Yes, I know, this is a few days (read weeks) late. I apologise, but these few weeks were necessary. This has been a time of learning, adapting, and realigning. I can say with absolute certainty that we have made it, January 2021 has come to an end, and we begin our new month on a Monday, and it is time for work. Mostly, we had a wonderful weekend and are ready to tackle what lays ahead. Christmas and all that Christmas entails has been neatly packed away for a while now. Our first birthday decorations have been hung and were thoroughly enjoyed. I think I like this Dutch tradition, they love decorating every occasion. Life in all its forms has resumed the various regular daily schedules of this house, and by all accounts, we are on track for a good year. The world’s busyness has continued (in its own novel way), and I contemplate the many ways to adjust to living this life.
I have decided that I want to continue to align myself with caring for my family while still ensuring that I care for myself. Call it a deep desire if you must. So, here I am! Seated and ready to consider new thoughts and action new habits. Maybe these are not new. Perhaps these thoughts and actions are ones I have had before. Either way, it is time for them to be appropriately actioned and ultimately habituated. Whatever the existential answers are to these thoughts, I am here, and I am ready to discover more.
After a lot of contemplation and an astonishing amount of purposeful avoidance, I have finally succumbed to the need to say what needs to be said aloud. I have decided to actually hold myself accountable for myself and to myself.
Uhm, how do I explain this one? I am one of the many people I know who desperately wants to be as loving to myself as I am to others, and I repeatedly fall short. I have reached a point in my life where no matter how hard I try to avoid it or set it aside for later; I can no longer ignore the fact that I have to be absolutely kind to myself. I have to do this! I have to do this if I intend to continue to be kind to the people around me. I am excellent at looking after other people. Trust me, I will make real work of ensuring that my family (living in this home), my family (living all across the globe) and my friends are all taken care of. But, it has come at a tremendous cost to me and my loved ones.
This is one of those questions where I had to sit down and really ask myself to be truthful! Trust me when I say, I have repeatedly asked myself this question and have been answering it for months now. Do I take care of myself the same way I take care of others? The answer is simple. No! No, I don’t offer myself the same kind of care that I give to others. I don’t check in on myself. I frequently cancel appointments with myself, I don’t remind myself to rest, or tell myself to exercise. Neither do I give me permission to enjoy the day of vegging while it rains outside. I don’t consider my diet as carefully as I do my husband and kids. I don’t look at myself in the mirror and say “hey, look at you, you are doing great!”. So no, I do not offer myself the same amount of kindness.
I keep telling myself I should do these things, but I don’t, and when I do, it is temporary. Quite frankly, I’m not sure why this is so difficult, I mean it’s in every caregiver’s guide. Without a doubt, it is the most important rule; before you care for others, first care for yourself. Hahahaha, you would think that it would actually be easy to do. Still, it’s not, remembering to care for yourself when you have spent a lifetime neglecting yourself is possibly the most problematic habit to break of them all.
It is not as easy to do when you have systematically put yourself at the bottom of your own to-do list. Suppose I list and sort my needs according to my understanding of them. In that case, I split my needs into categories, these are Spirit, Heart, Mind and Body. Each one has a list of sub needs attached to another list of sub needs. And therein lies the problem. When I add myself to the list, I tend to overthink it a little. Nope, that’s a lie, let me be honest, I overthink it a LOT! It’s almost like I make myself way too complicated to care for entirely. As if tender loving care is only reserved for others. I automatically only tend to my absolute needs; I give myself just the necessary care and always without the genuine tenderness or lovingness I really need. When I think about caring for other people, it doesn’t break into thousands of subcategories. There is nothing complicated about it. It just flows. I don’t even think of tending to others’ needs the same way I do when considering caring for myself.
For others, even when I am absolutely beyond exhausted, I jump at the opportunity to help—most of the time, at the expense of my family and myself. I can assure you that I have definitely not spent my life doing that for myself. I have fallen asleep without washing my face, even after reminding the children to do that for themselves. I have eaten a sandwich with peanut butter and jam in the kitchen, right after taking my family a wholesome salad. I check in on my folks and siblings to be sure everything is going well, and I have sent my friends’ messages reminding them they are loved. I do this even when my cup is at its emptiest, and I always tell them I am doing just fine because I don’t want them to know that inside, I am tired, and I feel guilty for not giving them my all.
The way I care for myself directly affects the way I care for my family, why? Because my family, the ones living with me, are the ones that witness and experience my exhaustion first hand. And often, they call me out on it.
My purpose as a wife and mother is to care for a driven and devoted husband and father, an incredibly talented teenage daughter, and a diversely brilliant tween son. Add to the mix, four super special cats and you have the members of our immediate household and family. I don’t have a career, and I applaud families that achieve family success with parents working full time. I can’t imagine how much extra care you need when balancing so much. For me, these seven spectacular creatures are my priority, my life’s work and my greatest joy. It took me years to realise how important this all is, especially while bearing witness to how the world is turning out now.
You see, I am their caregiver. It sounds weird when I write it that way, but it’s true. I take care of their wellbeing, see to their diet plan, ensure they are honouring their schedules and routines, and I make sure that they take time for rest, fun and self-care on all fronts. I make sure they take care of themselves. This is such a big part of my job. And as straightforward as that sounds, I needed to understand that I cannot expect them to do this successfully if I do not do the same.
Here’s the theory:
People living in the same household, sharing space and exchanging energy, are trading time and witnessing each other’s habits.
My family sees what I am doing to myself, and they will mimic my actions, responses, and attitude. I am their example, and they hold me to it, whether or not they know it. I am not saying they can’t make their own excellent choices. I am confident they can. What I am saying is that, as the person caring for them, I have to be mindful about how I am taking care of myself while I am taking care of everyone else. How I take care of them is reflected in how they take care of themselves, and these habits last lifetimes. I think it’s a good idea to make their self-care habits good ones.
I’ve written about the value of self-kindness before, I believe I also speak about it often. In fact, this is a big part of what I have been learning about over the last year. Self-care isn’t just about exercise or eating healthy (that is definitely on 2021’s to-do list)! It’s not even about make-up or those fantastic visits to the day spa (I know… But why?). I know we all love those restaurant meals, and retail therapy has its value, as do big holidays and fancy affairs. Still, alas, they hold no lasting weight in the realness of life. I wish I could tell you that it is that simple, but I would be lying to myself and all of you. I can tell you that I have realised that it is about complete care. It is the tending of the Spirit. It is caring for the mind. It is the heart’s healing and mending the physical while simultaneously tending to and actioning my purpose, plans, and desires in my own beautiful and unique way.
2020 revealed a lot to me, and by the look of things, 2021 will teach me how to use all the knowledge I gained. I know with absolute certainty that I will have to change my habits and my ways to maintain this new way of living, surviving, giving, and loving. This new way of life will need constant care and endless compassion.
Okay, so we are definitely past step one in the self-care guide book. I have established that total wellbeing is the daily practice of continuous and unconditional kindness and relentless forgiveness. I have also accepted that I must first offer care to myself and then to my loved ones and my environment. I think I finally understand that my wellbeing affects my ability to care for those around me; and just like that, self-care has become a matter of the utmost importance. I have also realised that to activate and continue to benefit from this wellness cycle, I needed to add myself to my priority list. I need to be more than merely necessary for myself.
Today, I promise myself that I will make a point to prioritise keeping appointments with myself and make an effort to be more respectful myself. I really needed to understand this truth. I had to acknowledge that to continue to care with a joyful spirit while avoiding becoming absolutely drained when keeping commitments to others, I have to be kind to me.
Wow, that is a lot! I believe that I have finally realised and accepted this as it is. Sjoe, can I get an exhale?
Photo Credit: BM Nicholson – Wandering Voorhout
Theme Song: Tim McGraw – Humble And Kind