Writing and Self-Care: Making Time for the Impossible & The Necessary

I had a bit of a breakdown last week and spent part of Valentine’s Day googling divorce and sympathizing too much with Susan Rawlings in “To Room 19.” Lately I’ve felt squeezed out of my own life: most of my day is spent helping eighteen year olds manage their lives, and the rest of the day is spent helping preschoolers manage their lives (and bodily functions!), and the end of the day is the time that saves our marriage, when we either join on a bed or join on the couch for taco dip and Top Gear.

Fortunately, Brian has known me for a long time so when I grimaced at his suggestion of “together time” on V-Day, he immediately took my laptop upstairs, brought in a cooler of Caffeine-free Diet Coke, and put the box of chocolates on my milk crate-cum-side table. After the girls went to bed, I got in my own bed and spent an hour writing. I didn’t necessarily accomplish much, but I accomplished something. I’ve had 2 more writing evenings and it’s been incredibly rejuvenating. So I won’t be going through on that divorce (or putting my head in an oven).

Sweet Dreams – Dulces Sueños, Room – Habitación de Hotel, Salamanca, HDR Marc via Compfight MY ROOM DOES NOT LOOK LIKE THIS!

Writing is a part of my self-care, and self-care is a thing I’ve been neglecting for give or take five years exactly (since my oldest daughter turns 5 this weekend — FIVE!). As a mother, often as a spouse, as a person who owns a house and has a job, I’ve replaced meeting my needs with meeting the needs of others. On a given day, my kids come first, my family comes first, writing up notes comes before eating lunch, going to work takes precedent over a resting up day for a lingering cold. And it has worn me down. It is what it is, but it can’t go on. On days when I feel particularly written out of existence, which happens only with my permission (I must remind myself), I’m so angry. I’m so mad at my kids for not considering the fact that I want privacy when I poop. I’m so frustrated that my husband has to unload on me after a hard day at work. Why aren’t they thinking of me? Why haven’t they considered what I want?

On my bad day last week, I read an article about living with a miserable person and it struck a little too close to home:

Living or working with a miserable person is a life draining experience.  No matter how much you give, it is never enough.  The more you do  for the miserable person, the less it seems to make a difference.  Appreciation, if it exists, is very short lived.  The miserable person is a bottomless pit sucking your time, money, and energy until you have nothing to give.  You will probably find yourself dreading time with him or her.  Miserable people are entitled.  They tend to believe that they deserve being made happy.  When people talk of deserving things, watch out.  You may be in the presence of a miserable person. 

Ouch. It rather makes sense, though, that my kids have not learned to consider my needs because (other than the fact that, developmentally, it’s a little beyond them) I’ve never, ever taught them. I’ve rarely taken time for myself. I rarely ask for what I need, instead yelling when they fail to mindread and interrupt me in a moment that I have internally considered sacred blogging time or sacred laundry folding time, but they have been conditioned to expect to me snack time or play after dinner time. In “I Think I Know Why You’re Yelling,” Janet Lansbury explicitly links self-care with parental anger:

Parenting fact: Our babies and toddlers will never give us permission to take care of our needs. “Go ahead and take a little break, mom, you deserve it!” will never be said or implied through our young children’s behavior, even on Mother’s Day. Quite the opposite, in fact. These boundaries must come from us, and our children will do their job by objecting, rebelling, making demands and more demands, and continuing to feel around for our limits until they are firmly and consistently in place.

If self-care is good for me, it’s good for my family. And if writing is part of my self-care, I’d better make time for it. I deplore slow progress but maybe it will get faster. Or maybe not. But I have to, have to, have to start taking time for myself because otherwise I will go nuts. I will never be happy, no matter how bountifully the Lexapro may flow, no matter how much sleep I eventually get, no matter how many bake sales I run or committees I join. I’m thinking about this because Jen and I have been emailing back and forth about our sort of self-destructive tendency to overcommit — picking up sections or taking on responsibilities or chairing boards or whatever — and I’ve been thinking about how we end up achieving the opposite of what we hoped by volunteering (or at least I do — I can’t/won’t speak for Jen). I volunteer at my kids’ daycare because I feel guilty that they spend so much time there, but then I end up crabby and frenetic that day because I had to use vacation time for it. I sign someone up for spring soccer and then resent how it takes over my weekend. That’s dumb. I’m being dumb. (Well. We probably will do spring soccer. But maybe not the dance lessons that feel vital to me, but ultimately might not happen. I can’t feel guilty for everything, right?)

So. Me time. Writing time. Boundaries. And progress.

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5 Responses to Writing and Self-Care: Making Time for the Impossible & The Necessary

  1. Couple things:
    1. I had a conversation recently with somebody who said he and his wife had an agreement that put things in perspective really well. The agreement: whoever initiates divorce proceedings has to take all the kids, and the pets, and the full mortgage payment, and the booted party gets the car and half the savings account.
    2. It is easier to take self-care time or creative time if you can leave the house and its attendant time-sucks of kids, food prep, and chores. Bug out to a coffee shop from 8-11 a.m. Every Saturday and let The rest of the fan fend for themselves, stay late at the office one night a week, go sit in the car and write while the kids are in their ballet class — those strategies work better for me than trying to get lots (anything) done at home.
    3. I take issue with the notion that miserable people are entitled. That is BS. Miserable people are suffering. Maybe they are miserable because they DON’T feel entitled, but think they have to meet everyone else’s needs before their own. More likely, they are depressed and depleted. That old saying, ” if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” is true. If you have no time to recharge your own batteries, how do you have the patience to be a good parent? I don’t have enough to last the day if I haven’t been getting good sleep, good nutrition, and time and space to take care of my own needs, physical and psychological.
    4. Permission to be the “bad parent,” who does not make homemade Valentines, shirks volunteer duty for the field trip to the petting zoo, and ducks her head and gazes studiously at her purse contents when they ask for somebody to head that committee is a liberating present to give yourself. As a reforming over-commiter, I highly recommend it!

  2. I love this post and the above answer. I wish I couldn’t relate as well as I do, and therefore appreciate not only knowing I’m not alone, but learning other ways to deal with it. Having a partner that recognizes the importance of your you-time is key. I totally get how their helping you protect it is an effective divorce prevention technique :)

  3. Best post yet – so inspiring! And a great reminder – I might have to print this one out and put it by my desk. It’s easy to forget that we’re the architects of our own misery or joy. I often find myself getting angry – and then realizing the person I’m most angry at is me because I’ve let myself become depleted. Alone time is precious – I love that it was your Valentine’s Day gift. I’m asking for that next year (and a lot sooner than that, to boot). Thanks again!

  4. This is so important. I was just having a conversation with a friend whose husband declined her request to commit to giving her a couple hours to herself on the weekends after taking care of their 5-month-old all week. Her reaction was that she just needed to adjust her expectations. That worries me, because it seems like this–what you’re describing here–is right where it leads. I’m happy for you for taking action to fix it.

    (But those links! I clicked around a little on Lansbury’s site.. oy. Good point about the yelling, but she and I have some seriously different understandings of infants’ cognitive development, in particular. Yikes.)

    • Yes, I’m not really in line with Lansbury’s overall work. But I think that for folks like me who have raised babies/small children using principles of AP, it can be easy to forget the very important work of teaching boundaries when your kids are ready, and I think mothering in our culture writ large encourages us to forget our own needs or put them at the bottom of the priority list. That story about your friend is really, really sad. I just find it sick that any partner has the “option” to decline childcare like that, you know? Oh I could go on. Anyway: thanks for the comment.

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