How do you feel today? Do you feel energetic, do you feel stressed? Do you know why you feel the way you do? Since the birth of my twins two years ago, I have struggled with feelings. I don’t know about you but there seem to be more of them than before, and in larger doses, to boot. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck on an unpredictable roller coaster, and all I can think is “how do I escape?”
Mommyhood is tough, man.
I’ve done everything I could possibly do for them. They were breastfed and now eat organic home-prepared meals, even now when they go to daycare and I work. They have come with us on trips to Marseille, France and to visit my family in the States, and they understand (and are beginning to speak) two languages. We didn’t let parenthood claim our social agenda either. We’ve gone to nearly every single wedding and birthday party of our friends, no matter the distance or budget (Reunion Island to Montana). I’ve hosted holiday parties for 10+ adults with children underfoot for three years in a row, for crying out loud. We’ve done it all, and it’s been a lot of fun. There have been so many moments of joy and amazement and wonder. But it’s not without its price.
Adjusting to parenthood while continuing to live one’s life is hard enough and (spoiler alert) can result in other feelings, too. Feelings like depression, stress, being overwhelmed, exhaustion, loneliness, desperation, anxiety, and uncertainty bubble up and sometimes you don’t know why, and sometimes these unwanted houseguests stick around for quite a while. I tried escaping the crazy emotional ride one night by drinking wine and smoking a cigarette while in a bubble bath while watching re-runs of Ellen Degeneres. Once or twice I cried my eyes out in bed while singing Adele at the top of my voice. I tried a hundred different things these past two years because it felt great to let go, to release the feelings that had been building up, plus I was doing it in the name of ‘self-care’ so that’s ok, right?
You see, I thought these bad feelings were unavoidable, and the ride would just even out on its own accord. Once they grew up, I told myself, things will get easier, and I won’t feel so overwhelmed. Well that’s when I realized: I’m focusing on coping with my lifestyle, focusing on treating the side effects instead of fixing the problem: my life is out of balance. Turns out, that’s what self-care is really about, listening to oneself and finding one’s balance.
Self-care is about shaping one’s life so that these feelings of desperation, burn-out, stress, and Sunday-night anxiety (yes, it’s a thing) don’t occur in the first place. Self-care is about consciously creating a life that allows for the maximum amount of joy, and the least amount of heartache. Obviously, no life is perfect or easy, and loss, rejection, or sudden life changes can (and will) throw us all off course (uh, parenthood? I’m lookin’ at you, pal). Self-care is about continuously making choices that result in a lifestyle that you don’t feel the need to escape from.
This isn’t as entertaining as wine-and-Ellen bubble baths, or as dramatic as bellowing Adele’s lyrics while letting the tears and snot stream down one’s face. In fact, it’s not really all that glamorous at all.
Self-care is about organization, self-reflection, deciding on your priorities, and trying your best- not less, not more.
Self-care is about eating well, exercising, and treating your body with care.
It means deciding what is important to you, doing only those things, and refusing to feel guilty if you can’t or don’t want to do something else.
It’s analyzing one’s life to identify what the sources of unhappiness are, and then devising a plan to fix them.
It’s forgiving someone who has wronged you, not because they asked for it, not even because they deserve it. But because you just refuse to have those negative feelings inside anymore.
It’s also about letting go of people who cause you harm in the first place, and surrounding yourself instead with people who emanate happiness. The more negativity you can free yourself from, the more room you’ll have for self-acceptance and love.
What does self-care look like when you are a parent? Well, it’s all of the above things, but it’s a lot harder as a parent because in addition to everything else, there is the simple and unavoidable fact that the person(s) you are raising really depend on you for everything, and the logistics of that are restraining. I won’t lie, I would would love to sit in peace, reflecting on the issues in my life, figuring out what to do about each one, except I can’t even have two minutes to pee without a little human tugging at my sleeve, saying “mama!” on repeat, while handing me wads of toilet paper. It’d be great to get more sleep, but for many parents of newborns that is a pipe dream. Parents sometimes write off their own needs, because they think their children’s/spouse’s/parent’s/friend’s needs are more important than their own but to you I say:
The important thing is that you find the balance in your life because during your search for happiness and balance, your children will be watching and learning from you and in turn will learn to prioritize their own important things and live a life of joy.
It’s not really possible to make a list of specific things to do to, products to buy, or a recipe to follow. It’s going to be different for everyone. We are all different, our kids are all unique, and our parenting styles are all different. The important thing is to never stop searching for that happy balance, and to find it in your own way.
So, maybe I won’t make it to every single birthday party this year. Maybe I’ll finally make peace with the friendships that have long-since died but continue to haunt me. Hopefully, I’ll get to the gym more and do things for myself, like journaling and creating dreamcatchers. Maybe I’ll learn to love myself just as I am. Maybe I’ll manage to stop stressing over things that aren’t so important (do the twins’ outfits match?) or that I can’t control (my grandparents are aging) and remember to be thankful for the good stuff (SO much good stuff). The important thing is that I now know that my life won’t eventually balance out with time, but with effort. The important thing is that I’ve realized that like anything else in life, creating one that allows you to feel good is a constant, deliberate, and often difficult process.
I hope this article serves as inspiration and validation wherever you are in your own self-care process. One foot in front of the other, friend.
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I have found endless inspiration from the following books and articles. May they also help you in your quest for sanity and happiness.
The Four Agreements (Ruiz, Miguel. The Four Agreements. Amber-Allen Pub., 1997.)
The Art of Loving (Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. Harper and Row, 1956.)
Hell Yeah (Sivers, Derek. “Hell Yeah.” Sivers.org, Derek Sivers, 26 Aug. 2009, www.sivers.org)
This is What Self Care Really Means Because It’s Not All Salt Baths and Chocolate Cake (Wiest, Brianna. “This Is What ‘Self-Care’ REALLY Means, Because It’s Not All Salt Baths And Chocolate Cake.” Thought Catalog, Thought & Expression Company, LLC, 16 Nov. 2017, http://tcat.tc/2ypTXyq)