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Episode 7

Self-Care - Why is it so hard to do, and how does it impact our parenting?

November 15, 2021

[Kyle]: Hello and welcome to episode 7 of The Art of Raising Humans podcast. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: And we are coming to you today from with a beautiful fall, cloudy rainy morning here in Tulsa, Oklahoma and so, for this podcast I decided to throw on a hoodie, because I like hoodies.

[Sara]: We both love hoodies; I wish every day was a hoodie day.

[Kyle]: If I could wear a hoodie every day the work, I would, wouldn't you?

[Sara]: Yeah, definitely.

[Kyle]: We love it when our kids wear hoodies, it just feels so relaxing, but we're podcasting to you from our master closet, so we really can't see the weather, but the hoodie helps me kind of feel it and I thought it was just appropriate today, because in this episode I wanted to talk about a subject that's really important, that all too often I think parents really forget and its self-care, taking care of yourself. I know in the private practice, when clients come and want to get help with kids, you know, typically I do naturally just jump into connection, which we talked about a few episodes ago, but you know Dr. Laura Markham, you know, one of the people who helped teach us this approach, she really emphasizes the first step is self-care and so, when I was writing out the episodes and Sara and I were talking about different topics that we wanted to cover, I really almost felt bad that we waited so long to cover this, because self-care is such a vital part of our parenting.

[Kyle]: I mean, really Sara, how does a parent get the space to do most of stuff we're asking unless they're taking care of themselves? And isn't it easy to forget that aspect?

[Sara]: Yeah. When you talk about self-care, I feel like I see a lot of stuff of “oh, self-care” and you think of the cup of coffee or the quiet moment reading a book and I just think “Yeah. When? When is that supposed to happen?” and I think most parents feel like that. It's really. really tough with all the demands. We live in a society that says “do more, do it better, always excel” and so, all that takes a lot of time and you're supposed to, if you can fit in one more thing for the PTA or fit in one more thing for this, there's always demands, there's so many demands and so many requests and they're good things or they're legitimate or they really need to be done and my child really needs this and, I mean, Halloween is right around the corner.

[Kyle]: Yes, yes, it’s a few days away.

[Sara]: So, I’m thinking “well, we have to decorate our trunk for trunk-or-treat and we've got to get the costumes and Brennan had a problem with his costume” and so, there even silly things like that are always present. If it's not that, it's something else and they're coming in there and they create that stress and all of that makes it very hard to ever get back to self-care.

[Kyle]: Well, I know you and I were just talking just before we started recording about what-- We were kind of in a good rhythm too of getting some good self-care. I don't know if you-- You know, it's nice to be in that rhythm where you're finally in a pattern where you finally have some time to breathe and then, we bought a puppy, because we've been waiting for a long time to get a puppy, the kids have wanted a puppy. We had no idea how much time that was going to take. So, all of a sudden that rhythm was broken and I know some tears were shed by you and even by me about getting the puppy. Not tears of joy, but tears are like, “what did we do? Why did we add another thing on the checklist just because the kids kept asking us?” and we held off for so long and then a moment of weakness, I found this puppy and thought it was a perfect time. I thought it was kind of-- We're hoping that eventually it will lead to more self-care, right? Because having the puppy--

[Sara]: That was the idea, yes, this puppy, we had this goal, this dream. “A family puppy, so great!” and we're just in the throes of it being a stress, instead of a benefit; She's an active.

[Kyle]: Well, yeah, and just to be honest, the puppy today is at puppy daycare specifically, because we needed some self-care today. We also wanted to record this podcast and do other things too, but I found, you know, I think that was so surprising to me, Sara, when we first had kids. You and I, especially first you're married without kids, there's a lot of things we love to do. We love to go running, I love to play soccer and we even loved to play video games, that was fun! You and I would sit down and play Halo for hours.

[Sara]: Read books.

[Kyle]: Yes

[Sara]: Travel!

[Kyle]: Yes! All those things were fantastic. Yes, and then all of a sudden, we had kids and it seemed like a lot of that started to fall away and what I’ve noticed, you know, a lot of times working with couples with kids, is that lack of self-care. What that does it kind of starts to trickle down to the whole family, where then every moment is filled up with things to do, a bunch of have to's, a bunch of things we need to do. There's very little even want to do, it's almost always have to/need to and pretty soon that starts to increase the tension, the stress among the parents and the kids, but among the couples, you know? And among, if you and I aren't getting self-care and then we're connecting less, there's more conflict with us and then, a lot of those couples end up leading to unfortunately, divorce or separation and when they come to me or to you and they want to talk about how to help their kids through that process, you see there's no self-care like, no one's really taking care of themselves. It's constantly just jumping from one event to the other and nobody has margin, nobody has space to really be able to grow, it's just like crisis, after crisis, after crisis, you know? And it just wears on a person, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, I was thinking, yeah, it's just this to-do list that never ends, right? Every day we have a gigantic to-do list, usually a few things from the day before and that just continues and I think all the things we've already mentioned in the first few podcasts and we have this idea in our head of “oh, this is the parent I want to be for me”. I have this idea, I have studied this for a long time and really invested a lot into parenting, but sometimes the things that get in the way are all my to-do lists. I can't do the things I want to do, I can't be the parent I want to be, because I’m really stressed and it's so much harder to be in that space and be available to my children, and do the relationship I want to do with them because I’m stressed. So, I don't have the available emotional energy to be there and there's so much on my to-do list, that I can't show up and be with them the way I want to.

[Kyle]: When you're saying that, it reminds me of how Markham calls that being “emotionally generous”. I just know when I have a to-do list, I’m so snappy, I’m so impatient, I’m yelling at the kids more frequently. Everything they're doing looks like it's in opposition to what I want to do [Laughter]

[Sara]: It gets in the way.

[Kyle]: Yeah, it's stopping me from achieving my goal and I’m just not emotionally generous, you know? I have very little space and it's almost like going back to the brain stuff we talked about in episode two, it's really keeping you in the limbic system, you know? To where I’m constantly in the space of my agenda, my priorities and it's just “go, go, go, go” and the kids feel it. So many kids come in and they realize their agenda and what they want to do, typically not only is it frustrating, but it's labeled as stuff like lazy, you know? So, the parents are, if the kid isn't constantly trying to achieve something like they are, then how they gonna be successful? A lot of fear gets in there, you know, so there's this kind of need-- We start raising humans who are also constantly being slaves to the urgent, right? I mean, they're always needing to do the next thing, they're always needing to look at the-- If they have any free time at all, it’s to look at the checklist. “What's the next thing that needs to be accomplished?”, rather than “what can I do to take care of myself? How can I fill up my cup?” Right?

[Sara]: Yeah, I don't think-- We often put ourselves in this position or accept the position of doing is better than self-care and being. It's what at the end of the day, I need to be able to demonstrate I’ve done a lot, I’ve accomplished a lot, I’ve checked these things off, I have these awards, these certificates, these-- That's what we've placed more value on, than just the sitting and the quiet. If you're doing nothing, it's “what are you doing?”.

[Kyle]: Exactly

[Sara]: I’m not doing anything, why are you not doing anything? [Laughter]

[Kyle]: I used to ask-- You sounding like me, that's what I would say to you sometimes and your comment to me was, as you were sitting there sometimes just quietly sitting in the living room, I would say “what are you doing?” and you would say “I’m being”. “I’m a human being Kyle, you know? If you want to be a human doing, be a human doing, but I want to be a human being” and although that's, you know, in a simple statement, it really did hit me, I would think “I am kind of a human doing, I’m always trying to find something to do”. Now, I think certain personalities are more kind of driven that direction and other ones are more driven toward and so, I love how you and I balance each other that way. I think in most marriages you'll find there is that kind of balance, but it can get out of whack, because like you said, our culture doesn't value the being, our culture is always valuing the moving forward and doing. So, it can look like that's the greater thing to achieve, you know?

[Kyle]: And especially when you've got so many things to do, right? With kids there's an endless amount of things to do.

[Sara]: And it's not like doing the things that you're doing, it's not like they're bad, they're great things. We, you know, go play soccer, go-- I don't know, repaint that bedroom or something, it's not-- It's just they sometimes get so many, they then squeeze out any of self-care, any human being.

[Kyle]: And I think a lot of times it's a state of mind and maybe we'll get into this later in this podcast, but I think sometimes you can be doing things and can actually be doing self-care by the doing, you know? It's all about instead of being a checklist, it's something that I want to do, right? I mean, I would say that's one thing that helped me understand self-care better, was getting rid of the have to's and getting rid of the need to’s. I tell clients a lot I just try to get those out of my vocabulary, you know? Even mowing the lawn could be self-care, it doesn't have to be a have to, some people love it, some people find a lot of peace in mowing the lawn. I know what I try to do is, I love podcasts, so that's why I’m doing a podcast, but I love podcasts and I would listen to podcasts about soccer because I love soccer or listen to podcasts about movies, I love movies and that's what I would listen to while I mowed the lawn and then the lawn wasn't as stressful, you know? Even though-- But if I’m just there doing like “I got to get this done, got to--”. The same activity could be very draining.

[Kyle]: So, I want to ask you this, Sara, what is self-care and why is it crucial to being the parent you want to be? You know, it's not about escaping the moment, but why is it crucial to you? You know? What is it meant to you and your journey as a parent?

[Sara]: Well, self-care, I think it looks different for everybody, I think one person self-care is cleaning, one person's self-care is painting something. So, I think you do have to step back for a moment and think “what is my self-care?”. You need to sit down, take some time, write out the things that are self-care for you. Reading a book, calling a friend up, going out for a night out, self-care can look very different. Staying in could be self-care for somebody. So, I think it's important to really be sure what your self-care is, what's going to fill your bucket up, because we're looking at “how am I going to take care of myself, to fill my bucket up, so then I’m available?”, which you talked about a minute ago, but being available in the way I want to be for, in my case, for you in our relationship, for our children in our relationship and then it goes out to friends, family, everyone else, but I have to first take care of myself, fill myself up, do the things that nurture me and then I can be there for the others and, in my case, I’m not-- You jump out of bed.

[Sara]: And you're ready to go at 5:30 or whatever time.  You are a bundle of energy, but I’m not wired that way. A slower morning takes care more, nurtures me, takes care of me and then I can go, go, go for a long time. So, I like my morning where we've kind of worked it out, where you are up and out.

[Sara]: Yeah, it took a while, but you were up and out, but I take that moment and that's when I like to, for me, that's when I meditate, that's when I put on something and I, you know, prayer, whatever it might be for someone else, but I sit there and I just take that quiet moment of peace and that fills me up. I kind of let go of everything, all this, because I go into the morning thinking “oh, I have so much to do!” and I can just set all that side, just have my moment.

[Sara]: And then I can enter into that stuff in a better space and ready to take it on and ready to go through it and it actually goes better with a nicer flow, when I have first had that moment. The mornings I don't get that moment, I feel it and I miss it.

[Kyle]: Yeah. How does somebody discover that though? Like, I think that's hard, I bet a lot of people would love to do self-care, but they don't know what would nurture them, you know? You use that term, so how does a person figure that out?

[Sara]: You try things, I think you have to be intentional about setting that time. I didn't know I liked that until just that moment of not feeling good in the morning--

[Kyle]: You didn't like what? I mean, you didn't know you liked that, what was it?

[Sara]: I didn't know I liked my quiet mornings.

[Kyle]: Yeah, so almost like you didn't know-- That's why I was thinking that, you didn't know you needed that and somehow you found out you needed that.

[Sara]: Yeah. So, I think we have these moments and we just have to pay attention to ourselves.

[Sara]: You have to wake up to what you're feeling inside, don't just be-- Don't just run and go and go and go and go and go, you have to take the moment to stop and pause, sit and reflect. Where am I? How am I doing in life? What do I enjoy doing? Try some things out. If you really don't know, try some things out, start making a list of what you think would work. Try a couple of those things and rate them. “This one was really great, really made me feel good. This one was okay, maybe some days I’ll do that”, but you just have to be intentional about it. You don't fall into it, you have to sit and think about it, give it a try, give it a try for a while and see how it's doing and just come back to it. Come back to it, prioritize it as fits, it's more important than everything else on your list.

[Kyle]: What is it you're looking for? How do you know when you try something, if that's the thing I think will work for me? That's the thing that's really nourishing me, how do you know?

[Sara]: I think when you feel like you are available to those things, the things that you need to do and the people in your relationship, you know when you're-- Usually the signs of stress, you're tense, you're physically tense, you're more likely to snap at people. Even though you're trying to get things done, you may be flying through them or you may have a hard time getting through them and that's usually signs of stress. Physical health is a sign of stress, there's signs of stress and that's usually telling you that your balance of-- We're going to have stress, exercise is stress, so we have these stressors in our life and we want to balance that by having the self-care and then our body does “okay, because you enter a stressor exercise or a long to do list, whatever it might be, then you enter in the self-care” and those two things should come to a meeting point where your body is stressed, but recovers and the stress should not be greater than the recovery and if you have too much recovery and you're just sitting around all day, then you can drop down below that, you want that balance of stress recovery.

[Kyle]: I’m thinking what I noticed too for me, you both, you know, we've been married for almost 20 years and so, in that journey we've been trying to figure this out together, I feel like we've stumbled upon this the past four or five years, a good rhythm, you know? For you, with the thing you're doing in the morning, I would fall asleep [Laughter] It would be really, really-- And meditate I think is always helpful, it's just really, really difficult for me and I could probably use more of it, but I find CrossFit is almost a meditation for me, you know? Like, the ability to get my brain into an activity and really push myself and, how do I know it's effective? I know because I’m less angry, I’m less pissed off at people, I’m less frustrated at the kids, I’m more patient, I feel joy is more accessible, peace is more ready at my hand, you know? Also reading, reading is something I just love, I mean, I hunger for it, you know? Just recently I told you I noticed because of the puppy, because the kids, we kind of got into a rhythm that a lot of parents get into, which once the kids are asleep, we watch a show and we love watching shows. You and I love stories, we love seeing people's lives, a lot of great shows out there, but I noticed I was mad because I wasn't able to read. So, I was actually mad at the puppy, I was mad at the kids, because they were like taking all my time away from reading, when really, they weren't.

[Kyle]: I had this time at night and so, I told you, I said “hey, could we just shift to reading at night? And I just want to do that because I also want to see if I’m sleeping better because I’m reading”, all those kinds of things, right? So, going back to the word nurturing, I loved how you use that, that that's what the self-care is and it's important for you and I to do it, because then we model it to the kids, you know? We want our kids to know this stuff too, I want them to figure this stuff out now. I think part of the art of raising humans is modeling to them how we nurture ourselves and then teaching them how to nurture themselves, you know? And I think there were times as a kid that lots of times I would figure out “I like this or this”, but there was very little opportunity to say that like, “I want to pursue this because it nurtures me”. I didn't have that language, I had no idea, you know? 

[Kyle]: It's basically, you just went from an activity, activity, activity, you did what your parents took you to or whatever, right? But I’d really love for our kids to know, you know, just like I think for us, how to get like, self-care for us going back to the brain helps me move my limbic system to my prefrontal cortex and so, when I’m in my prefrontal cortex, I’m better, able to be creative and solve problems, I’m not overwhelmed by anxiety and fear and I want the kids to see us know how to access that, you know? Even in busy times, you know? There's going to be seasons that are busier, but even then, self-care, they see is still a priority. Not self-care of like “I need to get away from you”. I think sometimes parents see self-care as “oh god, I just need to get away from them”, you know? Like with the puppy, I kind of feel that a little bit [Laughter] Like I need to get away from the puppy right now, but actually I’m not getting away from anything, I’m embracing something else, I’m moving towards nurturing and life and joy, instead of moving away from stress and conflict and, you know, does that make sense?

[Sara]: It does, it does, yeah. I love how you were saying that and I like the idea of modeling it for our kids and giving voice to it, saying it, letting them know what we're doing, because they're going to learn the most not-- They're going to learn the most by watching us. So, if we're saying for using the language of “I need some self-care, I’ve noticed I’m really stressed, I’m kind of snappy, I’m irritable, you guys notice that? Just talk about it”.

[Sara]: And then your kids go “whoa, okay, you see that?”. I know our kids can say we talk about grumpy days.

[Sara]: You know, I’m feeling pretty grumpy today and so, we just say we need some self-care, so we model to them, “how am I going to do that? How am I going to prioritize take care of myself so I can come back to these relationships, come back to this stuff to do?” and so, I think when we say it, we talk about it within ourselves and then our children learn how to say that they're feeling-- They're having a hard day, they're feeling very stressed. Because we have a society where kids are stressed nowadays and teenagers are really stressed and it comes out and people might label it rebellion, people might have all this--

[Kyle]: Defiance, yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah. People have words for it, but a lot of times when you come back to the kid, they're really stressed. They have a whole lot on their plate, just like we do, because our society is modeling that.

[Sara]: And so, to get them the language and the awareness to realize “I’m feeling stress” and to know that and then to know “what am I going to do about it? How can I take care of myself?”. So, we can start with our kids when they're little. If I notice our kids a couple days ago, they were just at each other more than usual.

[Kyle]: Yeah, more sibling conflict, yeah, shorter with each other, more snappy.

[Sara]: Yeah, and so, I check in and I say “hey--” I kind of, in a good moment, not in the midst of it, but later in a quiet sweet moment I just sit down with them. “Hey, how are you feeling? What was going on today? It seemed like you were a little more--” and if they feel safe, then they can say “yeah, I am” and so, we can talk about it. “How can we help you? How can we problem solve this? Take care of you so that you can come back to your siblings and your friends?” And have the relationship they want to have.

[Kyle]: Well, I know Abby would tell you it's art, right? If Abby’s like that, she wants to go draw. So, if Abby’s sitting down drawing, she's trying to do self-care. Brennan’s is Legos or do you remember when Brendan was like-- He wanted to just play with cars. So, he just-- You see Brennan just go off and he'd be just playing with cars, right? So, it wasn't a rejection of a sisters “I don't want to play with you”, it was like “I need some time”.

[Sara]: He fills up by that alone time.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and even Abby, it's not like, “I don't want to be with you guys, I just want to embrace this other thing”. So, I think some simple steps, I want to throw out one if you have anything to add. I think some simple steps I would tell clients to do, specifically I’m seeing a lot of college kids like this who are so anxious about their futures and so, they constantly need to be doing work or you know, getting an internship or whatever the list may be, right? Or teenagers, who constantly are thinking about the future. Is what I like them to do, is just like you said, notice throughout the day things that fill them up, things that light them up, things that energize them, things that they go “oh, more of that please”, you know? [Laughter] Almost like you would with food, you know? And you’re like “oh, that tastes good”, it's like “I want you to notice that and daily when you feel that spark, write it down”. Like, put in a journal today.

[Sara]: Just put it in your phone.

[Kyle]: Yeah, that’s great-

[Sara]: Everyone has lists on their phone and then when you're in that moment, you can also go back and go “what was my list again?” and pull it up and pick one.

[Kyle]: Another one would be like, on that line you brought the phone, I was thinking “lots of our culture is that” like, the kids will say self-care is “I just want to be alone with my phone”, right? And it's really typically, not say it never can be self-care, it can be, but typically it's escapism, right? So, typically in our culture, self-care looks like entertainment and once again, not to say that can't be, I mean, you and I love movies, not gonna lie, it does energize me, there's certain stories, but to constantly have that be the only way of doing that or kids after school, it seemingly looks like self-care because after school they don't want to talk on their phone, right? It's almost-- That is almost I say 70% - 80% of time escaping the moment, right?

[Kyle]: So, I would encourage especially like, what I’ll try to do if I’m on the phone too much is, it typically is me just trying to get through that time. I just want this empty space, instead of me taking a moment “what do I want to do right now? What could I do?” and what I find when I do that, reading comes to my mind, you know, some kind of other type of activity. Legos I could kind of remember during the pandemic when it was-- We were all kind of shut down, we started doing a lot of Legos together and I was finding doing date night with you, just sitting at the table doing Legos was really fun! I liked the little projects and getting them done. So, it'd be important for them to, for people, to take like a note of just what brings that spark, so they can start watering that and nurturing that in themselves, right?

[Sara]: Yeah. Going back to what you said about the phone, I think everyone knows this, we live in a society where you can just start scrolling and scrolling and you're going through Instagram or Facebook or you know, all the sites and I think you have to do that check in with yourself to go “am I feeding myself right now or am I avoiding something? Am I escaping from this stress instead of--?” and just what you said earlier, “am I moving towards something intentional or am I just trying to block out this other thing?”

[Sara]: And it is easy to do, I know I’ve done it where I just think “ah! It’s too much! I’m gonna go check my mess!”, you know? And just kind of check out.

[Sara]: And maybe we do that sometimes, it's not the worst thing, but just be aware of it and it's not going to feed you and take care of you in the way that intentionally engaging in self-care will.

[Kyle]: Yeah, that's great. Well, I hope I hope everybody listening and is going to take some notes from that and really go pursue self-care. Sara and I, it continues to be a constant pursuit for us. You can go to our website, we'd love to have your comments, you know? I really wanted to take a moment in this and say I’d love to hear your feedback, I’d love to hear if you're enjoying the podcast, love for you to rate us, you know, to give us a start; all that kind of stuff helps us get up there more, but also if you have questions, things you'd like us to cover. So, right now, you know, we have so many topics we want to cover, Sara and I do, but we also want to cover one specifically that are pertinent to what you're going through. So, feel free to just to send us, you know, a message through any of those places. Through Facebook, through Instagram, even through the website and we would love them to use some of those topics for future episodes.

[Kyle]: So, I hope you enjoy your fall day, whatever it's like, if it's sunny or rainy. Maybe throw in a hoodie, but take care of yourself today. So, thanks for listening.

[Kyle]: The art of raising humans podcast should not be considered or used as counseling, but for educational purposes only.

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