Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Stuff Your Own Stocking: Advice for Parents & Organizers

a.k.a. "Take Care of Yourself"
a.k.a. "Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First"

There is something wrong with me. Not terribly wrong, but I can tell by the twitch in my right eye. And the ache where my neck meets my left shoulder. And the way emotional commercials about children in need feel like a punch in the gut. I know my temporary disorder is nothing more than stress from the end of a long year of poverty fighting and the emotional holidays getting to me a bit. So, I'm writing this blog as a reminder to myself - and other parents with a selfless streak - that it's, it's take care of yourself. Even if it means stuffing your own Christmas stocking.

If you read no further, this is the takeaway: Resting, refueling, and treating yourself shouldn't be a's necessary to avoid burnout as a parent and a social justice advocate. Here are a few story metaphors from my own life to illustrate my point.

The Empty Stocking
A few years back, I awoke on Christmas morning to an empty stocking. It wasn't because I was bad that year. It's just that as I skillfully played "Santa" and took over the role of reigning Christmas matriarch for my family, everyone else assumed that somebody would take care of getting me a little something. I came to the startling realization that if I did not stuff my own stocking, I very well might end up with a flat, disappointing sock hanging from a nail.

There's a metaphor here, I think, about moms (and dads) taking care of themselves. As a skillful leader of a family or volunteer group who often just quietly and routinely "takes care of things" for others...if you don't let others know what you want or make a little "you-time" to get it for yourself, you shouldn't blame others for assuming you've taken care of everything when you always seem to every other time. I moped for a few minutes over my flat stocking, but in the end, I just laughed in recognizing what happened and made a note that I had my own permission to put a little something in my own stocking every year afterward. After all, I'll be sure to love whatever I put in there, right? (This year, it's a small box with six of my favorite truffles from Kakao Chocolates in St Louis...not even my husband nor sister could pick all six correctly) Side note: It wasn't like I didn't get a present at all! It's just that silly detail of the sneaky, overnight filling of stockings. 

The Oxygen Mask
Have you ever flown on an airplane with children? When you do, you get your very own, personal safety spiel: "Always secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting your child." They say that because the parental instinct is always to take care of the children first. Yet if you are unconscious, you can't get their mask on and you both perish. Eek! Applying this concept to everyday life for caretakers and organizers, if you don't take care of yourself, you're not going to be able to take care of anybody. You won't be a good parent, advocate, employee, spouse, etc. When I put myself dead last, I get snappish with my kids and the volunteers I organize. From a mommy perspective, doing a few things I want to do will make me a more compassionate and generous role model for my kids. From an advocacy perspective, if I slow down and spend good quality time with myself and family now at the end of the year, I will come back to my advocacy in January with a renewed sense of purpose and the ability to save more lives than if I just played the martyr all the way through the holidays.

I'm not saying that putting yourself first is always the way to go. Selfishness is not attractive nor a good example for your children. But neither is martyrdom. There is a lot of wiggle room between putting yourself first and putting yourself at the bottom of your priorities. What I am saying is: put yourself somewhere on the list!

So, what will you stuff your own metaphorical stocking with? A nap? A break from social media? A nice long run? A pedicure? Hey, I'm not judging. I'm indulging.