I want to be happy.
That’s a statement that often seems more like a daily affirmation or a future goal rather than a direct claim. You appear like you’re trying to convince those around you and make plans for the future. It sounds distant. It sounds unsure. It sounds sad.
It shouldn’t be, though. It should be a reality. It should be a purposeful statement of fact meant to convey a pressing need we all share. We’re guaranteed nothing but this moment right now and tomorrow, although so close you can feel it, may never come. So, right here today, we should be happy. It makes all the sense in the world.
You should be happy. I should be happy. We all should be. Every moment otherwise is a moment you can’t get back. It’s a moment wasted in a life that came with an unknown and ever dwindling shelf-life.
Although you’re conscious of that in your youth, as you grow and have children, you put that need for self-happiness on the backburner. Suddenly, it’s all about your kids. You feed them the good macaroni and cheese and scarf down whatever is left clinging to the pan before washing it down the clogged drain that you’ll have to clean later. You buy them brand new school clothes while wearing mismatched socks that you’re not even sure are yours. You make playdates for them while struggling to remember who you didn’t remember to call back. You become an afterthought in your own mind.
It all happens suddenly and, strangely, it all feels like a very benevolent approach to life. Doing without for yourself so that your offspring can bask in excess feels like the goodest of deeds. Who can argue with that? People might even pat you on the back and tell you, “You’re a good parent.” And you are. Good job, parent.
Being a good parent is more than just mac and cheese, though. Dilapidated people with broken spirits can’t truly be their best. The most they can hope for is to fake it well enough that no one notices. They push forward with a plastic smile and a manufactured sense of hope. Nothing is real. You’re a racecar on empty being pulled by dying horses.
Self-care is a concept that many parents aren’t comfortable with. The thought of taking care of yourself drums up feelings of selfishness. You lament over a night out when there’s laundry to be done or your feet up when the floors are dirty. Every relaxing moment forces your mind to the reasons why it took so long to get there. You remember all that needs to be done and, if you don’t do it, who will?
Of course, you’ll get to it, but taking that time out can be excruciating. Stepping away from those bores and chores for a brief taste of leisure can feel like the worst thing in the world when, in reality, it’s much needed maintenance for the most important person in the life of your family – you.
The lack of self-care stretches beyond mere moments. For some, it’s a bigger problem in a bigger picture. It’s lifetime spent in a career, home, or situation that flies directly in the face of what you know to be right. So many years go by of holding on for the sake of holding, that you lose track of why you started in the first place. You aren’t living your best life and you’re not being your best self. In a shocking piece of irony, you are giving your children, the people you vowed to put above everything else, a less than perfect version of who you can be.
The issue is that a lot of us are too close to our own situations. Our broken pieces are so big that they’ve become invisible. You don’t know what’s missing because you don’t even realize a piece should be there. That’s when parenting comes in most handy. That’s when you have to look to your children and ask, “Would I want my son or daughter to be in the situation I am in? What would I say to them if they were me and I was on the outside looking in?”
After that, it all become easy. My kids deserve the world while I sometimes think I deserve next to nothing. It’s only when I put them in my shoes rather than them into mine that I can see where I am being shortchanged in my own storyline. I can spot where I need to place missing puzzle pieces. It’s by using my constant need to give gifts to them that allows me get the biggest gift of all from them – self realizations.
Take care of yourself. Do it now. Do it today. You need it and, if that’s not enough to make you push on, remind yourself that your children need it. Just ask how you’d feel if, one day, your child felt like being happy was a foreign concept. Be the example they need in order to make sure that never happens. There’s nothing selfish about that.