Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Are You Feeling Under-appreciated?

Does this sound familiar?  After rushing home from work, you manage to change into a pair of work-out clothes (that are actually your home-work clothes because honestly, who has time for the gym?), throw together some semblance of a dinner that the family can (hopefully) all sit down to enjoy (although, “enjoy” seems like a pretty optimistic word for family + dinner these days…), squeezing in an extra chore here and there – a load of laundry into the washer is switched to the dryer, the washer gets filled again, you let the dog out into the backyard only to see that the flower bed still hasn’t been weeded.  You yank a few weeds before running back inside to stir whatever is on the stovetop and hear the tail-end of a voice message being left on your answering machine – your husband, calling to say he’s been held up at work and won’t be home for another hour or two.  You sigh and decide that it will be nice to at least sit down with the kids – wherever they are.

Five minutes before your official “dinner time”, Kid #1 calls and says that her afterschool practice ran late, so she is planning on heading straight from the school to her evening job.  Kid #2 runs to the front door just after you hang up the phone and says that she’s been invited to a friend’s house for dinner, and they really, REALLY want her to come.  By this point, you realize that the dinner you’ve already made would be fine reheated the next day, so you pray that the only remaining kid has a plan as well, so at least you’re off the hook for trying to decide tomorrow’s dinner…

BINGO, he’s “out”, too.  He shows up five minutes late, claiming the time got away from him, plus, he’s already eaten – pizza – ordered during an afterschool study group.  While this revelation gets you off the hook, you can’t help but feel put out, irritated, ignored and under appreciated.  After all, YOU are the one raced home to take care of THEM.

Ever been there?  I sure have.  I had three kids in three and a half years and those high school years were something else.  One year I had a freshman, junior and senior in high school.  During one particularly stressful-job time, I was working many more hours than I’d originally agreed to, yet I felt I still OWED it to my family to keep things running on my end as if I were home much more than I actually was.  I didn’t want to disrupt their routines.  I felt it was my duty to keep all of the plates in the air.  Looking at pictures of myself during those years, I am amazed that I appear many years older than I do today.  Deep-set wrinkles and puffiness in my face (and the rest of my body) reflect a stress-induced aging process that I'd allowed to steal my light-heartedness and joy.

Life is hectic – especially when there are lots of people with various commitments (jobs, school, sports, clubs, friends) attempting to live under the same roof.  For a time, I was unable to bend or be flexible enough to accommodate the ever-changing schedules and commitments that seemed to have taken over our once very peaceful and predictable household.

I spent a short period of time feeling really irritable and unappreciated because of the sacrifices I’d been making that did not appear to be noticed, the dinners that went uneaten, the “thank you’s” that were not said -  and then I got over it.  I realized that the things that I’d doing weren’t being noticed because no one was really around to notice them.  Many of these things had become obsolete, and the only person it meant anything to was me.  It dawned on me that I had a choice.  I had a choice about whether or not I was going to continue to live in denial about the changing circumstances and dynamics our family was going through simply as the result of moving toward the launching of some independent, mostly self-sufficient pre-adults; or cling desperately to the idea that I was still the center of my family’s universe, as I had been when I had three babies.  Coming to this realization felt as if a tight band had been removed from around my chest - I could breathe more deeply.  I felt lighter and freer than I had in years.

I chose to embrace reality and sent the grouchy old hag of flagellation and self-denial to a permanent time-out in the basement.  My job circumstances did not change for quite a while so in the interim I decided that the best stress-reliever for me was a nice run outside right after coming home from work.  Dinner was not on the table at 6pm sharp anymore.  Sometimes a kid or two might be home before my run was over, and when that happened they were greeted with a white-board on the kitchen counter (strategically placed IN FRONT of the little TV set in there) with a job or two that they could do to help get dinner on the table.  The meals were a little later and not as elaborate.  Surprisingly no one turned into an ax-murderer because of it.  These later meals did not necessarily guarantee better attendance, HOWEVER I was certainly more pleasant to be around (and I suspect this made the prospect of dinner at home a tad more appealing to the rest of the family).

My point in all of this is that as busy women with TONS of expectations (self-imposed, or otherwise), we really aren’t doing anybody any favors when we sacrifice out the wazoo in hopes of making everyone “happy”, because often they aren’t paying attention anyway.  The main people many of these rituals seem to matter to is ourselves, yet we want them to continue to matter to everyone else.  The cliché “taking time for your self” used to turn me off.  I thought it sounded selfish.  Then I realized that taking time for your self is a necessary ingredient for sanity and overall health.  Not because we have this “selfish-quotient” we need to fill, rather, because if WE don’t care for ourselves NOW, somebody is most likely going to be doing it for you later (frankly, right now they can’t be bothered.  AND that’s OK.  That is how it is supposed to be… would you not find it strange if your 17-year-old told you to go and spend some time on yourself?  You’d wonder what he’d been smoking).

It's funny how deciding to do this actually gets the attention of the rest of the family, but in a positive way.  No announcement is necessary, yet when these dynamics in the household change, the rest of the members can sense it, and often they start seeking you out.

Recently I was speaking with a client on this very subject and the client lamented that she was concerned that if she used the car a few days a week to drive to an exercise class rather than letting her son drive it to school every day, he would feel deprived by having to ride the bus to school from time to time.  I asked her how “deprived” he might feel if he were needing to feed his mother should she become incapacitated in old age.  Extreme?  Yes, but I wanted to get my point across.  If you are not taking care of yourself, who else is going to?

Many of us know what we should do to better care for ourselves, yet we simply just don’t give ourselves permission to do it.  What are your reasons? 

Elly Haddad is a certified holistic health coach and founder of Elemental Fit - a health coaching practice devoted to educating and equipping women to create balanced lives for themselves and their families.  She works with clients all over the United States in-person and via phone conducting one-on-one counseling sessions, group workshops, teleseminars and cooking classes.  Through improving overall health, her clients find success in conquering cravings, developing healthy eating habits, weight-loss, stress reduction and more.  Elly also speaks to high school students and other groups about holistic health.   


Anonymous said...

Your timing is always so perfect! I don't have 3 kids or as much craziness as I probably will someday but I can totally relate. I have been going to the gym a few times a week and walking with Kylie the other days (hoping to actually be running again soon!) Anyway, yesterday when I left her at the gym childcare, she started screaming and as I walked away as calm as I could appear to be...my heart was breaking ) : I went to my class and peeked in on her without her seeing me and saw she was walking around crying off and on. I felt like the worst mom on Earth and I immediately began thinking of an exercise regimen I could do from home... how could I EVER let her cry like that again?!
Thanks so much for writing this... I know Kylie is young and does need me but I need to tell myself it's okay to have time for myself... especially working out. I want to be a good example for her... so we will go back to the gym... I think ( ; thanks Elly!!! Love, Julie

Elly said...

Thanks for your comment, Julie!

Good for you for at least going to the class. She will adjust! If you think about the gazillion hours you have spent with her in the first 13 months of her life, a one-hour class is just a tiny drop in the bucket, AND remind yourself that this is helping you to be healthier which, in turn, will help you be around to enjoy (AND actively interact with) her and HER children, too! You are doing a great job!