Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Kindness Project: Gird Your Loins

Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts. We post the second Wednesday of every month.


Now, let's gird.

Would you like to know one of the most common conversations I have with parents who come to me for help with their children?

It goes something like this:

Me: Wow. This is all so stressful for you. You're working really hard right now. What are you doing to take care of yourself?

Parent: My kid is my first priority. I need to make sure he's okay first, then I'll worry about myself.

Me: One moment, please. I need to find my soapbox. It's in here somewhere. *rummages behind desk*

Ever been on an airplane? Do you listen to the flight attendant? The part about the oxygen mask? If you're sitting next to a child or someone who needs assistance, you're supposed to put on your own mask FIRST, and then help the other person.

Why?

Because if you don't, you might lose your ability to help because you didn't care for yourself.

We are humans. We aren't limitless. At some point, we run out of gas. Whether it's as a parent, a partner, a friend, whatever, without self-care, it's going to be a FAIL.

In other words, you must be kind to yourself. However you feel it. Be gentle. I'm not saying to let yourself off the hook, to lower your standards, but I am saying that if you want to keep your emotional reserves full enough to have something left for others, you should maybe be willing to forgive yourself when you mess up. If you want to have the energy to reach out ... and to keep reaching out ... and to give the best of yourself instead of the burned-out leftovers, you've got to treat yourSELF as a precious resource. Bottomless? No. Renewable? YES.

I could say a lot more about this. I work in a high burn-out field, and I've seen talented, generous clinicians get totally fried and leave the field because it just ate them up, because they gave and gave and gave until they had nothing left. I've also seen similarly gifted professionals thrive and have decades-long careers. One of the differences between these two groups is self-care. The latter individuals set the boundaries around themselves and worked within them, took time away from the work to nurture themselves, and asked for help when they needed it.

It's not a question of whether you deserve it. Or whether you have time for it. It's a matter of necessity. If you want to have the energy to do great things, KIND things, generous and beautiful things that make our community better, that brighten others' lives and help them to persist, to have hope, to pass along that kindness to those who need it ... be kind to yourself.

Me: *steps off soapbox*

Parent: *stares*

(note: you know I'm not just talking about parenting, right?)

Here are the other fantastic folks posting for The Kindness Project today:

27 comments:

  1. Me, on my soapbox - being a parental martyr has become an art form. I have no sympathy for parents who are run ragged by their children's activities. The main job of a parent it to raise emotionally healthy children, not being a chauffeur. I could go on, but my soapbox isn't big enough.

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  2. Does eating chocolate count?

    This is why I struggled when I was a drug rep. Despite the company always talking about the importance of balance, they didn't really believe it. I think it was a human management initiative that no other department believed in. Anyway, my job wore me out. I'd come home and had nothing left for my young kids and husband. Our marriage was rocky and I felt guilty most of the time. Once I left the company, things improved 100%, and I stopped being sick all the time. Now I'm rarely sick.

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  3. Such a great reminder! That darn burnout, I'm getting better with professional boundaries, but you have to be very vigilant. February is such a tough month.

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  4. It's hard to ask for help for yourself sometimes; I used to feel guilty about putting myself before someone else, especially a family member. Now I've learned I have to.

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  5. Yes, and if parents feel selfish about "taking time for themselves" (and I know mothers especially feel guilty about this) they need to look at it as strengthening themselves so they can be there for their children when their need them.

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  6. I give the oxygen mask talk all the time. Of course some people need the opposite, they need to stop thinking only of themselves...but that's another rant. ;)

    Being a mother is hard. It's loaded with guilt and love and worry.

    Have a splendid rest of your week, Sarah. :)

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  7. What a great post, Sarah! I have a feeling the phenomenon you've described happens in MANY fields. Possibly even writing... :D

    Thanks for the reminder! And I think your post might compliment mine somehow. Or maybe that's just how my brain's going these days. <3

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  8. Ahhhhh, yes. Sometimes we think being kind is all about what we do for others. But when we are kind to ourselves, we have that much more measure of kindness to give others.

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  9. As a parent, this is such a struggle. But every time I see a movie with a friend or lock myself in a room with a book, it recharges me. It keeps me from screaming like a lunatic and making everyone miserable. And though I sometimes battle the guilts, I'm learning that I have a place too. I matter. And loving myself is a good example to set for my kids.

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  10. This must be why our waiter couldn't keep our pints filled. He wasn't taking care of himself.

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  11. *applauds* It's so easy to forget yourself in the rush to do everything and/or to help other people. This is why vacation time is so important & why I think we should totally have more 3-day weekends. :) Thanks for the reminder!

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  12. Man, this is a hard lesson for me. One I keep having to learn over and over. I run myself completely ragged, with my kids, with everything. It's not that I always put myself last. I'm not that generous. Lol. It's just there's always something that needs done, more to do, others who need need need. And you do worry for others, especially your kids, you know? It's like you let that worry take over and it becomes you, and trying to take care of things so you don't worry begins to feel like you're taking care of yourself. This happened to my sister at a water park recently. It was 106 degrees and she was so worried her kids would suffer from heat exhaustion, so she was constantly tending to them, keeping them cool and hydrated--but she forgot to watch out for herself and ended up with heat stroke, unable to take care of the kids at all. It was a good lesson for me--not just to ask others for help (letting them bear the burden of worry a bit too), but to take care of yourself, as well.

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  13. What a great post. I needed this reminder! I'm one of those people who tends to take care of others before myself and end up burning myself out. Maybe a "me" day is in order. :)

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  14. Not too many years ago I used to be that guy who was at work by 6, never took a lunch, put in 11 hours and then headed out to the parks to coach my son in whatever sport he was into at the time. Then came the headaches, high blood pressure, short temperness. Things had to change and the first thing I did was the simplest...I vowed to always take a lunch no matter what was going on. What a difference it made...in me...and to those around me (because I was different).

    A long winded way to say....AMEN SISTER! :)

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  15. I was hoping you'd address explain what "gird your loins" really means, because I always visualize a chastity belt, and I think I've got it wrong.

    My husband and I decided early on in our parenthood that we needed to do things for ourselves as individuals and as a couple so that we could be better parents. However, I met A LOT of parents (mostly mothers) in various social contexts who prided themselves on martyrdom and called me selfish almost to my face.

    I knew I was right, though. When I was coming back refreshed from a weekend with my husband while the baby was (gasp, with her grandparents!) and some mother with a twitching eyelid told me in a high-pitched voice that she hadn't had an evening out in three years because she couldn't bear to leave her precious child at home, I knew I was right. :D

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  16. EXCELLENT POST! Sometimes I get down on myself for taking the time to write. With four kids, I have limitless excuses not to. But then I think, who will I be when my kids are gone? Will I be one of those women who does everything for everyone else and never think of myself? Many people admire those women, but I feel sad for them. I don't want to be them. I want to work hard and make my kids proud. "My mom's an author" sounds pretty good to me.

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  17. That's so true. You know what, whenever I ask a caretaker how they're handling the stress, instead of spending 100% of the time focusing on the patient, often the caretaker starts to cry. They hold it in so much and the stress is often unbearable. So yes, take care of yourself!

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  18. I used to do a post-partum group and I used that oxygen mask thing constantly. It's a minefield for moms going thru p-p bc they care so very little about anything. Great post, Sarah. Self-care is so essential.

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  19. Love, love, love. It's so true and so vital and so easily forgotten. Thank you for this reminder!

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  20. Hallelujah! Couldn't agree more.

    I tend to run myself ragged, resting only when illness gives me an "excuse" to relax. In fact, today a client said at the end our session, "Now you can go and veg" and I was like, "Veg? I never veg!" :P

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  21. Yes. Taking the time to breathe, the time to unwind and decompress is so, so, so vital. I've gotten a lot better at this over the past few years. But it took a long time for it not to feel completely selfish.

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  22. Excellent post. What finally made me practice radical self care was when someone said to me "Be the example". I want my kids to take good care of themselves and they only learn to do it by my example. What a gift that was.

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  23. Ha! You know I'm sitting here feeling pretty self-conscious right now. ;) BUT. You'd be so proud of me--the kids are going to their grandparents' for two (gasp!), yes, TWO nights this weekend. And I'm going to the movies, having lunch with friends, and writing! Yay!

    Might even throw some painting and reading in there, too. :D

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  24. This is so true. A few years ago I heard a spiritual teacher telling a bunch of health care workers to be totally selfish, and it was interesting how resistant they were to it. But heck, even Jesus took time off: "He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed."

    When I forget this, I ask myself, if this was someone else's body, how would I treat it? What thoughts would I fill their head with? How long would I make them go before I'd let them rest? Do unto yourself as you would do unto others, and leave the guilt behind.

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  25. Kindness and consideration should be in everyone's outlook. Great post.

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  26. So true! If you aren't taking care of yourself you can't take care of anyone else. That being said...it is hard to step back and make yourself a priority.

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  27. I think I need to hire you as my personal life-coach. Yes? :)

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