Single Parent Faith

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Taking Care of Ourselves

"Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness."  ~Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby (Born 1799)

"It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor."  ~Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman Philosopher (Born 106 BC)  

"What fits your busy schedule better, exercising one hour a day or being dead 24 hours a day?" ~Randy Glasbergen, Cartoonist
In today’s hustle and bustle, even if we are intentional not to over commit, there are still too many demands for our attention. The place we likely carve out time is from our own personal space. The place reserved for taking care of ourselves, and where we build our reserves. This is the case for many, but for single parents, the demands are multiplied.

It begins to unravel slowly, like a thread in a garment. We don’t willingly wave a flag of surrender, giving up on ourselves, but in essence we do so without realizing it. At the exact moment where we cancel something (perhaps a doctor’s appointment, or an exercise session), we see it only as an isolated incident. We see it as “only for today, to take care of this issue. I’ll reschedule soon.”

Then there’s the mommy guilt. We mothers are so good at sacrificing ourselves, our health, because we put our children ahead of our needs. There are many times this is necessary to do, after all, they are dependent on our care. But when we get into an excessive mode of sacrifice, that we allow it to creep into all nooks and crannies of our being, we not only lose who we are, we lose the things that make us alive. I’m not talking about pedicures and manicures. I’m talking about paying attention to the very real needs of our body, mind and spirit.

We know what we need to do to maintain a healthy body: enough sleep, eating balanced and smaller portioned meals, taking vitamins, and the very item that is last on most lists……….exercise.

What’s up with that? What makes us think we can be healthy without it? You notice how everybody who doesn’t exercise always has an excuse for not doing so? I know I have had my share of excuses lately.

It’s like taking a shower, and only washing our arms. Excluding exercise from our week, is short-changing our quality of life, if not our life altogether.  Single parents and non, alike, how do we think we can be around for our children, when we are jeopardizing our health by not making “me” time?

A couple of years ago I started what I thought at first to be an indulgence, going to a massage therapist. But in fact, I’ve since maintained a standing appointment every other week. It has worked wonders for me and the chronic neck/shoulder pain I get from prolonged computer posturing. Laying on my massage therapist’s table yesterday morning, as Nina worked out the knots in my shoulder, in her beautiful Czech accent she shared, “You have to do like the flight attendants remind us to do before a plane takes off. They remind us to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first. You know why? Because we are no good to others, if we don’t take care of ourselves first.” 

As a parent, often it’s difficult to reconcile the right mix of focusing on me versus my child. And I think that’s where the problem lies, that I think of it as “versus,” as if it’s a choice of one or the other. In Nina’s analogy, she maintains that it’s not selfish to act first to preserve oneself, in order to be able to assist others. I understand this concept of taking care of myself, but in practice I’ve not consistently maintained it.

The last 3 years I have allowed competing priorities to take all my time, slipping into the world of excuses. I have not given my body priority, and as such I’m having now to deal with some health challenges.  Our bodies operate by the same old adage: “Pay me now,  or pay me later.” What we don’t give attention to, falls due to neglect, and will one day reckon for our attention.

So though there will always be competing priorities in our world, we need to change how we think about our bodies. They can no longer be something we take for granted. Like a house in need of upkeep so it’s maintained and stands, so too our bodies need our attention. To not do so is irresponsible of us. It’s actually hurting our children and loved ones who want us to be around to share with us special and ordinary life moments.
Since what works for me is a standing appointment, I’m going to start scheduling into my phone and work calendar reminders for movement. Even if it’s only a stretch, or 5 pushups, any little bit begins to change the way we perceive exercise. I don’t have hang-ups about exercise; I just have slipped into a routine that doesn’t include it anymore. I now have to add it back in the way it left, little by little.

I think it’s a good idea to ask for friends’ help too. Recently I asked my sister who I can rely on like clockwork, to text me to remind me of a call I had to make, and like Swiss time, she delivered.  Ask someone like that in your life, to help you also. Pair up with someone who is very disciplined.  If you don’t have anyone like that or whose schedule is in agreement with yours, you can invent ways to remind yourself. You can use sticky notes and add them to your doors or places you will likely see as soon as you return home. Don’t make it a judgmental note, but rather make it fun by adding a smile or an uplifting quote.

You can also solicit your kids to help. To them this is fun, not a chore or a hassle. Exercise means they get to play!  Ask them to remind you at a time that works (after dinner, or just as you get home from work, etc) “Remind me tonight after dinner, to take you to ride your bike around the neighborhood.” It could be that simple. They will be relentless and you will not have an excuse that they will be happy with. This is what you need, the persistent nag to get you out moving your body. Even if all you do is walk, it’s a start. You can lengthen your stride and pick up the pace as time goes on. Swing your arms and that gives your upper body a work out.  Pick activities that you enjoy, so you’ll likely do it.

As much as we want to teach our children manners and eating their peas, getting ourselves out there with them, creates for them exercise as a natural part of our routine, instilling balance and taking care of ourselves as a familiar concept. Because habits are formed when young, we owe it to them to insure their future health. Caring for them is only half complete, unless they see us care for ourselves.

Ella Venezia
Copyright © 2011 Ella Venezia. All Rights Reserved.


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