People can tell you how your priorities will shift when you have a kid, but it won’t really sink in. It can’t. It’s like trying to predict how much you’ll love your new nugget or how many times you’ll watch the same Disney movies — it’s just not possible to fully comprehend (hint: Both will exceed your expectations with mind-blowing intensity).
So, try as we may to prepare, some parental experiences just can’t be fully understood until lived. Another of those for me was figuring out how to take care of my kiddo AND take care of me. To be honest, I’m still kinda working on it, like at the introductory steps really.
I think it’s because parenthood might actually reweave the fabric of the space-time continuum, leaving fewer hours in a parent’s day to do stuff like read a novel or take a relaxing bubble bath.
Elenor and I used to binge watch Netflix shows the night they’d be released. Now, the only show we’re excitedly anticipating is “Incredibles 2,” which we’ll love right up until the 14th or 15th time we see it that first week.
And that’s another thing. The card on my Valentine’s flowers for Elenor this year quoted “Cars” and “Moana.” I’m even wifing like a mom.
I probably have hormones and evolution to thank for the nearly primal drive to operate in the world solely as Harvey’s mom, rather than as myself, who, among other things, is Harvey’s mom.
But after two-plus years of parenting and at times some pretty serious exhaustion, I’m beginning to understand why those in-flight safety procedures say to put your oxygen mask on before assisting others.
Turns out, I’m useless (or at least a lot less useful) to my fellow life travelers if I don’t ensure my own regular ability to simply exhale.
So, for Harvey and the rest of my loved ones, I’ve decided to prioritize taking care of myself.
The first problem appeared rather quickly: I don’t know how to do this.
So, I turned to my favorite life manual, the collective intelligence of my Facebook friends, to learn their tricks. I was interested, and maybe a little relieved, to realize I’m not the only one who habitually prioritized my own needs after everyone else’s.
Perhaps that’s not too surprising given their generosity and that so many people these days freely share how busy they are, how little they sleep or how infrequently they use sick/vacation days almost as if it’s a badge of honor. But even those friends wanted to be better about finding the time to refuel.
And while I’d call myself a dedicated employee and an invested parent, I’ve realized the finite nature of my ability to give and serve.
I was talking with my sister about this, and she sent me an interesting article about how self-care is actually a discipline. I was inspired because I think I’ve had this weird misconception that self-care looked like fortnightly spa visits or something, and so while not everything in the article resonated, the idea that self-care is less an indulgence and more a sort of boring routine of good health was a welcomed perspective shift. Goodness knows I don’t have the time or the resources for regular massages, but I can work to take some deep breaths each day, move more and prioritize sleep.
So I’m giving that a try. Especially because seeing sweet Harvey repeat the not-as-sweet string of cuss words I sang after a recent toe stub reminded me how closely he’s watching and that he sees my life as a template for his own.
If I want to be the best for Harvey, I’d better learn to be the best for me, too.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.