(Short on time? I can read this to you while you multi-task.)
I want to tell you a little story today, something to remind you that what you tell yourself throughout the day can help or hinder you.
You can have stories that support and uplift you. You can have stories that prioritize your own wellbeing.
Or you can have stories that prioritize stress and shame.
(Guess which type of story most of us carry?)
Now this is a story about parenting, but it can easily be applied to other relationships, work, exercise, food…anything in your life that includes a feeling of “should.”
Here’s the story – see where you can apply this in your own life:
It was 10am. My boyfriend was at work and I was home with our 2 and 6 year old girls. We had had a slow and lazy start to the morning, as most mornings have been for us since Covid began and their schools were closed. As a new-to-homeschooling mom, I had a vague plan for the day but also had to do the breakfast dishes and fold the laundry.
My 2 year old was screaming at the top of her lungs because my 6 year old was chasing her. AGAIN.
I was not in the mood.
The loud screaming + the 6 year old who is constantly torturing her little sister + being with my kids 24/7 since March all collided in my brain and I was done.
So I joined in the screaming, knowing even as I did it that I would regret it and wish I had found a better way to teach my kids how to handle their problems other than screaming.
Then I angrily – angry at them and even more angry at myself – turned on the TV and put on a cartoon they’ve watched at least fifty times.
Now here’s where the story can go in two different directions:
Option One: After yelling at my kids and turning to TV yet again, I start to feel ashamed of my parenting. That shame spirals into feeling valueless (because what value do I have if I’m not the perfect parent?), which makes me feel emotionally heavy. The shame lodges in my chest, making it feel tight. That tightness subconsciously reminds my body of other times I’ve felt shame, and all that shame weighs me down. This translates into physical exhaustion which makes it hard for me to pick myself back up and rewire my day.
So I slog through my day, let my kids watch TV for hours, and give them broccoli and cereal for dinner. By the way, there is no judgment for any of these actions. Sometimes TV and easy dinners can be a practice in self-care; sometimes it’s a form of punishment. In this case, it’s a punishment, a way of proving just how bad I am at parenting.
I eventually go to bed feeling like crap. And also, my kids feel like crap too.
Option Two: Okay, let’s flip the narrative here. It’s 10am. My kids are fighting, I’ve yelled at them, I’m not getting anything done, and my day is sucking. So once again I turn on the TV for the kids. But this time, instead of forcing my way through the day while feeling emotionally and physically drained, I go into my bedroom and lie down. I remind myself that I am inherently valuable and that I do not have to prove my value by being a perfect parent, nor am I less deserving of self-care in moments when I’m not being a great parent. (In fact, aren’t those the moments we need self-care the most?)
I tell that shame feeling in my chest to F off, and imagine physically scooping it out of my chest and dumping it outside the front door. (I lock the door because it will try to get back in.) I ask myself what I need in this moment to feel good. Then I take 20 minutes to meditate, give myself 10 minutes to clean up the kitchen, and ignore the laundry.
And then I play a game with my kids. Or I let my kids watch TV all day and feed them broccoli and cereal for dinner, but rather than doing it in anger and shame, I make it a celebration. (Full disclosure: On Saturdays, my kids know they get to watch tons of TV and my 6 year old gets to “make” her own dinner. That means I steam a vegetable for her and she gets herself a bowl of cereal. No shame. She’s happy. I get a break from the interminable question in my head: What am I going to make them for dinner (and why does dinner have to happy every single night)?
When the day began and I felt like I was failing on all fronts, I had the opportunity to tell myself a story.
That could be a story of stress and reduced value.
Or it could be a story of inherent value and wellbeing.
We all have this opportunity more often than we can count.
What would happen if the next time you found yourself in a similar space, you prioritized your wellbeing over accomplishments?
What would that look like?
What would it feel like?
I wrote this post while out on a walk because I was having trouble writing during my work day. Instead of telling myself the story that working means sitting in my office and staring at the computer, I grabbed my phone and went on a 60 minute walk. About 30 minutes in, I had the idea for this post and took a break to type it on my phone. Then I finished my walk and hopped back on my computer. But if I had stuck to the idea that working had to look a certain way, I likely would have ended up feeling frustrated and accomplishing little. Instead I got to move my body and get my writing done, because I decided to shift my story to one that prioritized emotional and physical wellbeing over productivity in that moment.
Now, I know this isn’t always possible. Sometimes you’re at work and can’t take a break or you’re in a situation where self-care isn’t possible in that moment. But in those moments when it is – and I would say that most moments allow for self-care, even if just for one minute – can you allow yourself to prioritize your own wellbeing?
And when you prioritize your own wellbeing, what shifts because of that?