My daughter is a college student. Her life is centered around school, which means classes, exams, good times with friends, and enjoying her collegiate lifestyle.
Recently, while being a little stressed during her exams, I pleasantly watched her (from a distance… she is 6,000 miles away) creating balance in her life. Between hours and hours of studying for exams, she continued to take running and walking breaks, fit a Pilates class into her busy schedule, cooked healthy foods which she took with her to school in plastic containers, and she said to me: “My rule is not to cancel exercise, even during exams, because it helps my productivity and ability to focus.”
What amazes me is that it wasn’t me who told her to keep exercising or to eat healthy. I honestly didn’t have “the talk” with her, and it is not that I want to take the credit, (ok, maybe a little) but she grew up with a mother who modeled to her a “caring for yourself” lifestyle.
I really shouldn’t say “grew up with a mother” because when she was young I didn’t take good care of myself, and I put other people ahead of myself. Yes, I neglected my needs and became overstressed and overweight. When she was 12, I went through a total transformation and lost 90 pounds, which included a drastic change of priorities, making “caring for myself” one of my top values. She watched the transformation and she saw me walking the talk. She picked up on my happiness and learned that as I was taking care of me before taking care of others, I became happy and healthy.
Caring for yourself is a sacred practice that benefits your loved ones as well as yourself.
When our kids were younger, some of our friends thought we were horrible parents because we left them, sometimes for a few weeks, with other caretakers while we traveled. Yes, I had my moments of feeling guilty for “abandoning my babies” (even when they were teenagers), but I knew that spending time with my husband and taking breaks from life was essential for my sanity and made me a better parent.
Taking breaks from life and doing fun things is not selfish. Caring for yourself brings sanity and peace to your life.
Don’t get me wrong: it never felt perfect! Just like (almost) any other mom, I would lie awake at night, asking myself “how much am I really damaging my kids by putting myself first?” My mom was a quintessential sacrificer. Growing up, the practice of “caring for yourself” was not present in my life. My mom didn’t take good care of herself. She sacrificed her wellbeing for others all the time. When I was a teenager, my parents gave me their bedroom and they slept in the living room with a sliding door between them and the rest of the apartment so I wouldn’t have to share a room with my brother and sister! Yet she was unhappy and unhealthy most of her life, including when she passed at 65. My mom’s passing was a “reality check” for me and made me understand that I have to care for myself…first. Her constant sacrificing didn’t serve her well, and I didn’t want to walk down that same path.
Fast-forward to today… watching my daughter go through her college years balancing studies and self-care brings me pleasure. After spending too many days and nights feeling guilty when she was young, I now see that giving myself permission to care for myself has benefited both of us.
Caring for yourself should be a high priority because it is our sacred responsibility to be happy and healthy.
If you find yourself feeling guilty for caring for yourself, think about this: it might be that two of your biggest values are in conflict. Maybe it is service versus self-care, or it might be parenting versus personal growth. Take a look deep inside and come to terms with the truth that self-care and personal growth are the first steps toward being a healthy parent and being of service to others.
Honoring a “caring for yourself” practice allows you to teach your kids (and other people) an important lifelong lesson and gives you the energy, clarity, and inspiration to live life to the fullest.