Tuesday, November 23, 2010

balance, pt. 10: self care

I have more energy when I exercise. I'm more clear-headed and productive when I eat right. I'm in a far better mood when I get enough sleep. Yet, exercise falls to the bottom of the priority list, I all too easily give in to the lure of pizza and ice cream, and I often stay up late for a little "me-time".

I've read all the self-help books, so I know that I can't care for others if I don't care for myself, that I have to put my own oxygen mask on first, blah, blah, blah. Here's the problem: caring for myself is just another chore that I don't enjoy and don't have time for. And while I know I have to do it, I'd like people to stop making me feel guilty for not enjoying it.

Exercise? I've heard of strange beings who enjoy burning lungs and straining muscles. Me, not so much. I've never experienced an endorphin high; I think it might be a myth created by fit people to shame the rest of us. Yes, I like the results of exercising, and I feel great afterward, but I don't enjoy the process.

Eating well? Sure, healthy food can taste great. Sure, healthy food can be easier to prepare than junk food. But, honestly, if spinach salad and lean chicken really tasted all that good, wouldn't the world be full of much thinner people, myself included? I do pretty well with menu planning, but it takes more time to cook a real meal than to just throw something together. And, yes, I eat when I'm stressed. I already feel guilty about that, I don't need added pressure from the health-conscious telling me that good people like collard greens and tofu so much that they prefer them to fatty foods or *sniff* refined sugar.

As for getting to bed early: after a long day of work, and wrestling the kids to bed, going to bed early feels like punishment for the crime of being responsible and productive. The late evenings are for watching the Red Menace (aka Netflix), or reading junk fiction, or writing for fun, or just talking with my husband like two adults. I love my kids, and I love my job, but I want some time to do other things! (see my post on mental crosstraining.)

I schedule time for the "self-care" basics, just like any other chore or responsibility. But I hate the way we get emotionally hammered coming and going on this topic. If we don't exercise and eat right, then we feel guilty because we're not taking care of ourselves, whether that means letting ourselves go physically, or just not being productive enough/a happy enough parent or spouse, etc. But, because these activities are considered things we do "for ourselves", we feel guilty that we're spending so much time on self care and not caring for our families, spending more hours on our jobs, etc. Even though Dr. Mr. Palimpsest wants me to go to the gym (for my own health's sake), I feel guilty asking him to babysit while I go and "indulge" myself in exercise. (And yes, he and I both know that's crazy.)

I don't have a solution for this, but it has helped me immeasurably to just face the fact that these activities are not fun. I don't do them because I enjoy them, I do them because I have to. And I shouldn't feel guilty that I don't like them.


  1. I have this problem too, and it's one of the things I really hope gets easier as my kids get older. With two kids under 5, time spent cooking and exercising means time apart from them, when we already spend the whole work day apart. It's possible to incorporate at least the older kid in cooking now, but it makes everything take exponentially longer! I hope that in a few more years we can cook together easily and go for walks together that actually count as exercise (moving faster than preschooler speed), or swim (my preferred exercise). As for going to bed early-- that's never gonna happen!

  2. Yes, I'd love to embed these chores with parenting more (at all!) successfully! How do you incorporate your oldest child in the cooking process? I want to do that, but I haven't figure out a way that's safe and fun for her. She's 4.5.

  3. My oldest is the same age as yours. Her favorite job is making a salad-- washing and drying the lettuce in a plastic salad spinner, sprinkling various things from a (parent-approved) selection and quantity of nuts, cheese bits, or dried fruit onto the plates, shaking a jar of oil and vinegar to mix it, etc. I'm often racking my brain to come up with other jobs that aren't precise, dangerous, or too obviously useless. Luckily she seems willing to spend quite a long time carefully mixing ingredients or cutting up soft things like cheese for a pizza, veggies if we've managed to parcook them ahead of time, etc. It's fun, but this "help" does make things take much, much longer (and is messy!), and some recipes don't have many opportunities for her. And contrary to conventional parenting wisdom, being involved in cooking has not made my picky eater any more likely to enjoy what she's made-- she still won't touch a salad without a lot of dramatic "suffering."