Taking care of yourself but watching for others

This year we're focusing on the word NOURISH and on taking care of ourselves. I've been urging all of us to try to find some time to do things that are good for us and that make us feel more like ourselves. But I've been realizing that for some mothers/parents that might be a bit of a trap. Let me explain why.

There's a cultural pressure to be a perfect mother, and part of that mythology is being self-sacrificing. Which is fine when it means sacrificing your want to meet your child's need, waking up with a sick child, giving your kid the big piece of cake, etc. But when we start to take that to mean that we deliberately don't do things we like or take any time for ourselves or maintain our friendships and physical health, etc. as a way of trying to prove what great moms we are, well, that's messed up.

So my reminder to nourish yourself is also a reminder to stop buying into this weird competition in which people are trying to prove they're good mothers by being mean to themselves. It's really not ever you vs. your kids. You can all feel great. And your kids will be more likely to be centered and content and connected if you take care of yourself so you're able to bring your best self into mothering them.

But. This assumes that you already have the set-up to be able to stop the madness and just switch some things up to focus on yourself. It assumes that you have the time and resources and energy and support to shift the focus of what you do. Asking your partner to spend four hours on the weekend with the kids while you go do something for yourself, and knowing that while your partner may be surprised at the request, they'll do it and you won't have to pay for it later. Rearranging your schedule so that you use nap time for something you want to do once or twice a week. Going to book club after work once a month instead of being the only one who knows how to put the kids to bed.

If you don't have a setup that allows you any leeway to take care of yourself or make choices that nourish you, then my telling you to nourish yourself is cruel and vile. If I continue, it's blaming you for your own unhappiness. Because if you are in a situation in which you cannot do things for yourself (or you technically could, but the price you'd have to pay would be too high), then my telling you to pull yourself up by your own mom bootstraps and just go get an eyebrow wax is making it even worse.

Note: I'm not talking about being in a temporary situation that sucks, like three snow days in one week or being in the middle of the 9-month sleep regression or family illness or moving house or anything else that means you have no leeway and just have to buckle down and suck it up for a few days/weeks/months.

I'm talking about being caught in the system (with the system being your family situation). Of having no childcare so you're burned out from constant care of children, and are so burned out that you can't even figure out how to get any relief. I'm talking about having a partner you can't trust. Of working a job that pays you just enough to get by but not enough to give you any relief, and not knowing how many more days you're going to have to wake up feeling like you're already running late. Of being trapped.

If it's not depression, it sure feels like depression. (All my fellow depressed people are nodding right now, because what I'm describing is the echo chamber aka "circular thinking" aka the Death Spiral aka circling down the drain.) And it's really a trap.

If you're in a trap, you can't nourish yourself. You need help to get out of the trap.

You know I love action points, so here's what I've got for this:

1. If you recognize yourself in the first category, of not nourishing yourself because that feels like being a good mother, cut it out. You're a great mother, and you know it, even if you don't do everything perfectly. Do it, even if you have to take a deep breath before asking your partner to learn the bedtime routine so you can go out with a friend. Just do it. Three months from now I bet everyone in your household is laughing more because you're being yourself.

Also, we need your improved energy for the next step:

2. If you have extra (energy, motivation, resources, time), look around carefully at the other mothers you know. The ones that are drowning are not wearing signs that say "I'm drowning" so you'll have to look at the edges to see the signs of white-knuckling. These moms are locked down, so they might seem aloof and they might be invested in making everything look ok and they might even seem defensive (because they have to be). Stay quiet and listen and pay attention, and don't be hurt if your overtures are rebuffed the first time.

3. If you are drowning, either from depression or because you're caught in a bad system or both, wave your hand. Even if you can't keep your hand up until one of us comes to get you, keep waving it when you can, and someone will get there.

 

When those of us who have the resources to take care of ourselves do take care of ourselves, that gives us more ability to help find the ones who need our help. Then the helped become the helpers, and eventually we're all free.