By Jen Perzow
“What are you buying us for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day now that you have some money from babysitting?” a friend recently joked with her teenage son.
The son looked at the mom, utterly exasperated, and said, “Do you really want me to buy you something?”
The mom laughed and said, “No, of course not, just spending time with you is all I’d like for Mother’s Day.”
Without missing a beat, her son stared at her, completely deadpan, and said, “I’ll get you a gift.”
It’s easy to absorb the commercial pressure leading up to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sharing gifts with the people we love, whether handmade or purchased. I cherish every gift that has come home from school over the years and I am definitely the first one to put my hand up for a day of relaxation and pampering.
When it comes to truly taking care of ourselves, pampering can be a treat, but it is not enough. It is both tough and important to ensure that self-care – and sometimes radical self-care – is integrated into our actions every day.
What activities and experiences recharge us and help us to keep going? Self-care for one person might be inviting guests for Shabbat lunch. For someone else it could be going to the gym or reading a book. The options are endless.
Fitting self-care into our busy lives, however, can be difficult. Particularly when we’re deep in the thick of parenting challenges and struggles, it can be really hard to see how self-care is possible or even if it will make any difference at all. But those are the moments when we most need to be taking care of ourselves.
How do we take care of ourselves when we are moving at light speed, often from one crisis to another, constantly putting out fires? When there is simply no time or space for the things we love to do and that help us to recharge?
Luckily, self-care does not require grand gestures. One of my most profound moments of self-care involves locking the bathroom door so that no one can come in and ask to sit on my lap while I pee. It happens way more often than you would think.
The most fundamental component of self-care doesn’t require any extra time or organization. It has to do with our ongoing internal conversations. You know the ones I mean. The things we say to ourselves that we would never say to someone that we love. The often negative and critical voice that has made itself a permanent home in many of our heads.
Several years ago, during a very difficult time in parenting, I realized that I could not do anything to give myself the self-care I desperately needed. No time for a spa and no energy to see friends or go to the gym. The only thing I could do was pay attention to my thoughts. And so I started to practice being really deliberate about them. I started to notice when my thoughts were helping me and when they were making things worse. That one change made a huge difference in how I approached parenting and in my ability to be the mom that I wanted, and that my kids needed me, to be. When temper tantrums came to visit, I helped myself to calm down first and noticed that the more calm and grounded I became, the more quickly the tantrum would dissipate.
Parenting isn’t always easy and it takes a lot of resilience. If you don’t have time for a solid self-care regime, start with your thoughts. This includes a rule of feeling no guilt for taking care of yourself. Self-care is a fundamental component of well-being.
For Mother’s Day this year we had brunch and opened gifts made in school. Our family dance party playlist also made an appearance. Then we each created our own self-care lists and shared them with one another. My hope is that modelling self-care and resiliency in this way will give our kids valuable tools to carry with them into adulthood.