What self-care looks like

This Is Us is my favorite tv show at the moment. Of course it is a work of fiction and the characters aren’t real. But the emotions and relationship dynamics seem real. When Beth and Randall went through a hard time recently I was shocked at how divided people were online. There seem to be two types of people in the social media world, those that sympathized with Beth and her struggles, and those that did not.

Self-care. What does that mean to you? For some it is a massage, a run in the park, or grabbing coffee with a friend. For Beth, it sounded like a night alone in a hotel room to catch up with tv friends from the past.  For me, not so very long ago, it was relieving my bladder when I needed to.

Hang in there with me; I cannot be the only one. It sounds so trivial now (and uncomfortable to talk about). But imagine this daily scenario: Rush from a long day at work to pick up the kids from after school programming, hurry home to get dinner made and on the table before the onslot of evening activities begins (sports, church, homework, etc.). You have 45 minutes to cook and feed everyone. Your spouse is either still working or showering (because he has a physical job and actually needs it). You hurry in the door, still talking to the kids about their day, feed the dog, fill a pot of water to boil, shuck corn, chop lettuce. All the while, you (I) Need. To. Pee. BADLY. You needed to go before you left the office, but couldn’t spare the time. Now, you are committed, you are serving your family; you aren’t a quitter, you see things through, and the bathroom will just have to wait. There are chicken nuggets to bake and permission slips to sign. There are always soo many things to be done. Finally, as you place the finished meal on the table, you rush to the bathroom before your bladder literally explodes, praying you don’t get yet another uti.

What is the motivation? Surely no one in my family said “you don’t have time to pee.” I could have walked into the bathroom at any time, shut the door, and taken the 90 seconds to care for myself (though my daughter has been known to slip notes under the bathroom door, every separation is too long for her). My husband would never consider putting such a thing off to make dinner. The food could wait. No one would care if we were a little late for youth group.  Not one person was better off in this scenario, but it is so easy to get caught up in the moment.

As a working mother, you feel guilt and worry. More than that, I feel compelled to take care of my family, to make sure my kids’ needs are met. My mother was a stay at home mom, so was my husbands. They served home cooked meals, on time, to their family, EVERY DAY. For more than a decade I struggled with the misguided notion that I needed to do that too. I didn’t account for the fact that our mothers had all day to work on dinner prep (they could take chicken out to thaw before lunch, or shuck the corn at 3pm). I leave the house at 7:25am and get home after 5pm. I do not have the space in my schedule to cook every night. In the midst of a season of what is often called hurry sickness, I came to a realization that I needed to feed my family leftovers (or a frozen pizza) and be okay with it. And for the love of all that is good, I need to pee when my bladder tells me to. My family isn’t going to feel more loved or better prepared by me sacrificing my comfort. In fact, they didn’t even know I was doing it. Because I was “suffering in silence.” Like some martyr. Ha.

I still struggle with acknowledging my needs sometimes. We tend to rush from one activity to the next, leaving little room for self-examination (though I am trying to be better about this). Our kids are getting older, that alone allows more time for self-care. I now regularly go to the gym, have lunch with friends, and get a monthly massage. But sometimes it is still hard. I still feel compelled to cook dinner rather than workout.

I sympathize with Beth’s decision to skip the hotel night alone and go home with her family. As much as we crave the time to recharge, we also want to be there for our families. More than that, we don’t want to miss out on the good stuff. We love our families and want to be with them. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in that part of our life that we forget to live the other parts too. Clearly, some people have never struggled with this (I can’t believe how many Beth haters there are), but there are also so many of us that can see a piece of our story in Beth’s experience. I think that is part of the purpose of this tv show. Of course it is to entertain us, make us laugh and cry. But I believe that the writers also want to expose the audience to how other people experience this thing we call life. That is you, this is me, and this is us. We all matter.

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