more on shame and parenting, check out Brene’ Brown’s “The Whole Hearted Parenting Manifesto” in the Huffington Post.