Self-care, Schmelf-care

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I go to a lot of trainings as a parent educator, and a concept that comes up with some frequency is “self-care.” For some reason, this term fills me with a sense of dread (if a workshop can be a source of dread; I understand that there are scarier things in this world). It usually means that I am going to be given a bag with some pipe cleaners and a teabag in it.

In the “people professions,” as my supervisor puts it, we tend to want to give a lot to the families we work with, and often we neglect to give ourselves what we need to sustain this draining work. If you are a parent, you will understand this dilemma.

The work of caring for children, dressing and comforting and teaching and feeding them on a regular basis, leaves little time or energy for self-care.

But there is the maxim that in order to fill their cup, we have to keep our own cup filled as well. I don’t know about you, but this is usually the last thing I think about. Getting more than five hours of sleep a night is pretty much the extent of my personal cup-filling, and sometimes this doesn’t work out so well either.

What do we need in order to remain healthy and fulfilled as caregivers? My focus of late has been to stay connected with my wife, to be sure that the time we have together allows us to enjoy each other’s friendship and company. With four small children, this is easier said than done. After all, even when all the kids are asleep there is the chance that one of them will be up, and needing something, at any moment. Knowing a good babysitter would seem to be a key here, but given the emphasis we place on regular (and early) bedtimes in our family we don’t take advantage of this with any regularity. Weekends for my wife are a time during which, since I am home, she can catch up on planning for the next week of homeschooling and meals. I try to do most of the cooking and kid-watching so that she can do this.

  • I find time in the spaces between things. During my commute to and from work (26 minutes each way, traffic allowing) I listen to music, loudly. I understand that this is not always the best option, but I know from experience that if I don’t do this I will talk to myself incessantly. And I don’t find that relaxing.
  • When I was at a previous job, at a residential facility for children, I found a spot between work and home where I could stop and walk among the trees and spot birds. Fifteen to twenty minutes was usually enough to recharge my batteries. The secret was to leave my phone in the car and learn to accept the silence. These days, I sometimes park a few blocks from home, turn off the music, and sit and breathe for a while. When I walk in the door I will have freed myself of whatever worries I took with me when I got in the car.
  • Another thing with which I have become reacquainted is the luxury of reading in bed. Now that the girls are all old enough to have their own beds (though I do not expect them all to stay there), I realize that I will never take for granted the experience of settling back on my pillow with a book.

Because we’re parents, self-care is never an end in itself, but allows us to keep up with a job that never ends. What do you do? How do you keep your cup filled?