There are two things I know to be absolutely true since becoming a parent: 1. There are LOTS of activities one can do with only one hand that I otherwise would have never thought possible (the other occupied by a baby, of course) and 2. Self-care is not selfish; it’s necessary.
As a student in social work school I learned about childhood development. I learned how everyone’s “lens” is unique and valid. I also learned that as a social worker, you will be asked to give and give and if you do not set boundaries and take care of yourself, you will burn out. Yet, as I enter into my 11th month as a parent, what I’m finding is that the characteristics I once thought associated only with social work is, in fact, one of the defining characteristics of parenthood. That of giving, giving, giving, and then . . . burning out.
Four years ago, I took a job as a program director for a Jewish camp. During the orientation session, the female and male staff split up to do gender-specific programming. All the female staff headed to the art barn where we were asked to sit in a circle with the lights out holding candles. “Here we go,” I thought. We were instructed to spend two minutes thinking of our hero and then we would be asked to mandatory-share. After the two minutes were up, I sat in silence as one by one, each girl stated how their mom was their hero.
When the 10th or 11th participant started up on how her mom was her hero I started noticing a pattern. Each girl used the same word to describe her mother: selfless. “My mom is my hero because she is selfless. She gives and gives and always puts herself last.” Or, “My mom is my hero because she always put her family first. She would always give up more of herself.” And so when participant number 11 started up with the same song and dance I started to get a little frustrated. Did your mom take care of herself, too? Can she still be a hero if she sets limits to what she can give? Listen, it’s bad enough out there in the professional world–you’re expected to be a “team player” at all times. If you want to climb the corporate ladder you better say, “Yes,” and, “How high?” when asked to jump. Is that the expectation at home now, too? Is this what we are teaching our daughters?
When I gave birth to my daughter nearly 11 months ago, I let go of a lot of things, but my boundaries and self-care was not one of them. No matter how tired I was in those first couple months of parenthood, I made sure to take a shower and do my hair. It seems simple, but the act of putting product in my hair and blow-drying it made me feel like I was still me. It reminded me that I needed to take care of me too. Then I booked a trip to Chicago, just for me, for five days to visit friends and family. I got some questions about doing this. Wouldn’t I miss my baby? Wouldn’t she miss me? Absolutely, but I need this.
Listen, this child knows I love her more than life itself. There is absolutely no question about that fact. This child will also know that mom needs to take care of herself too, so that she could take care of her. I think the “selflessness” thing works for some people but it doesn’t work for me and that’s OK. As with most everything in life, working out a balance between giving and saving is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But, in the end, I’ve decided it’s worth it, for everyone’s sake.