Taking care of ourselves

Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD

First I need to confess: I’m not very good at this myself. Like many of you I tend to “take care” of others before I begin to think about what I need or what requests I might make. So today I get to listen, once again as I talk about self-care – and see if this time I can say, “I can make a commitment to do what I need to do to make time for and take care of myself.” Will you join me?

What’s the deal? We’ve been here before – especially those of us who are of the female variety. We make promises – and keep the promises we make to others but we aren’t so great about the promises we make to ourselves. Here are some of my thoughts – and I welcome your comments or stories about this.

The power of culture: We are taught at a very young age (especially as girls) that we need to pay attention to and are responsible for how other people feel. It is our job to “take care” of others. No one sat us down and lectured to us or even consciously intended to teach this – but the messages surrounded us. We observed the adults in our lives. We responded to the subtle body language of approval or disapproval. Often we don’t recognize the power of cultural values unless we step outside them. Has one of your children had a tantrum in public? What kind of messages did you get?

Selfishness: Perhaps we are unable to make a distinction between being “self-centered” and “centered in our selves.” Do you hold the belief that, “If I do take care of myself I’m being inconsiderate of others?” This is natural given our culture. But it doesn’t make sense. There is a reason that flight attendants ask you to put your own oxygen mask on first. If you don’t take care of yourself first – then you can’t take care of the ones you love.

Is it either/or? My sense is that we engage in either/or thinking about caring: EITHER I can care for myself OR I can care for my children. It is true that if we leave taking care of ourselves until the very last thing in the day it won’t happen. It becomes “them” not “me.” But there are other possibilities.

Imagine if… exercising or spending time with friends or reading or taking some quiet time were part of your routine at least several times a week. Would you feel better? Would your children (especially your girls) learn about self-care from your modeling? Would you feel less resentful about not having space for you? Would you have more reserve or “flip your lid” less often? Would it be easier for you to let your children learn how to “take care” of their own feelings and their own life (without abandoning them)? How would it feel to keep your promises to yourself? What do you want your children to learn from you about self-care?

PS. There is a great video of Daniel Siegel reviewing the “brain in the hand” on YouTube. Or you can read our blog on the subject.

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