This past week my 6-year-old daughter was suspended for one day for hitting another child's arm when she wouldn't get off the computer. I'm not going to go into details about that situation, but I can say it was extremely difficult. As emotional regulation becomes more developmentally appropriate, it gets slightly easier to explain, but there's a steep learning curve. (It's even really hard for developmentally-appropriate people to grasp it – let's be honest.) The more deep and powerful the emotions feel, the more grueling this process is. One thing we've found helpful with our daughter is teaching her how to check in with her body to see what they're telling her about the intensity of her feelings (i.e., "Is my stomach hurting? Are my muscles tight? Is my heart beating?").
After getting suspended on Friday when her emotions got "too red," we made this weekend a "Stop and Think" weekend. We talked, we cried, we took walks, we read books, we drew pictures, we wrote letters, we wrote in our journals, we received comfort and advice from others. It was a very healing time. It was a very eye-opening time.
One of the small revelations I had when I stopped to think was that my husband and I have let ourselves get worn way too thin in the last few months. Because we haven't been practicing the self-check-ins that we've been preaching to her, we haven't been able to offer an emotional respite to her at home so she can go to school with a "full tank." Blame it on the weather, increased work (mostly due to snow days), seasonal affective problems . . . who knows what all the factors are. But I do know this: we haven't been practicing self-care, and when one part of a system is weak, the whole system is weakened.
A great analogy for this is how when you travel on airplanes with children, they tell the caretaker, "Make sure you put on your oxygen mask first, then help your child." It makes sense; you can't give a child an oxygen mask if you're passed out on the floor. Sometimes it's really confusing and hard to know how to take care of yourself. It's exhausting to be needed and need at the same time. But I can't help others if I haven't helped myself. (Maybe I should hire a flight attendant to follow me around and remind me of that occasionally.)
What are some of the things you've been neglecting in your own life / depriving yourself of, thinking it will give you more time to care for others? Because that's the myth, isn't it? "If I take the time to care for myself, I won't have enough time to take care of the things on my list!" But the opposite is actually true. Self-care makes us much more efficient and able. Everyone is created to need, and needs left unattended can too easily become time and energy black holes.
So, again, I ask: what are some things that you can do this week to give yourself rest, life, wholeness? They can be as "small" as having fresh cut flowers around you, taking a break to listen to a song when you're feeling overwhelmed, or taking a walk.
What is your oxygen mask and how can you make yourself put yours on this week?