Before you think I’m going to break into the chorus of Jerry Butler’s 1962 release about breaking up, I’m actually about to offer a much more radical concept. The idea I’m talking about is taking care of yourself, not instead of others, but in addition to others. The thing is, for many of us taking care of our own wants and needs feels selfish.
The compulsion to put everybody else’s needs before ours often kicks in when we become parents. Instinct tells us that our newborn is totally dependent on us for food, nurture and protection, so conscientiously attending to his needs is a good thing. But when we constantly deny our own needs and fail to listen to our own inner voices telling us we are exhausted, we are stressed, we are depleted emotionally…are we really capable of giving our best to those we profess to put first?
Even the busiest parent needs to give him or herself the time to take a break and just breathe – if its only five minutes. We all need a chance to decompress, to reflect, and sometimes to just bask in silence for a little while. Being caregivers shouldn’t mean we are the last person who we should care for. There’s a reason why flight attendants instruct parents to put on their own oxygen masks before helping their children, in the case of an emergency. When we’re not at our best, we can’t give our best.
It’s not selfish to recognize and address our own needs. We don’t have to be our idealized version of ourselves – perfect in our self-sacrifice and martyrdom. We just have to be who we really are. The truth is, few of us can live up to our idealized selves and if we did we would probably be unctuous beyond words.
To truly love others, we have to first love ourselves. That sounds so self-help(ish) but it’s really just common sense. We just have to give ourselves permission. I call it the caregivers golden rule: Do unto yourself, what you so freely do for others or you will run out of steam before you get around to doing it for them. Or in the words of Jerry Butler, “Make it easy on yourself.”