I Finally Learned The Importance Of Self-Care -- From My Teen Son

by Christina Lepore
Originally Published: 
Oliver Rossi/Getty

When my first two children were young, I juggled two jobs with part-time hours. I scheduled my shifts around my husband at the time. He worked hard, and was gone a lot, sometimes 60 hours a week. I only worked one or two shifts through the week and weekends to accommodate his schedule. I took a lot of flack from people who believed I should quit, that a woman’s place was in the home, to raise her children.

The next two kids, I had two surgeries and was diagnosed with a chronic physical illness — with a mixed bag of anxiety — and couldn’t work. Then I heard the complete opposite: Other women work full-time and still do it all and they had health problems and still managed. Why couldn’t I?

The message was clear — no matter what I did, it was always the wrong thing. And if others didn’t say it, I said it to myself. “Nothing I do will ever be ENOUGH.”

Removed from outside work, I decided to make my children my universe. Everything revolved around them. This was what I was here on earth to do, I thought.

And yes, I love being a mom, but let’s be honest — a lot of the time it sucks.

Snuggles and sing-a-longs and bedtime stories quickly become replaced with karate or football or dance classes, and by bedtime they have their own routine. What now?

I wasn’t needed as much and my need to be needed — that need wasn’t being met either.

And like a damn boomerang, everything I put out into the universe returned to me and not in a fancy positive manifestation way.

It was a HOT MESS. I was negative, sarcastic, passive-aggressive. I felt unappreciated and I’m going to be honest here — I resented it. Yep, I said it (let the hate mail begin).

It felt like all the other moms seemed so cool and composed and organized and so Pinteresty!

And here was me yelling out the door, “I love you. God bless you. Have a great day. I’ll miss you.” I’d close the door, go back into the kitchen, look at the pile up of dishes in the sink with leftover pancake pieces mushed into thick goo, syrup still on the plates… and I’d be pissed.

“WTF! What am I, the damn maid? ” Full stop. I know you’ve said it too. I bet Mary said it. I bet Mother Teresa said it. But no other mommas were saying it to each other.

So I would mutter under my breath about how that was it. No more. They would do it when they got home from school. And within an hour, I was scrapping the dishes and slamming them into the dishwasher, being sure that every fork hit the other stainless steel utensil. It had to be loud, right?

Even though no one was home but me and the dogs — who, by the way, were always sprawled out in the dining room, watching me. Yep, even that annoyed me. How dare the dogs just lie there and watch?

My then-husband would come home from work, with his big smile, with all his stories, his partner’s stories and funny things to share about his day. I’d stand there with maple syrup from those damn plates. Sticky, my faded leggings stuck to my unshaved thighs, one of his oversized work tees, hair in a pony tail on top of my head, with Benzagel still on my PMS pimples from the night before, with the vibrant shimnery lipstick drawn over my mouth — when his truck entered the laneway.

“So, honey, how is everything here? Kids got off to school? Everything okay?”

“Yep, f*&king fantastic. I’m going to go read for a bit.” READ: Code word for alone. I wanted to be alone. But I did not want to be alone.

I wanted to scream and shout and let it all out. But instead I swallowed it like down like one of those torpedo prenatal vitamin capsules; it stuck in my throat. I felt ashamed.

Fast forward 10 years of zero self-care and kinda hating myself. I slowly started to do little things for myself, like writing it all down. I stopped choking as much on my perceived failures and all the “should haves” that will drive one crazy.

Well, yesterday my 17-year-old son said one sentence to me that changed everything. (Drumroll please).

And it was this: “Mom, I am so proud of you for doing something for yourself.”

Say what? You want me to do things for myself? And you are proud of me?

Tears. Lots and lots of tears. But also joy — that joy that is referred to as “unspeakable and full of glory.” Let me tell ya : it’s very seldom that I am speechless.

Moral of this story. That saying, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s true. Don’t wait years to start practicing self-care.

Whether your child is one day old or 30 years old. Start today. Do something for YOU. Something that lights your soul up and sets your heart on fire. Our children learn far more by our actions than they will even know by what we preach. Our lives are our lessons to them. Not our sermons.

We can’t tell them to follow their dreams if we aren’t willing to chase our own.

We can’t tell them to be themselves when we wear a mask.

We can’t tell them to step out of darkness and into the light when we don’t even own our own flashlight.

We can’t tell them how beautiful they are and then criticize every inch of our own bodies.

We can’t tell them to tell the truth if we aren’t willing to speak it out loud ourselves.

We can’t tell them that they we are a safe place to share feelings if we don’t admit we have them too.

We need to stop being hypocrites and be human.

If you want to make your child proud today, go do something for YOU.

Self-care isn’t something we keep in a box, just in case. It’s the wave in the sea that keeps returning to kiss the shoreline. It overflows with peace and joy and laughter and tears and hope and fear. It makes them want to dive in because you have taught them how to swim, even though you may not be a great swimmer yourself but because you dared to get in the water.

Life is messy, mommas. Stop trying to clean it up. It’s like the fall leaves. You can never rake them all. Go jump in those piles, get dirty, have fun, do something spontaneous.

Our children are watching, waiting for us to take that leap so that they can feel safe to jump in too.

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