Please welcome Valerie and her response to my recent post If MAMA aint healthy aint NOBODY healthy!
Over the course of 20 years of marriage and mama-hood, I’ve learned a lot about self-care.
As a young wife/mother I wasn’t exactly the self-care queen.
I taught my daughter Chiquita (no, that’s not her real name – who names her kid after a banana? It’s her nickname; we speak a lot of casual Spanish in mi casa because hey, that’s just how we roll) some pretty bad habits, with which she struggles to this day.
By the time my younger daughter, The Bug (nickname again, which she hates) came along, I was learning, but it wouldn’t be until they were older I started “working on myself”.
Changing my lifestyle changed so many things around our house.
Refusing to feel guilty my husband sometimes responded to their demands, while I worked out in the basement…remorselessly informing the kids I certainly would not buy potato chips, though I’d happily provide them with something healthier…all of those things changed how I looked at the world, and that change was reflected at home.
One discovery shocked me, though: while I grew healthier and happier, and my relationship with the kids improved, my husband didn’t seem to be on the same page.
I would eventually realize that this was largely due to the fact that he was really not taking care of his own needs, nor asking for the help he needed from others.
At the time, though, it just seemed that, though everyone else in the family was getting happier, he was getting more and more distant and reserved.
I’ve been raised on the truism that “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” and I stand by that.
My own experience has borne it out.
The neglected follow-up, though, is that the same is true of Daddy – or Mama #2 or Daddy #2 or whomever the second partner might be.
I was unprepared for the truth of this, partly due to the fact that I’d never known my husband not to take care of his own needs first. He’s a very logical man, and it only makes sense to don your own oxygen mask first, so that’s what he does.
I used to resent that, but as I got healthier myself I gained enormous respect for him because of it. So I was completely unprepared for the fact that he wasn’t doing that, and his resultant strained relations with the children – and with me.
I found myself hampered in my own efforts to get healthy and happy by the fact that someone I loved was miserable.
Suddenly, the shoe was on the other foot, and it SUCKED to experience firsthand what I’d been doing to my family for years.
After a forced dialogue that resulted, eventually, in a number of changes, my husband is back to being the man I married, the man our children adore, and the man he wants to be.
He admits that it wasn’t the relocation or the job change that did it, though; it was gaining the ability to speak about what he needed, to not suppress it out of guilt that he’d be putting his own needs before ours.
To acknowledge that his own needs are important no matter what, because his happiness affects ours. What I was able to share with him, once he finally opened up, was what I’d finally learned myself:
When someone you love is unhappy, you are unhappy.
In a family, when one suffers, all suffer, no matter who it is.
Putting one’s own needs aside for the needs of others is self-defeating; they will suffer with you, so all your sacrifices may ultimately be in vain.
The best thing you can do for your family is to be the best you that you can be.
To be healthy, happy, and strong – because if you’re drowning, you surely can’t tow anyone else to shore.
The final thought I’d like you to take away is this: as parents, we have several jobs. Most of those jobs we can do or not do, depending on our level of involvement and caring.
The one job you absolutely can’t avoid, though, is the job of teacher.
Whether you mean to or not, every day, in every action, word, and attitude, you are teaching your children something.
From birth to…well, forever, really, your children are learning from you.
They’re watching, listening, and absorbing lessons every second.
When I started changing my life, one of my greatest motivations was this: I’m the one my daughters look to in order to learn what it means to be a woman.
It helps remind me to stop and think about how I’m taking care of myself and living my life.
Above all else, I want my children to be healthy and strong and happy and love life – so that’s what I need to strive for, and I need to do what it takes to make that happen.
I don’t always succeed, but it’s always my goal.