In the past, society has told girls that when they grow up, their lives won’t be complete until they’re married with kids. Then, the message was that you’re not complete unless you’re married, with kids, and have a career. Now, being married, with kids and a career aren’t enough in itself. You’re told to “lean in” to get ahead in your career, devote tons of time to be involved in every aspect of your child’s life, manage the household, get back your pre-pregnancy body AND balance all of these in order to be complete. These expectations are next to impossible to achieve without copious amounts of help and support (great husband, supportive family, cooperative kids, helpful neighbours, etc) or money to buy the support you need.
There are some women (and men) who push themselves to be all things to all people and manage to succeed at first. This can come at a price in the long run as her own resources get depleted. Moreover, resentment can build if she feels others aren’t pulling their own weight or people are taking her for granted. Another side effect is, if she’s not quite meeting her own (impossible) expectations, she may take to blaming others for her own shortcomings or judge others for not being as perfect or the superwoman she herself aspires to be.
This article is not yet another one of the “take time for yourself and get a massage” or “go to the gym” or “plan your week of meals in advance and spend all Sunday prepping it” articles. We all have enough on our own plates. I run my own business and have three kids, ages twelve, ten, and eighteen months. I have a great husband and a part-time nanny. Frankly, my kids clean the house more than I do. I am also the mom who gets interrupted at work for a very urgent phone call that goes something like this: “Mom? Do you know where my shin pads are? I need them for soccer,” or “Mom, when are you coming home? Baby Diana misses you.”
Between the demands and the guilt trips, it’s easy for moms to put their own needs last. The same can be true for caregivers of sick spouses or elderly parents. Because caring for family members is unpaid, it tends to be undervalued and underappreciated, which can also lead the caregivers to feel their own needs are far less important than the needs of the people under their care. If these caregivers are in care-giving or healing professions (nurses, care-aides, teachers, counsellors, some doctors), the people-pleasing can continue even outside of the home.
Why is this such a big deal? Isn’t it a positive thing to be self-sacrificing? Isn’t it selfish to say “no” to your family or boss when they need you to do extra? It is a big deal when your own needs are constantly ignored, people routinely take you for granted and you don’t speak up for yourself. Long-term, this sets you up for resentment towards those people who take advantage of you, low self-esteem, depression and even chronic diseases like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis and cancer. In fact, unresolved emotional issues and repressed anger are more reliable determinants of likelihood of cancer than genetics, obesity and smoking combined.
What are some important steps for self-care?
- Recognize Yourself as Someone Inherently Significant
You are more than just someone’s spouse, employee, child, parent or friend. You have your own personal needs, like everyone else. While this may seem obvious for some, for others this is not a given. If since childhood, you’ve only received praise or affection for what you’ve done for others (including achievement) or to please others, you may carry that into adulthood. You may turn down others’ offers to help you and you may attract into your life needy or demanding people. You may raise your kids to feel entitled to your full time and energy or you could expect them to be selfless, just like you.
- Set Boundaries
Prove your self-esteem by telling people “No” when you are pre-occupied, reaching your limit, or when you disagree. It’s okay to say “No” to your kids. They won’t always get what they want and will have to learn to deal with it. It doesn’t need to be in a mean manner. In the workplace, a firm “No” is better than a wishy-washy “Yes” that you don’t follow through on, or you do the task poorly. Be clear and consistent on these boundaries. You can change them for emergencies, but plan for the usual, every day. Believe it or not, the better you keep boundaries, the more others will respect you.
- Listen to Your Body and Mind
Just because “mind over matter” means you can tell yourself you’re not hungry or tired doesn’t mean you should do it all the time. Eating, sleeping and relaxing are not sins in and of themselves. They are necessary to keep yourself going in the long run. Your body needs nourishing foods (junk and meal-replacers just don’t cut it), plenty of hydration, movement and rest. If you don’t have time for workouts, then fit more movement into your day – walk instead of driving, park further, or take the stairs. If you’re taking your kids to a lesson or practice, go for a walk or work out while they’re occupied. At the playground, play with your kids. On your lunchbreak, go for a walk. If you’re exhausted, give yourself permission to rest while your baby naps. If you’ve been up since 4 am, give yourself permission to go to sleep early at 8 pm. So what if you haven’t finished everything on your list? What if your list was unreasonably long in the first place? Going through the day as a sleep-deprived zombie can make you more prone to indecisiveness, clumsiness, errors and doing a poor job of whatever you do. Getting more rest will make you a hundred times more effective and that is much more satisfying.
- If it’s a Priority, Book it First
If you have school-aged kids, education is often a priority, so their time at school is a priority and you book their activities, meals, etc around it. If you work outside of the home, your job is often a priority and you book your personal life around your work schedule. We ought to take the same approach to other important activities. No time to exercise? How important is it to you? If it’s that important, put it into your weekly schedule and make this time sacred for you. Want to improve your health with chiropractic? Make it a priority by putting it into your schedule at a regular time. Fitting in something “important to you” only when you have “time to fit it in” is like hoping that fabulous top in the high-end store will be on the clearance rack three months from now and in your size. It’s too easy to fill the day with minutiae and run out of time for what you really want, so you must do the opposite. Plan on the big things first and let some minutiae fall by the wayside. Nobody ever gets all the little things done anyways.
- Take the Time to Think of Long-Term Benefits
I know this step is difficult if you’re barely making it through each day. That being said, if you want to get out of survival mode and be able to enjoy your life, it is important to think ahead. Convenience might be a lifesaver when you’re drowning in overwhelm, but it can be a slippery slope to a bigger problem in the future. The TV/screen babysitter can lead to screen addiction and an unwillingness to do anything else. Junk food can lead to poor eating habits and obesity. Cleaning up after your kids (spouse, others) may be faster and cleaner, but can lead to messy, lazy and entitled teens and adults. Painkillers to mask the pain can lead to further injury or dependence on ever-increasing doses of medication. If you’re using any of these shortcuts, don’t beat yourself up. There was a reason for them in the first place, and one reason could be that you didn’t know the long-term implications. If you want to make changes, I recommend changing one thing at a time so it’s not too overwhelming.
- Be Kind to Yourself
Don’t beat yourself up for all your shortcomings. Nobody’s perfect and there’s no such thing as “balance.” This is life. There are ups and downs and at different stages and phases your priorities will differ. When you’re having difficulty nursing a newborn, nothing else really matters. If you’re sick with cancer, you can’t get better while also trying to maintain a full-time job, raising three kids, running a household and training for a triathlon. “Balancing work and family life” is a nasty way to make women feel guilty for their life choices. Society has a way of saying “you’re doing it wrong”, no matter what you’re doing. Men are nearly never asked this question. When they’re at work, they’re fully focused on work. When at home, they can opt in or opt out of responsibility there (traditionally). There is no perceived juggling act and so if they participate as equals on the home front, they’re heroes, and if not, it’s no big deal in the eyes of society. It’s society that makes women feel bad if they’re not meeting impossible expectations. We can either perpetuate this myth of the perfect wife/mother/daughter or we can focus on doing what is best for our family and ourselves. And if you find yourself judging other women, please stop. Each person is the product of their own upbringing and their own journey. We each have different levels of support and varying circumstances. Let’s try to help each other in a loving village, rather than put others down to make us feel better about our own shortcomings.
- YOU MATTER IMMENSELY
What’s the bottom line? Moms and caregivers are exceedingly important in the perpetuation of humanity. You are the glue that holds the family together. You are the safety net for your kids’ and spouse’s pent up emotions. You are the one who (predominantly) makes sure everyone’s necessities are met (ie. meals cooked, clothing bought and washed, house in order, schedules organized, social ties maintained, homework done, doctor’s appointments scheduled, chauffeuring kids or seniors, etc). When you get run down, there may not be an adequate back-up to pick up the pieces. What’s more, when you’re the rock everyone depends upon, they often are so caught up in themselves that it won’t occur to them to step up and give you the space to help yourself. How do you know you’ve hit your limit? You may start experiencing physical pains in the body (headaches, back pain, numbness, stomach aches). Your mental state may be affected (mental fog, indecision). Your emotional state can deteriorate (anxiety, depression, recurrent thoughts). You may take on unnatural behaviours (meltdowns, restlessness, aggression). You may even have sensory issues (nerve hypersensitivity, tics, clumsiness), or organ issues (autoimmune disorders, frequent colds, hormone imbalance, digestive problems, rashes). These are indicators of chronic accumulated nerve distress beyond what your body can handle. If you reach this point, getting outside help for yourself shouldbe a priority.
If you want to see a snapshot of your current state of mental and physical health, fill out a Baseline Health Questionnaire. Dr. Sabrina will be happy to give you a free consultation and you can then opt for a full evaluation in her office, which will include recommendations on getting back the health you want.