I was talking to a friend of mine the other day (see previous post) about how I've gotten out of the habit of taking care of myself. I was doing really well there for a while because I was finally forced to make some major changes: my anxiety had gotten so out of control, I had to slow down and take care of myself.
My situation went beyond the old "you have to make time for yourself" thing, which no one ever does. My lack of attention to what was going on with me was affecting me physically. I didn't have a choice.
Of course, once I started feeling better, I went back to my old ways. I never went to yoga. I stopped taking walks. If it didn't involve my kids or my work, I didn't do it.
So, when I was telling my friend how I'd fallen off the self-care wagon she said, "You're just like me. If it gives you pleasure, you feel guilty about it."
Um, yeah. Aren't I supposed to?
If I take a nap I feel terrible when I wake up. If I leave for an hour yoga class, I feel terrible that I'm not with my kids. If I'm with my kids, I feel terrible that I'm not working. If I do anything that falls out of the parameters of what I think I should be doing (and even when I'm doing something I think I should be doing, there's always something else I should impossibly be doing at the same time)...I might as well just not do it. Because it makes me feel like shit.
I'm not entirely sure why I feel this way, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's because I'm part of a culture that perpetuates it. When I log on to my social media accounts, they're filled with details of everyone's work, fitness routines, and quality time they're spending with their kids. Sure, there's a vacation thrown in there somewhere, but the bulk of the posts seem designed to make me feel inadequate and like a big, fat loser for taking a day to just be lazy.
But I will say that nothing makes me feel more guilty than when I take time for myself when I could have been spending that time with my kids.
This is what made me stop going out to dinner with friends, stop going to yoga, stop taking a solitary walk around the block to clear my head, and generally stop doing anything for myself.
Damn you, guilt.
I recently read a post on another widow board where someone was just mortified at how their children were turning out. In an effort to help them with their grief over losing a parent, this woman had been doing everything she could to make life easier for her kids. And in the process, she realized that she was raising some of the most self-indulgent, bratty, entitled people she was embarrassed to call her children.
I really got that. I don't think I spoil my children, but being the only parent means that I don't have someone I can turn to on a regular basis and say, "Can you play a board game with them while I take a walk around the block?" I am outnumbered, one to three, and leaving my kids to do something I enjoy means leaving them alone and without the quality interaction that I think I should be giving them.
Or should I?
I've recently been questioning this parenting technique. It is often said of married couples that they should make a point of having regular date nights, not only for the sake of their marriage but so that their kids can also see that they are taking care of their relationship. And that will influence how they treat their own marriages in the future.
Well, I'm not married but I think the same rules apply: My kids need to see that I'm taking care of myself. They need to recognize that I'm a person. They need to see that self-care is a requirement, not a choice.
I need to do them the favor setting that example.
I don't want my daughters tethered to a house and their future kids because I showed them that that's all that a woman does. I don't want my son to think that his future wife shouldn't have a life of her own. I don't want my children to become adults who run themselves into the ground, working constantly, trying to be everything to everyone (which is impossible) and have no idea how to find joy and peace in life.
It's important for my kids to know that they are loved and important. But it's just as important for me to be the example that time off, joy, and making yourself a priority is nothing to feel guilty about. They should know this for themselves and in order to help them in future relationships.
And in teaching them this lesson, I've alleviated almost 100% of the guilt that comes with taking time for myself. In fact, I've almost taken more than I require...just to make a point.
I started this year with a new calendar. It has all of their names on it and they can write what they have going on each day of the week. And guess what? MY name is on it, too. And they immediately caught on to the fact that on Wednesday night, when I write "yoga" next to my name, that's Mom's time. And when I write the name of a friend and "dinner" they can see that I actually have a life outside of them. I even made a point of writing down my first name - not the word "Mom" - so they might get the hint that I'm a person.
And maybe I'll get the hint, too.