Well, I had an interesting Thanksgiving. And a major learning.
We were at my daughter’s in Atlanta and along with her sister her father and half-sister also joined us. Now, anyone who has been divorced with kids knows that times like these happen. And it’s been 20 years since the break up of my first marriage so it isn’t as if this was a first or a new situation for me. However, the three-day holiday was the most time I have spent with him since the divorce.
He has made no secret of the fact that he regrets our divorce and knows how much his selfishness contributed to my feelings of loneliness, abandonment and eventual apathy about our relationship. Hey, you can’t ignore something day in and day out and have it thrive. He knows that now.
What fascinated me over this weekend was how hard he worked to show me how he had changed. All of sudden he was Mr. Helpful…cleaning up after the meal, taking care of the grandkids and generally showing an interest in everyone. He even turned into Mr. Charming Non-Competitive Card Player which I never thought I would live to see. It made me angry and sad.
Angry because it was never important enough for him to participate in our lives years ago and sad because he learned this too late.
And for my part in all of this…well I let him get away with being selfish, out of touch with his family, and focused totally on his needs and desires. I was totally codependent all the way. And complaining to him about it wasn’t being proactive at all. I see that now.
All this is to say…I have changed too in the last 20 years. I have learned there is a fine line between selfish and self-care.
Selfish is when you are only thinking of yourself with no regard as to how your actions affect others. It’s living as if no one else is in your life is part of your frame of reference. It is ignoring important times, events, and feelings in order to pursue your own interests when you are in a relationship. It is selfish to be a non-participating partner in what is to be a committed partnership. It is selfish to never put another’s needs ahead of yours.
Self-care on the other hand is about taking care of yourself so that you have the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy to be present and an active participant in the lives of those who are important to you. Self-care does not make a person self-centered; it creates, instead, a centered self. It isn’t self-centered to take care of your needs. It is a requirement if you are to be a centered self and bring the best of who you are to any situation – parenting, marriage, career or relationships.
Self-care does not include whining or complaining to your friends about how busy you are, or tired you are, or righteous you are for doing everything. Self-care starts with caring for self as tenderly and intentionally as you care for others. It starts with respecting your needs for sleep, down time, support and help. It starts with asking for what you need and then negotiating not giving in.
So here is a list of questions I have developed to help me avoid regrets down the road. Perhaps you can ask yourself these questions.
Am I participating in a situation or relationship that will someday fill me with regret for not taking a more self-empowering stance?
Am I complaining because I have too much to do while the rest of my family lives in oblivious-land not knowing what needs to be done to keep the family running smoothly?
Am I accepting a situation at work that is draining me because I am afraid to speak up and make suggestions?
Am I accommodating the status quo while sinking deeper and deeper into exhaustion assuming that I can handle what comes up because I always have?
Am I allowing people in my life who take no notice of my needs or who constantly drain my energy giving nothing back to me?
Here’s the bottom line of what I learned this Thanksgiving: I am responsible for my choices, my acquiescence and my non-accountability to myself.
Too often we can self-sabotage without even knowing it and then blame it on others, our job, our schedule, our health, our environment, our mood, our _________(you fill in the blank).
My ex has major regrets based on his selfishness and so do I. My regret is that I didn’t pay more attention to myself, take the time I needed for myself and become a better accountability partner to myself. I know now that isn’t selfishness, it is self-care and everyone would have benefitted from it.
As Connie Francis used to sing, “Whose Sorry Now?”…(some of you will remember her.)
Two very helpful resources are Cheryl Richardson’s The Art of Extreme Self-Care and Dr. Kevin Leman’s book Sex Begins in the Kitchen.