Women are taught from an early age to please others. Watching our mothers, we follow the role models before us and help where we’re needed. We wash clothes, fold laundry, sweep floors, vacuum carpets, feed and brush pets, swaddle babies, and feed, clothe and comfort children – the list is endless.
We keep track of birthdays, deaths, weddings and anniversaries. We know where all the misplaced socks, homework and wallets are. We remember to have the things our family needs for tomorrow ready before bedtime. We spend a lot of time focused on all the people we love, because it’s a good thing, and it makes us feel good, too.
We’re there for our family and friends. When they’re happy, we celebrate. When they’re not, we commiserate, support them, and in the case of children or husbands, cajole. We help others who are down on their luck or just having a bad day. We donate money, goods and our precious time to those less fortunate.
The fact that this has been going on for millennia shows this trend isn’t changing anytime soon. And that’s probably because we really enjoy it. It gives us a great sense of purpose, not to mention deep satisfaction. Even when the things we do for others aren’t noticed, we still feel great about having taken care of them in some little way.
Not to say that women are the only ones working hard for so many to have it a little better, but there is one big difference. A lot of us completely forget to take care of ourselves in the process. A lot of us give and give and give until there is very little left. We’ve been taught not to be self-centered, not to think of our needs first. And while this may seem a very noble mindset, it can be a very dangerous one.
After years of caring for my own family and putting many of my own needs aside, my life hit a skid, and I ended up in counseling to deal with it. The counselor suggested I start doing things I had always wanted to do or try, to get my mind from constantly grinding away on the problem at hand. The idea was that once the crisis had passed, things would either be back to normal, and things would be fine… and if not, my life would be better having invested some real quality time in myself.
So I made a list of all the things I always wanted to do – learn to watercolor, dance hip-hop, play the drums, learn to kayak, try out for community theater. I made a list without thinking any idea was too ridiculous. I just kept writing things down. I checked online and in the paper for classes and started making plans. Obviously, some ideas were easier than others to get going, but I didn’t let anything or anyone stop me from going for it. If friends weren’t interested, I signed up anyway, figuring it would be an excellent learning experience. It was.
Six months later, the counselor was impressed with what I had done. The crisis was still in full swing, but he was right, I was much more mentally and physically healthier than if I hadn’t done anything at all. I also made a lot of new friends and acquaintances in the process, some of which are my dearest friends today. I learned that I can do a lot of things well and have a lot of fun in the process. But the most important thing is that I was filling up the font so that I could continue to give to others.
We need to take time to care for ourselves. We need to make it just as important as taking care of others. We need to make ourselves a priority more often, and give others permission to do so. In fact, we need to remind each other, encourage and empower each other… and occasionally kidnap each other for an outing if need be. We’ve been taught that focusing on ourselves is selfish, and that’s simply not true. We need to make regular time for ourselves if we want to be there and be strong for others.
So this is your homework, ladies – and it is very serious homework, believe me. Sometime in the next few weeks, take a day to do absolutely nothing. Don’t schedule anything with anyone, and make a list of things you would like to do that you haven’t done for awhile, or ever. You can jump around the list, or my favorite, not do anything on the list and just be spontaneous. You can totally prepare for the day, or just go crashing into it without any exptations. It doesn’t matter, as long as you are relaxing and enjoying your time.
And remember, this is just a start. Start looking around for new things to try and see how it enriches your life. Then make it a regular thing. Schedule a little holiday for yourself now and then. I like to call mine PaulaDays. And guys, if you know a lady like this, suggest that she schedules this day for herself.
Not sure what to do? I suggest getting out the sidewalk chalk and scribbling all over the driveway for starters. Do not look at the clock at any point. Blow some bubbles off your back porch. Get a massage. Visit the humane society, an art gallery. Get lost in a book store. Walk or bike the fabulous Green Circle. Sing some karaoke. Go skating! Sit in a park with a great book and a cup of tea. Put on your favorite music, loud, and dance like no one’s watching.
Whatever you do, there’s no feeling guilty whatsoever, no matter what anybody says – even that little person in your head. Oh yeah… and make sure, absolutely sure, that you take a nap.
Originally published April 6, 2012.