Sunday, June 27, 2010

No (Wo)Man Is An Island

I am a very petite woman, yet every night I carry my sleeping older son, who's only about 6 inches shorter than I am, to the bathroom before I go to bed. My husband knows that it's part of our nightly ritual and he'll help if I ask him to. So, why don't I ask?

Okay, part of me resents the fact that I'm small and that it's hard for me to do it by myself. It's not like he's a teenager, I should be able to carry my own son. Part of me resents the fact that my husband doesn't offer. He knows how much this takes out of me. Why should I have to ask?

And maybe part of me enjoys the martyrdom and self-rightousness that I'm left with. Maybe that part of me likes being able to say "there, I did it again, poor me." So, every night I struggle through, hoping that he won't throw himself out of my arms, stopping afterward to catch my breath, and feeling proud of my nearly back-breaking accomplishment.

This might seem like a trivial example of not asking for help. But, basically you get the idea. What makes it hard for us, as women, to ask for help? Why do we feel like we have to do it all ourselves? Well, here are some possibilities:
  • Pride
  • Independence
  • Asking for help=failure
  • Can't rely on others
  • Perfectionism
  • Don't want to be a burden
What can I really say about pride? It's a potentially empowering feeling that contributes to a sense of self-efficacy and confidence. But, at times it also leads us to make the most nonsensical decisions and engage in the most useless behaviors ever. Pride often conflicts with logic and leaves us feeling more exhausted and frustrated. Sometimes we just need to leave what we call pride behind, ask for what we need, and view the request itself as an act that we can feel proud of.

As a modern woman, of course I see independence as a great strength. But, I also believe in our essential connectedness and need for each other. So, I see interdependence as the ideal. Existing in a state in which we need the people in our lives and they need us and we take turns giving and taking.

Strength is not being able to do everything on your own; strength is knowing what you need and being able to get it. Asking for help does not equate to failure. There is a difference between being unable do it alone and choosing not to do it alone. And, sometimes, we truly can't do it on our own. But, why does that have to mean being a failure rather than simply being human?

Some of us have, unfortunately, had experiences of being disappointed by others. Friends or family who never have time to help or who drop the ball when they are needed. That makes it understandably hard to trust that others will be there for you. But, if you really look hard at your life, most likely there are 1 or 2 people who are truly dependable and actually want to help if you just let them. Taking that step of trusting and hoping is risky but can be well worth the risk.

Perfectionism is the bane of many an existence. In some settings, it can be highly adaptive and lead to success. But, more often perfectionism can be overwhelming and even crippling. You have to let go of the idea that everything has to be done just right. If your husband puts the dishes away in the wrong place, so be it. Let it go and move on.

I understand the worry about being a burden on others. Again, reciprocity should be expected in relationships and you have just as much right to be the taker at times. At some point we have to trust that the important people in our lives want to help and that they will tell us if we're asking too much. It may also feel good on their end being the givers and being needed.

Asking for help is another form of self-care. It's admitting our human-ness and imperfection and using the support around us. This is another way of putting a muzzle on the Superwomen in our heads and dancing to a new tune. A tune of self-directed kindness and interdependence that says that just as we're willing to do for others, it's okay to let them do for us too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

We All Need Girltime

I recently read an article about “Mancations” and “Girls’ Weekends” and it made me think. I’ve never had a Girls’ Weekend. I love the idea in theory and I admire the Moms who take them. What a way to nurture yourselves! But, I’m not sure I could do it. I miss my boys terribly when I’m gone (for work), I hate being away more than I have to, and I can't bear the thought of leaving them overnight.

Luckily, my closest female friend is also the primary breadwinner working full-time outside of the home and she has similar feelings about leaving her boys. Our bonding tends to revolve around our kids. Not fully relaxing, I’ll admit.

But, who else will listen to me complain about how I rushed out of the house late, drove around the block, ran back in to get my lunch, and arrived at work on time but with my shirt on backward? And still respect me? And smile and nod in a way that says “Been there, done that”?

So, we talk about what our guys are doing, we catch up on each others' families, we gripe about work, and we hatch fantastical schemes about how we could spend more time at home (without losing income). Girltime is for venting, sharing stories, and feeling less silly or more silly (depending on our needs at the time).

Women’s relationships with other women provide an essential source of support. We’re drawn together by an innate interpersonal need, which is strengthened by socialization. Even introverts like myself, who fade into the background in large group gatherings, thrive on the closeness and intimacy of good girlfriend relationships. This is all part of good self-care.
Friendship self-care also means slaying the energy-sucking relationship vampires in our lives. We've all had them - girlfriends who are constantly needy, high maintenance, and rarely reciprocate. Your time and energy are too limited and too precious to waste on one-way adult relationships.

Self-care means surrounding ourselves with positive, nurturing, reciprocal relationships characterized by care, respect, and give and take. There are tons of studies citing the health benefits of having a strong support network and using it. Being with others, spending time with them, feeling connected and supported are all essential to good emotional and physical health.

Make time for your girlfriends, in whatever form that works best for you. Self-care is for you, it helps you be better with others, and it can definitely include others.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"Do As I Say, Not As I Do" is Not Enough

One of our most important jobs as parents is to serve as role models for our children. That should include modeling self-care. So, as I began to think about this post, I thought about my primary role model - my mother.

Although my mother's marital status changed during my childhood, the main image that I hold of her is of the single, working mother who did whatever it took to take care of her children. She embodied strength and sacrifice and always made sure that we got what we needed. 

So, I know where my "Superwoman, I'll do it all and love it" attitude came from. But, I've also seen up close the cost of so much sacrifice and so little self-care. My mother's self-neglect eventually led to depression and substance abuse.

Now I have a sense of why I feel the need to do so much and I have an extreme example of how I don't want my life to end up. The question is, what do I do? It's a complex dance trying to instill in our children a strong work ethic and internal motivation to do their best without also passing on the legacy of tireless effort and self-sacrifice. 
For example, as I look around, I see many of my older son's peers scheduled to the hilt, playing multiple sports, learning one or two instruments, and already working on that "college edge." I'm all for wanting our children to be well-rounded and to have as many options for the future available to them as possible. But, I worry about what we're inadvertently teaching them.

And worse yet, if I live my own life like an unending relay race where each leg is a different important task and there is never really a hand-off, why would they possibly do anything different?

No pressure (okay, a little actually), but those of you with daughters have a particular duty to dispel the "Superwoman" image and to serve as healthy, realistic role models. They must learn that downtime is good, that their health and happiness is just as important as everyone else's, and that doing for themselves can ultimately help them do for others.

And this can't just be wise words spoken from on high - you must espouse self-care in word and deed. Children learn from what they see as much or more so than from what they're told. It is essential to your daughters, to all of our children, that we embody the self-care that we want them to engage in.

So, now I tell my boys that Mommy needs her quiet time just as much as they need theirs. I think that's a good start...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Relaxation is NOT a 4-Letter Word!

Does the idea of taking time out feel like a luxury you can't afford? Is it really impossible to find even 10 minutes for yourself? Or is it that essentially you're not "allowed" to take the time?

As a full-time working mom, I understand the drive to do everything and be everything for everyone, which usually puts you at the bottom of the priority list. If you have a free moment, there's always something that can be done - cleaning, laundry, bills, returning phone calls, etc.

I also understand the idea of relaxation as a 4-letter word. For some, relaxation may be a familiar-sounding but forgotten term from your past, pre-relationship or pre-children lives. An elusive, almost mystical concept with no true meaning in the life of today's woman. At worst, relaxation is a profanity that conjures up images of wanton laziness, self-indulgence, and neglect of the important things in life.

Yet, how could you possibly be considered lazy? In a typical day, you've fed and dressed children, fed and dressed yourself, worked 8-10 hours, cooked dinner, reviewed homework, run baths, read bedtime stories, and listened to your partner. You are so far from lazy that it seems almost absurd to even try to apply the word to yourself.

Yet, so many of us walk (or run) around with rigid views about how we're supposed to be. Our internal critics tell us against all contradictory evidence that we still "haven't done enough today." Whether that's the internalized voice of your mother (I know, cliche, yet often true) or a supreme buy-in to the unattainable Superwoman ideal, that harsh voice must be challenged and silenced, or at least seriously muffled.

In truth, relaxation, as with other methods of self-care, is an investment in your emotional, physical, and relational health. Relaxation exercises can:
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve immune functioning
  • Increase concentration
  • Increase productivity and efficiency
  • Decrease anger

It is impossible to be your best and be fully present when you’re feeling exhausted and stretched too thin. Taking just 10 minutes out of your hectic day to slow down, attend to your body, and exist in a worry-free zone can do wonders for your overall mood. And feeling happier and more productive can enable you to fully engage with the people in your life. In this way, self-care is good for you and good for your relationships.

Check out my 10-minute guided relaxation exercise, which is on the home page of my webiste (the link is in the next column where it says, "To schedule an appointment in Media, PA"). This is an opportunity for you to slow down and recharge in a way that will help you reground yourself and be the mom, partner, daughter, friend you want to be. You will get the best results if you can make this a part of your daily, or at least two-to-three times weekly, routine.

Start by finding a quiet place where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Let your family know that this is your time and that it is important. You deserve this and ultimately so do they. Sit up straight in a comfortable chair with your arms supported and your feet on the floor. 

Now, begin the recording,...1, 2, 3,..SLOW...