Have We Been Brainwashed to Sacrifice Ourselves?

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Shattering Self-Care Myths

A few years ago, I went to a workshop for parents of children who face developmental, behavioral, and mental health challenges. The topic was “How to Be an Effective Advocate”, but near the end of the session, the leader said she wanted to take some time to discuss self-care.

As she began talking about the importance of fending off stress and building resilience, a number of focused note-takers in the group looked up, confused. After a few side conversations, the speaker realized that some parents thought “self-care” meant we were going to learn how to teach our children to care for themselves, as in, practice better hygiene. The group had a good laugh about the mix-up, but it revealed how conditioned many of us become to channeling all our efforts towards helping our kids thrive.

Have we been brainwashed? What about us? Why don’t we think of helping ourselves, too? It seems everywhere we turn, there is more parenting advice. And out of love, perhaps fear, and an extra layer of societal pressure, we consider every possibility. But don’t forget that behind every child who struggles is a parent trying to help. We need to fortify ourselves so we can sustain our caregiving role for the long haul – and even enjoy ourselves along the way!

The concept of self-care is starting to get a lot of attention, but when my doctor first suggested it, I dismissed her. I thought “Who on earth has time for self-care when there’s a child who needs me?” I’ve noticed many parents whose children struggle have the same reaction. They associate self-care with indulgence and selfishness—an inaccessible luxury. Many moms have told me they just don’t have time to worry about themselves. Some say they feel guilty. Others, undeserving.

Since when did self-care become anything but a necessity? In order to support the well-being of our children, we need to invest in our own well-being. Having the strength, compassion, and resilience we need means practicing a little self-care.

Let’s start by clearing up the myths surrounding self-care.

Self-care isn’t about running off to a spa.

It’s about how you treat yourself – as well as how you interact with and respond to others.

Are you kind to yourself in your head? Do you make breakfast for yourself too, before dashing out the door? Do you observe situations mindfully to consider your options before reacting? Do you reach out to friends who fill your cup? Ever tune in to your body and make sure you’re taking some deep breaths? Tuck yourself into bed on time? Allow yourself to laugh? These are all acts of self-care. They don’t seem decadent to me.

Self-care is not just another responsibility to add to your to-do list.

It’s more like a way of being.

What works for each of us is personal. One of my friends goes outside to pull weeds when things are tough at home. Another tries to go for a run or text a friend. Yet another likes to wear her fuzzy socks and make chamomile tea. I like to think of something I’m grateful for, or blast a favorite song. Your collection of self-care practices might change every day, or evolve over time, depending on what feels right for you. When you find the right mix of techniques, you will be fending off stress and preventing parent burnout.

A surprising truth is that self-care might even involve cutting things out of your life. Sometimes, certain people or places or things just don’t serve us well.

I know a mom who is unbelievably braggy about her phenomenally fabulous and brilliant and talented kids. Sometimes I just don’t want to subject myself to being around her. People like her can activate a sense of being “less-than” that a lot of parents like us have felt. And it sucks. Another mom I know just can’t go near the popular burger place in our town because it reminds her of some difficult outings she had with her son, and how her family can’t enjoy bustling restaurants the way other families can. Protect your mental health by setting boundaries. (Sometimes I picture Glinda, the good witch from The Wizard of Oz, floating in her protective bubble!) Self-care can be as much about elimination as it is about doing more.

So let’s re-program our thinking about self-care. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s essential. It will boost your energy, bolster your compassion, and feed your soul.

Allow yourself to indulge!


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