My former sister in law once told me while I was still carrying my first born in my womb, that being a parent would be the most difficult yet most rewarding job I’ll ever have. She was right. I think even the most seasoned of parents question the choices that they make for their children, wonder if they’re doing everything that they could for them, stay up at night worrying about them when they are away, worry if they’re being over-protective or not disciplining them enough, and we all hope we are not causing irreparable damage! Believe me, I have witnessed many who have raised children without an ounce of compassion and nurturing, but when you put your heart and soul into your job, whether as a parent, nurse, doctor, teacher, politician or first-responder, you utilize an enormous amount of physical, mental and spiritual energy and risk suffering from burnout or as my pastor so eloquently phrased it; compassion fatigue. Those of us who are natural givers can suffer from depletion if we do not take the time to step away from all of the giving and allow ourselves to restore our energy levels and rest our weary minds and hearts.
My typical day starts at 6:30 am, getting my son up and out the door to make his 7:15 bus. He is a morning person so there isn’t much struggle there. I then have about half an hour to check email/facebook/wordpress before it’s time to get my not-a-morning-person-until-you-turn-on-music-and-dance daughter out of the bed and ready for school. While she’s getting dressed, I’m making her lunch, packing her snack, filling her water bottle and making breakfast for her so she’s out of the door on time. Now that half of my normal daily energy level is spent, I try to get in an hour of either meditation and/or exercise before I head to my client’s office to work. If it’s a good day there are no phone calls from school nurses or other clients who need my attention while I’m working. After I squeeze a day’s work into four hours, I rush home to meet one or both kids, start dinner, then head out to pick up or drop off my artistic one to some type of lesson, try to get work done while I’m waiting but am usually distracted and then commence to getting her home and finishing dinner. If I’m lucky enough to finish dinner in-between helping with homework, reading and completing paperwork sent home from school and phone calls, we may eat before 7 pm which is usually the first time I’ve sat down all day. I then try to squeeze in a little family time during dinner either at the table or watching one of the few shows we all agree on; Family Feud or Chopped if there isn’t a good family movie on cable. The next hour is spent getting my seven year-old bathed and ready for bed, trying to stay awake long enough to read her a book and tuck her in. I walk back downstairs to the living area, take a deep breath and prepare to spend an hour of quality time with my son. If I can keep my eyes open through the latest episode of Ninth Grade Ninja or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s a miracle, but he only cares that I’m there and he gets me all to himself for a while. At about nine I send him up for his shower and check on the younger one to make sure she’s asleep. It’s at this point that I feel the exhaustion setting in, but I have to get a second wind, put away leftovers from dinner, respond to any client emails, do laundry, stock the dishwasher (I hate to do dishes) and connect with friends and family I don’t get to see or talk to on a regular basis. On a good night I’m in bed by 1AM setting the alarm for five and a half hours later. This is the life I know. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom, and as difficult as it is parenting solo, I would not trade it for anything! I am fortunate to have the time to spend with my children day and night. However I truly believe that the only way that I can be a so-called “great mom” and serve my family, friends and my clients with the care and attention that they deserve is to make time to retreat from all of it every once in a while. It’s not easy when you are the sole parent to remove yourself from your children without an incredible amount of guilt, but I am learning that if I am at peace, my state of being is transferred to my children and they are much easier to parent! Simply put, if you spend most of your hours giving, you have to take a fraction of that time to allow yourself to be on the receiving end. If there is no one to take care of you, you have to make the time to care for yourself.
I have a ritual that began over four years ago when my children’s father and I separated, that I still continue religiously to this day. Every few months I take my mini-retreat. My budget is tight so I can’t do it often, but I make sure that I save enough each month so that when the time comes, I am ready to book the room. At first I did it because I couldn’t stand being in a quiet house when my kids were with their father on Christmas night, and I wanted to get out of the house to keep from missing them. I had a discount coupon for a nearby hotel and decided to reserve a suite for the night. The best thing about my private is that for a little more than the price of a tank of gas and a mani-pedi, you get a full suite to yourself, a two hour manager’s reception (yes, that means open bar) and a hot breakfast in the morning. Aside from those perks, I get to enjoy a bubble bath without anyone banging on the door to get in, I can watch one of the two flat screen televisions on any channel I want whenever I want, I can relax on the couch and read without anyone yelling “Mom, tell my brother to give me back my “fill in the blank”! And after my glasses of wine, snacks and bubble bath, I can sink deep into the plush pillow top mattress and the down pillows, and coast into a deep sleep, assured that no one will knock on my door and interrupt my slumber unless of course I sleep through breakfast and the maids are ready to clean the room!
After my meditative breakfast I head to the pool area which is almost always empty at 10am in the morning and take advantage of the late checkout I requested by going for a swim and an extended relaxing and dreamy float in the Jacuzzi. I can’t tell you how refreshed, relaxed and renewed I feel after just twenty-four hours away from it all. The hotel is only about half an hour from my home and at first it felt silly to pay for a room so close to home, but for someone who has the exhaustive task of taking care of not only my children, my home, my business and clients and myself it is an oasis! Yes I could stay home and take a bubble bath or sleep late but as a mom, I would spend more time feeling guilty about the dishes in the sink, the floor that needs sweeping or the laundry piling up around me and I wouldn’t be able to relax or feel the freedom of escaping from all of the normal day-to-day duties.
I encourage you to think about the definition of compassion fatigue and if you’re affected. Stress can have a major impact on both your spiritual, emotional and physical body so I urge you to take the time to renew your compassion and challenge you not to feel guilty about it, at least until after you slip into the bubble bath. Try it and share your experience in the comment section below.
Even Superman retreats to the Sun to renew his strength after a day of saving the world!