Self-care is, theoretically, an important part of parenting. I say theoretically because even though the blogs and parenting books all attest to the importance of taking time for ourselves, it never really seems as though they mean it.
My favorite example is “sleep when the baby sleeps.” Great idea. I’ll just go right ahead and instantly shut my brain and body off for 20-40 minutes every three hours, and that will absolutely replenish my exhausted soul. If the authors were serious about self-care, they would say, “Give the baby to someone else, with strict instructions that they aren’t to bother you for at least three hours unless the child has a fever over 102 or is bleeding out of both ears.” Yet they never do.
We mothers pride ourselves on being #ZombieMoms (please note that there is no commonly agreed-upon hashtag for self-care, such as #NotAMartyr, #GotABabysitter, or #ScrewTheDishesI’mGoingToSleepEarly), and by God, I’m no underachiever. When my girls recently spent several days in a row spiking fevers and coughing relentlessly while their father was traveling, I threw myself right under the Perfect Mother Bus. How could I possibly leave my sick little darlings with a babysitter while I slept, despite the fact that I hadn’t slept through the night in days, thanks to trips to the ER and feverish babies who will only sleep on Mama.
By the time my husband returned home from his travels, I was more exhausted than I have been since the girls were infants. We had been together, stuck in our tiny house, for way too long. I couldn’t make decisions, I couldn’t solve problems, and I certainly couldn’t parent my daughters. We had been eating Cheerios, blueberries, and macaroni and cheese for two days because I simply didn’t have the energy to a) make anything else or b) “encourage” them to eat anything else.
Most of our interactions looked something like this:
“Can I have some water?”
“I DON’T HELP YOU WHEN YOU TALK TO ME THAT WAY!!”
“May I please have some water?”
“FINE! HERE! NOW GO PLAY WITH YOUR SISTER!”
Thankfully, I had made plans several weeks before to go away over the weekend. This was a very big deal for me; I have never voluntarily left either one for more than 24 hours. Recently, though, I have truly come to realize that I need more than an occasional nap if I am ever going to a) stop yelling at my kids and b) have an extended conversation with my husband.
After wearing yoga pants daily for the past four years, I decided to actually take up yoga. Despite my propensity for falling into the person next to me, I actually like it. I am calmer, more patient, and significantly less likely to lose it with the girls when I spend a couple of hours each week in downward dog at the JCC. I decided to take my weekend away at a yoga retreat. The place wasn’t fancy, but I did spend almost 48 hours sleeping, eating, stretching, and twisting. I saw one child the whole time, and I looked away immediately. I must admit I was surprised by the reflex. But not too much.
The girls and I resumed our regular routine as soon as I got back, and the weekend away did me good. Here’s what I have been able to handle rather gracefully, if I do say so myself:
- Obsessive questioning regarding the nature and availability of each and every heart-shaped candy lined up on the grocery store Valentine’s Day display.
- A two year old who refused to take off her boots, and then threw a fit in the front hallway, flinging mud all over the floor and walls as she kicked the floor repeatedly.
- Repeated requests to pull Dora the Explorer’s yarn hair into a ponytail, as well as a subsequent epic freak-out when the ponytail wasn’t exactly right.
- Several clothing changes for a tiny Tinker Bell and her fairy friends, Rosetta, Vidia, and Iridessa.
- Approximately 1,539 “why” questions.
- Extensive negotiations regarding the necessity of clipping toenails, and whether or not all ten nails actually need to be trimmed. The merits of clipping one toenail each night were thoroughly explored, but the idea was ultimately rejected. (Without snapping, I might add.)
The realization that I can no longer get by on a steady diet of coffee and NCIS is a tough pill to swallow. The truth is that parenting is the most challenging endeavor of my life, and truly taking care of myself requires more than just fitting my needs into the nooks and crannies that are most convenient to my children. I wish the parenting experts would talk more about that.