Is Mothering Wearing You Out?By Dr. Margaret Paul
December 31, 2006
If you are struggling with how to take care of your children and yourself, this article is for you. Giving yourself up for your children may affect your health, we well as creating children with entitlement issues.
I always wanted to have children and I was completely thrilled when I had my first child. Nothing, however, prepares a mother for what it's like to be responsible for a child 24/7.
Before my son was born, I had time - time to read, to be creative, to spend time with friends, to take long baths, to spend time with my husband, to breathe. Suddenly there was no time for me. And, of course, after two more children, having any time for me became even more challenging.
That's when I started getting sick. Not sick in the way you could name it - just sick in the way of being fatigued all the time. As much as I loved being a mother as well as continuing my practice as a psychotherapist, I was wearing out. Something had to change.
The real problem was in knowing how to take care of my children and myself, instead of just taking care of my children. I had been brought up to be a caretaker, which meant that everyone's needs came before mine. That was really what was wearing me out. Not only that, but putting their needs before mine was creating children with entitlement issues - the more I put myself aside for them, the more they demanded and felt entitled to my time and attention.
Unfortunately, I didn't discover this problem until my children were adolescents. By that time I was headed for serious illness. My immune system was shutting down and various doctors said I that if I didn't change my lifestyle, I would end up with cancer or something equally serious.
It's not easy to start to attend to yourself when you've always put others' needs before your own. Yet for me it felt like a life-and-death situation. I had always been afraid that if I said "no" to my husband and children, I would discover that they really didn't care about me. I was afraid to find out that they wouldn't support me in learning to take care of myself. Yet I finally reached the point where I was willing to lose them rather than continue to lose myself and my health.
It was at this point that I began to develop a strong spiritual connection, and Spirit eventually guided me toward Inner Bonding. It was through practicing the Six Steps of this powerful process that I was able to start taking care of myself while I was working and taking care of my family, and my health gradually returned.
I had always had enormous compassion for others but generally lacked compassion for myself. My challenge was to turn my eyes inward to my own feelings and needs instead of always being tuned in just to others' feelings and needs. I needed to learn to treat myself as well as I treated others. I needed to learn to stand up for myself when my family demanded that I take care of them to the detriment of myself. I needed to learn to have the courage to withstand their anger when I didn't do just what they wanted me to do. I needed to learn to stand in my truth regarding what was loving to myself and others instead of trying to control their love with my compliance. It's been a long and sometimes painful road, but one with great rewards.
In a session with Renee, one of my clients, she told me that she was struggling with this same issue. She was exhausted most of the time, and often felt depressed. She told me of a recent incident that had happened with her nine-year old daughter, Sarah. Renee had told Sarah that she wanted to watch a particular TV program at 8:00 that night, so Renee wanted to make sure that Sarah didn't need anything from her after 8:00. When 8:00 came around after Renee had been spending time with Sarah, Renee said she was going to watch her TV program. Sarah said, "Mom, so the TV program is more important than I am." Renee got confused by this, bought into the guilt, and gave into Sarah, thereby enabling Sarah's already strong entitlement issues. Then Renee felt even more exhausted and depressed.
What Renee needed to say to Sarah was, "Honey, it doesn't feel good when you don't care about what is important to me." Then she needed to watch her program, thus taking care of herself and at the same time role-modeling personal responsibility rather than enabling Sarah's entitlement issue by giving herself up.
Learning to take care of ourselves is essential for our own health and the health of our family.
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In your relationships, do you focus on what you love about the person or on what you don't like? Which do you offer the most - appreciation or criticism? Since no one will ever meet your idea of perfection, why waste energy on complaints and criticism? If you spend your energy offering love and appreciation, you will find your heart feeling full of love.
By Dr. Margaret Paul