Sunday, August 13, 2017

Self-care in Stages

Photo credit @anniespratt via Unsplash

School started this week and I am not going to lie. I was thrilled. With 4 kids at home all summer I was acutely aware of a startling lack of anything that resembled self-care. The first day back had me wondering how best to celebrate having a quiet house all day for the first time since becoming a parent 14 years ago. I debated between going home to take a nap and going to a friends to do some work wilts drinking mimosas.

And that got me to thinking about self-care. Because self-care is all about the self and it will differ with each of you. My hope is peaking in my evolution will give you pause to look at your own, and help you to seek some significant ways to take care of yourself, where ever you are in life.

In my pre-parenting life, self-care was all about betterment of the self. I would go for a run a few times a week. I ate well. When I didn't eat well I would run a little more. I was able to mostly sleep until I naturally awoke because my graduate school classes were typically later starts and I never had to be at work before 9am. I got the occasional expensive coffee drink as a treat. I got plenty of alone time naturally.

Once we got married and started our family, I turning inward, not to myself but to our little growing family. As we solidified our union as husband and wife, we began to bond with other couples who were in a similar stage of life. Those relationships were often family based and frequently instructive for us as we embraced the new roles of Mother and Father. Self-care in those days meant regular lunches with these friends or playdates where my friends and I would watch the children play and dissect every little concern over coffee. It meant getting out of the house and talking with another adult eye-ball to eye-ball. It meant dropping the children at the gym not so that I could sweat, but so that I could clear my head of the little chatter and delved into a fictional life while I sort-of worked out, all the while balancing a book in my hand.

That was about the time I converted to Catholicism and began the mom's ministry at our parish. I had two little boys and I craved relationships with women whose eyes were on the cross and whose end goal in life was an eternity in heaven. I didn't want to just spend time with other people. I wanted to spend time with people with whom I shared values, and goals, and dreams. I wanted my children to grow up in a community of people who had strong marriages and strong faiths. Self-care started to mean more about my internal and personal growth. It still had a social aspect, but it wasn't about passing time with people. It was about growing with them. I would gain weight with pregnancy and loose it again only to gain it once more with each pregnancy. My gym time, which I still considered critical for self-care, was for mental health more than physical health because it seemed I was almost always pregnant or nursing.

And then the children started school, and I found a resurgence of discretionary time and a introduction of outside demands. People started asking things of me. Will I help with Vacation Bible School? Sure. Will we hold a bake sale? Sure. Can you help decorate the church for Christmas? Sure. Wanna run the parish consignment sale? Sure. Do you want to join our bunco group? Book club? MOPS? And on and on it went and because there was no end to the opportunities and I quickly became engulfed. There was so much I wanted to do and getting out of the house one night a week was a delight. Having a night "off" from the bedtime routine was bliss. Self-care meant escaping the responsibilities of family life for just a few hours, even though that often meant taking on other responsibilities. I became a compulsive volunteer, because it meant I could leave without guilt.

And then Baby Number Four came along and escaping became impossible. Our schedules, the demands at home, the needs of the children overwhelmed the schedule. Whereas self-care once meant saying Yes to serving outside the home, now it meant learning to say No. Learning to say No to the things in life that overwhelmed me, consumed me, and kept me up at night was one of the healthiest lessons I have learned as an adult. I realized that each time I say Yes, I took on a task that could be completed by someone else. Saying No to serving provides others the opportunity to say Yes. So I began saying No more often. If it wasn't something that I was uniquely prepared for or had a gift for, I could now say No. Saying No became the primary way to say Yes to myself and to God. I stopped doing and started being. I started to become intentional.

And I began writing. I let the Lord call me to a new life within, a new love within. He spoke to me in prayer and lit a love for words within me. He called me to serve in the quiet. During nap times, during preschool, while the little ones played. I was able to serve Him and use my unique combination of gifts, training and experience in a way to that left me without guilt or exhaustion.

Now as I settle into my 40s, life with a teenager a kindergartener and two in between has left me with little headspace for writing. I have found different a unique ways to serve outside the home through my writing and my role with Blessed is She. I am back to trying to escape, but mostly just so that I can breathe without children around. As my teen stays up later and later the quiet time at home in the evenings has been reduced. I hit the gym a few days a week for vanity purposes as my metabolism and muscle mass both decline. I have a glass of vino in the evenings and take pleasure in the fact that I can drink decent wine from a nice glass, and it is a healthy thing to do as I watch my HDL's. My friendships are solid. They aren't just the parents of my children's friends, or relationships I cling to from other stages in life although I thankfully do still have some of those. They are heart-to-heart friendships with women I want to grow with. They hold me accountable and advise me. They seek my counsel, recognize my strengths, and tease me about my weaknesses. Self-care also means escaping with my husband - Date nights, an annual trip with another couple, and a little trip for just the two of us. I will continue to grow through the years, but real self-care means making sure that my husband and I grow together as well. With the distractions and demands of parenting kids, a tween and a teen this is my biggest challenge.

One day, I am told, I will blink and it will be just my husband and me. I will be saying goodbye to the baby and entering Empty Nest status, and self-care will look much different from how it looks today. It will challenge me to evaluate how much time and energy I am willing to commit in order to combat natural aging. My hormones will shift and I will be forced to adjust relationally and emotionally. I predict a bit of a return to self-care as it once was with a more self- rather than other-focus, but now that focus will be on the internal not the external.

Self-care won't be about seeking out time away, but it will be about boundaries of some sort because it always is. Self-care will still concern balancing the needs of others and the needs of the self. And so the flow of self-care from external care - to care of family unit - to care of social/community unit - to care of internal self will continue.

Take a minute and think - Where are you with your self-care? What does that term even mean to you today? Is self-care taking just a few minutes to veg out on social media? Is it something as simple as listening to your favorite music or building a favorite activity into your weekly routine? Is it intention or does it come naturally? 

Thanks for stopping by to think with me today!

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