[Warning – true vulnerability here.]
About 8 years ago, my ex-husband wanted to put my child on ADHD medication. He was five. He wanted to take him to a psychiatrist and get him a prescription, without even thinking about other means. So I met him halfway and agreed to have him see a psychologist first. He enjoyed his time with her. He was getting more and more focused and he seemed happier to a point.
After about a year, she mentioned that perhaps I should seek counseling too and offered me a referral to someone else. I knew I was suffering from depression but as a working single mom, I just did not believe I had the funds or time to get counseling for myself. It was one of those things I ‘should’ do, but didn’t. It seemed my happiness was not important just his.
One day, when I was in the waiting room, the counselor came out and shut the door.
“Christina did you set up an appointment for counseling yet?”
“Not yet” I was ashamed to say.
“Your son isn’t as happy because you aren’t happy. He’ll be fine when you are.”
OMG I’m screwing up my kid.
I don’t think I could have heard anything more heartbreaking. It was crushing.
You see, when it comes to our own happiness sometimes, we pause or put it off. When it comes to a child, a sibling, our best friend, we want to fix it or help. I was devastated that my state and not taking care of myself was affecting him so much. He has always been compassionate and empathetic – which are great qualities, but I didn’t want him taking on my depression.
I cared more about him than I did myself. You might think that it’s ok, because he’s my kid so I should love him more than myself, but here’s some reasons that type of thinking doesn’t work.
Kids are sponges of action, not talk.
They observe your actions more than they hear your words. If I tell him I want him to be happy but show him how to sacrifice his happiness for production or others, he is going to learn to sacrifice – even if he ‘knows’ I want him to be happy. My depression, especially as a the sole parent around him (my ex moved cross-country), showed him how to act. It was heartbreaking.
I need to keep my cup full.
Self-care is about loving yourself and those around you. When I give while my cup is not full, I am bound for depression. I am giving what I don’t have to give. Inside my little girl is forgotten and abandoned again and again. I get angry and resentful, maybe not to someone’s face, but in my actions. I was giving my son the impression that my wants and needs didn’t need to be met. I was teaching him to be angry, resentful and unfulfilled. That’s definitely not what I wanted for him.
I learned that my self-care was about my care for him as well. It wasn’t selfish to treat myself well. In fact, it taught him to be independent and enjoy his life. It teaches him how to treat himself. It was also freeing for me. Being in counseling allowed me to release my anger, re-prioritize my life and move forward.
When mama’s not happy, no one is happy.
This is so true. My son was taught compassion. He felt my stress, anxiety and misery. I snapped a lot more than I wanted to and had to apologize way too many times. I did not want to be the unhappy mama anymore. I felt powerless and broken. I needed help.
So I showed up and did the work.
I went to counseling for about 2 years. These characteristics of mine that I was not proud of came from my mother as she got hers from her mother. It was painful to watch the generational shame and anger continue, so I decided to stop it with my generation. I was determined that my son would not learn those qualities from me. I knew that meant I had to treat him differently and model behavior I actually wanted him to embrace.
It took shifting 30+ years of heredity and experience. It took changing a lot of the beliefs I held about my worth coming from my production and how I handled stress. It took loving him enough to learn to love myself, see myself as enough and change my behavior for the better.
It wasn’t important until I did it for him. Now I do it for me and I freaking love my life. It wasn’t easy sifting through all those feelings, challenges and truths. It was really quite ugly and at times felt impossible.
So if you feel like self-care is selfish, I beg you to reconsider or think of those around you. How you act and speak is influencing people whether you want to or not. If you can’t start for you, start for your love of them.
It is my hope that no one has to hear that they are screwing up their child, but hopefully if you do, you know you can always find another way.]]>