I like most people, need to put more importance on self-care. I have a tendency to put others ahead of myself. This makes me a really good husband, a pretty good friend, a dad who has to tread carefully, and kind of a jerk to myself sometimes. It’s a trait that, quite honestly, doesn’t serve me all that well sometimes.
In my personal life, it’s not so bad. If my wife needs something, I tend to drop whatever I’m doing and try to get her what she needs. If she doesn’t need something, but is upset or stressed, I sometimes don’t know what to do with myself. So, I work hard to figure out how I can help and usually come up with something that’s effective. When my friends need something, they generally know that if it’s within my power, and family/work responsibilities allow, I’ll hook them up. Usually, this amounts to moving things (which I love doing), and listening/advising (which I literally have a Master’s Degree in).
As a parent, it’s trickier. I can do all sorts of things for my boys. I can get them a bowl of frozen mango. I can take them to the movies and help them with their homework. I can make them peanut butter sandwiches, and put away their clothes. I can do all of those things. But I really shouldn’t. Not all of them.
My boys are eight. They can make their own peanut butter sandwiches, and put away their own clothes. They can do most of their homework on their own. Sure, they still need me to take them to the movies, and the frozen mango is a little tricky because the freezer is high up, and there just isn’t enough space in our kitchen for a step-stool.
But here’s the thing. Even though they can do most of those things, I still wind up doing them. Not all the time, but too often, nonetheless. And often it’s stressful for me. Because they never seem to want a sandwich when I’m doing nothing. They want it when I’m in the midst of something else – like cooking, or doing the dishes. They see me in the kitchen, it reminds them that they’re hungry, and they ask for a sandwich. (It makes sense!) And I look at them with exasperation and tell them they have to wait until I’m done because my hands are soaked or whatever.
Here’s the frustrating part – that little bit of exasperation in the moment is enough to shut down my executive functions and cause me to forget that I can just have them do it. And not asking them to do it means that I’m not empowering them to solve their own problems. They won’t always be eight. I have to prepare them now for those times in the future when they’ll be out of the house and faced with a challenge they have to solve on their own.
And that’s where self-care comes in. Some of us see self-care as selfish, but it’s a good kind of selfish. Because it sets you up to perform better going forward. Especially when you practice it consistently.
See, on those days when I’ve gotten enough sleep or exercised, or practiced my mindfulness routine, or all of the above, I’m much more likely to remember to ask the boys to make the sandwich. But when I skip those self-care steps, I tend to forget and take those little tasks on myself. And eventually, that stresses me out, which stressed my wife and kids out.
So, my self-care also cares for my family. Exercising clears my mind and makes me feel better in both body and spirit. Getting enough sleep helps me manage my emotions and stay motivated. Healthy eating improves my energy and lets me focus for longer periods of time. My mindfulness practice helps me step back and “practice the pause” when talking to people and approaching problems.
Which brings us, dear reader, to the idea of selfishness being selfless. If you’re putting yourself first, you’re also putting your friends and family first.
Your focus on self-care lets you live longer and with less stress. So, you’re with them longer, and in a healthier way both emotionally and physically. It gives you the energy to be there for them and gives you the focus to be there with them. It also lets you model healthy behaviors, which can pay off in all sorts of ways.
What are your favorite self-care activities? Which ones can you improve upon? What’s one thing you can do to take care of yourself?
As for me, I’m going to make more of an effort to exercise. I’m committing right now to walking on the treadmill each morning and going to the gym at least three times a week.
Tell me about your self-care routine, and hold me to mine at brendan@ADHDessentials.com.