by Christel Swasey
How many times have you heard that you need to take care of yourself if you are going to take good care of your family? Why is it so hard to believe? Why do we put ourselves last (way last) to take care of the family’s needs first? I think it starts out as a good intention, out of love and care, but it turns into a heap of frustration when we abuse ourselves to serve others.
Selflessness and sacrifice are beautiful truths, yet sometimes we let things get out of hand. We don’t even take care of ourselves at all. We forget the second half of the adage to “love thy neighbor,” which is “as thyself.” Why do we skip that second part?
Remember the oxygen mask metaphor? On an airplane, in an emergency, the protocol is to first put on your own oxygen mask, and then assist young people and ailing people with their masks. It just works better that way. The children and the ailing people need us to be strong, to have our wits about us; if we can’t breathe, what chance do they have, of breathing?
The fact is, some of us work so hard for everyone around us that we get sick, exhausted, angry and dysfunctional. Health and mood problems brought on by caregiver fatigue can cause us not to be able to take care of our families.
I read recently on the Flylady website (see http://flylady.net/ ) that a woman who had been suffering from migraines (they were so terrible that they took her out for days at a time) –was no longer suffering from migraines. There was no medication, no doctor’s intervention, no surgery. The only thing she had changed was taking an hour a day to pamper herself. She would take a bath or allow her husband to rub her neck. That was it. No more migraines, and no more lying in bed for two days, unable to serve the family.
I am guilty of shooting myself in the foot in the same way that this woman had been doing. I work to clean and carpool and shop and cook and launder and supervise and slave so much that I become irritable, snappish and impatient with the ones I love. So then, who’s really getting any good service? Nobody.
More chores, please!
Yesterday I realized this overwhelming service feeling was happening to me. So I told my children that they each would take on one additional chore per day. My eight year old will set and clear the table every night. My fourteen year old will take out all the trashes from all the rooms every day, and replace the cans with clean trashbags, every day. These chores will take less than ten minutes for each of them, but there’s twenty minutes for me to be serving them in other ways.
I explained to them that I know they are too busy to do a lot of housework. Sports teams, scouting, homework and church activities are all great, and take up lots of their time. But I also explained to them that it really isn’t doing them a favor when I work way past the point of my abilities and energy, and get mean and grouchy because of it. They agreed that they hate it when I’m mean and grouchy.
And my own additional chore is to take 30 minutes (at least) each day, for me. To recharge and come back better.
For me, pampering can mean just taking a walk outside, for fifteen minutes, without having to change a diaper, answer the phone or solve anybody’s problems. It can mean reading in the tub. It can mean drinking a giant-sized cup of peppermint tea or hot cocoa or lemonade. It can mean painting my toenails. It can mean driving to the store without any kids along. These small, small things help me recharge and come back happier. I really don’t need the expensive massage gift certificate, (although I must admit that I loved it when I got one for Christmas last year.)
Taking care of ourselves is one way we take care of the whole family. It’s not selfish; it’s sensible.
I think right now it is just about time for my peppermint tea.
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