Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Unbusy Revolution; On Being Selfish

On Monday the DH and I attended our first Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum Support Group meeting. It was interesting, to understate it. The families represented had kids ranging from low functioning, non verbal, to high functioning Aspies like ours, and everything in between. At first we wondered if we could even relate to what was being shared. I mean, we are very lucky, E&L are very "easy" and oh, so smart, but as the meeting went on, we were humbled as the commonalities emerged.

The homework given for the month was to take time everyday to "do something for ourselves". The idea being that caring for special needs kids can be incredibly stressful, and if we as parents don't take care of our own emotional and physical well being how can we take care of our children's? Now you all know that personally I am all over that idea, but as I looked around the room at the beleaguered, skeptical faces of the other parents, I was reminded once again of how automatic it is to default to resistance when it comes to taking time to care for ourselves.

It's so easy to prioritize the really important things that demand our, jobs, homes, bills etc., and to persistently ignore our own health and happiness. Because that's not as important, right? Certainly not as important as the needs of others...especially our children's. Sooner or later though, it catches up to all of us...with an increase in impatience ...edgy, snapping, snarling...doing a shitty job at those important things we do for others...organizational skills, energy and enthusiasm out the window...stress, stress, problems...relationships suffering...anxiety...depression, etc, etc.

And the irony is that the people who need to take the time to attend to their own spirits the most, are the people least likely to do it. Like the mom raising 3 young sons on the autistic spectrum, whose husband travels all the time, and won't get on board with helping with the kids in the way that they and she needs when he is home. I could see her turn a paler shade of grey at the burden of having to try to take that time for herself this month. But who could be more needed as a healthy, functioning, positive individual? And who has less time and space to make it happen? And who has less inclination? I could see her passion about making a better life for her children, stimulating, teaching and building the confidence of her children. She desperately wants them to be healthy and happy. I could hear the devotion and concern in her every word...I could recognize that ardent, anxious focus, because I feel it too. I want it too, more than anything. I obsess over it. It keeps me up at night. What wouldn't I give to help my precious boys in any way? It's not only the logistics of making the time for ourselves that is so difficult, but the feelings surrounding it. It feels selfish. It feels counter productive to that overwhelming passion to give our children the best possible childhoods, even though logically we know it isn't. We know our kids need us to be strong and whole and happy as much as they need anything else we can give them (more?), but in the moment it is very, very, very hard to shut the door on a weeping child to take a few minutes for yourself, no matter how much you may need it.

And I have been using the example of moms and their need to care of their kids, but you don't have to be a mom to feel selfish about taking time for yourself, or to have a hard time erecting boundaries around your own unbusy time. We all let things get in the way of taking care of ourselves. We all have those nagging guilty, "I'm being selfish" feelings.

So I think I am going to do pretty well on this month's homework. ;) Right now, right here doing this...this thing that we do together. The blogging, the sharing, the solidarity, the inspiration...this feels pretty good to me.

(and I am only feeling slightly guilty about the pile of unwashed laundry, the kitchen floor smeared with pumpkin from last night's carving and the school meeting that I have coming up in exactly 19 minutes that I could be spending this time getting better prepared for...)


  1. I am reminded that the flight attended always says to put on one's own oxygen mask before helping others. I like the idea. It is so simple. I'll try to remember.

    Urgent vs Important are difficult to juggle. Urgent is often so much more demanding, while Important sits quietly in the corner until it turns into Urgent.

  2. E, what a great post, and so important.
    I was feeling sorry for myself today, got a bit weepy, not about my kids not turning out like I hoped, but for not being a better mom, letting the impatience and frustration boil over, getting the big picture wrong, failing to quell all my nervous worries, to be more present with them, for failing to feel successful, to make life more fun. I sniffled a bit and then got over myself. I'm doing the best I can, that's all I can do.
    And the laundry and chores will work themselves out, they always do. I made some me time today, and played the piano, and scheduled a cheap but fabulous seminar next week at the Art Institute's brand new modern wing. I feel better.
    Reading your blogs always makes me feel better. You are exceptional at seeing things as they are, and shining light on what we should be seeing, offering encouragement in the wings.
    I can't imagine the last couple of years if I had not met you, and a few other amazing people whose blogs have changed my world (and contributed to a few less chores being done too!)
    Thanks, friend. Hope you make some time for you, and keep reenergizing. It's selfless, not selfish to try and stay sane for the ones you love!

  3. @FoM "...the flight attended always says to put on one's own oxygen mask before helping others" Yes, that's it exactly!

    @Mel What would I do without you? Your comment bolstered me up, yesterday when I read it and needed it. I had no time to respond, it was that kind of day...a messy day, where everything I touched turned to shite, and I was alternately sad, snarly and full of unnamed fears (and some named). One foot in front of the other, hour by hour and a new day dawned today...a new chance to try to do a little better one foot in front of the other again. I know you get this, and man, does that help.
    I am glad you are playing the piano! And what is this seminar at the Art institute? And your photos on your blog, so beautiful...that's what we need more of, that stuff that makes us, us!

  4. Hang in there, whine my way anytime, I'm happy to lend an ear, shoulder, comment, photo, diversion - whatever it takes to help each other keep an even keel. Sometimes the water's a bit choppier than I can handle without encouragment, and I'm glad to have some to offer on my better days.
    The art institute offers classes for teachers and parent volunteers to help us learn how to start discussions with classes about famous works of art. The modern wing is brand brand new, and I've never been to a modern art exhibit, only the classic stuff. I'm excited. I don't actually work with the kids anymore since it's an elementary school program, but they'll let anybody attend! I'm taking the morning train into the city, staying all day, hubby will hold down the fort while I recharge my intelectual batteries. I needed something!

    Hope you find your something too - hah! In your spare time between uber-mom and wife, chef, author and artist!


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