I recently dealt with an extremely difficult phase of separation anxiety with my three and a half-year-old. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without her running behind me and pounding her fists against the door, while in tears.
There were a lot of changes in our home all at once, so some type of reaction was to be expected. But, this was far beyond anything I had ever imagined. I had no idea what to do and felt incredibly overwhelmed from the moment I woke up each day to the moment I retired my exhausted mind and body back to bed.
I tried being more present by spending additional quality time with her while our new nanny watched my infant. I thought that perhaps the strain was coming from the presence of her new sibling, and the time that the baby was taking away from my interactions with her. That didn’t help… One day I foolishly listened to the advice of a friend who allows her child to scream through every situation, and swiftly exited her camp room after drop off. That definitely didn’t help.
The teachers called me back within 15 minutes and suggested I sit down on the floor with the rest of the class until she calmed down. (Side note here: If you don’t agree with the way someone else parents their children, don’t take their advice. Every child is different and only YOU know what is best for your child.)
Then I tried working from home while the nanny was there, but all my daughter did was cry and tell me over and over again that she wanted ‘Her’ to ‘go home now.’ It was a complete disaster.
I eventually found the right balance and saw my daughter turning a corner. She was playing with our new nanny, she was looking forward to seeing her friends at camp, and she was letting me use the toilet without screaming on the other side of the door or bracing my leg while I tried to have a bowel movement. Things were looking brighter, and I could tell that we were getting over a huge hump. But, were WE really getting over it?
Why was I still feeling tightness in my chest in spite of her achievements?
This is what I was working towards for weeks! Why was I still feeling sad and heavy now that I was finally able to take a step back from constantly having to work through every step of the day with her?
Well, one morning while rushing through another mediocre shower it hit me. It was because I had forgotten about doing things for myself.
I am not just talking about forgetting things like showers, getting dressed properly or throwing some makeup on. I am talking about forgetting to nurture myself on a much greater and deeper level. The way I had been nurturing my daughters. I didn’t need a new pair or jeans or a piece of jewelry. I didn’t need a manicure that would chip within two days or an expensive pair of shoes. I needed some reassurance and love.
Don’t get my wrong, I never underestimate the power of a nice manicure or massage, but we parents need to realize that true self-nurturing doesn’t come in the form of material things. It comes from giving ourselves the same type of love and reassurance that we give to our children each day.
So, one morning I stopped and looked at myself in the mirror. I leaned in with my hands on the counter and gazed into my own, tired eyes. I saw a ‘girl’ who had been neglected. I saw a lonely, and sad girl who was giving all of herself to everyone around her just to make others happy. The same girl I see in my daughter’s eyes when she has done every dance possible to get my attention, and sings every song she can think of when the baby’s demands are taking me away from her. I almost cried.
If I wouldn’t allow my daughter to suffer this way, then why was I allowing it to happen to myself?
Of course, I needed to be their caretaker. But, It was without question that I was fulfilling that role. I was also being the best wife possible with whatever energy I had left at the end of each day. But, there was another lonely person in the house, one who needed love and attention, or just needed to hear that she was important and that person was me.
In that moment I made the decision to find a way to nurture my own soul and give myself some needed and deserved attention. I praised myself. I acknowledged all of my strengths. I allowed myself to feel proud and take the credit I deserved for taking such good care of my family.
I also unapologetically allowed myself to feel great about the way my body had recovered after having two children. I told myself that I deserved complete showers and the time to shave my legs, even if that meant leaving my daughter with the television for an extra 15 minutes (they were always safe). I scheduled some plans with friends who I enjoyed being around, instead of just making obligated play dates with other parents I hardly knew.
Most importantly, I embraced that moment of praising myself and I didn’t feel guilty for any of it.
I made a pact with myself to give my own spirit the TLC it deserved, and realized that if I found these things to be essential for my daughters each day, then I should value them the same for myself. I would take the time to ‘check in.’ I would tell myself that I was doing a great job, and that it was completely normal to feel overwhelmed.
I would recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect parent, but that I was doing a fantastic job as a mother of two young children. I would take showers and brush my teeth without feeling guilty for it, and I would love my body. The same body that now has some stretch marks and cellulite. The very same body that carried my two beautiful children inside of it for 40 weeks each and then brought them into this world, and the same body that finds the daily strength, in spite of aches and pains, to nurse, carry, cuddle, hug and hold my children when they need it. I worship that body.
To all of the parents out there and, mainly to all of the moms: If you feel you should do it for your children, you should do it for yourself. You deserve to feel good each day. You deserve some praise for the things you do, even if they seem small in comparison to other things. We praise our kids for taking poops, don’t we? You owe it to yourself to love yourself, and you should never feel guilty for this. Especially if you are doing the best you can for your children.
Happiness won’t come in the form of a new purse or a fancy manicure, just like it doesn’t truly come in the form of a new toy. Those things will make anyone feel good in the moment, but at the end of the day, when the bag or the ‘Barbie’ is away in the closet, you will still be with yourself and the emptiness, afraid of the dark…. You must go deep.
You must nurture your soul.
Go for walks, exercise or stretch, take a shower, love your body, love yourself, and don’t feel guilty for saving a little bit of time and energy each day to do so. Just like children need to get out and go to the park with friends, adults need to escape from home and burn off steam too.
I know that free time comes few and far between when you are a parent, so I do not suggest that you will have hours at a time to do these things right away, but start with a minute here and there just to check in with yourself and say ‘Hey beautiful, I am proud of you. You are doing a really great job.’
The same way you always manage to find the time to say something like that to your kids.