I have spent the last 40 years taking care of everyone else. Ever since I had kids, I have felt like I was running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. Before I had kids, I had more time for myself. After, I was always in a hurry, trying to get through the next activity, so that when I was finally finished I could relax (yeah, right).
Of course, this hardly ever happened for more than a few blessed minutes (like sneaking in a coffee at Starbucks by myself). I was always rushing, rushing, rushing. Rushing to cook for Shabbos. During Shabbos, waiting for it to be over. After Shabbos, cleaning up so I could finally unwind. My adult life has felt like one big marathon where I could never get to the finish line, I could never do what I wanted to do and enjoy myself.
I’m embarrassed to say that most activities I just wanted to get through as quickly as possible. I could hardly ever be where I was. If I was a cartoon character, I would’ve looked like I was leaning forward, almost falling over, my legs a blur. I spent so much of my life struggling to get through all the tasks of the day only to get into bed knowing I had to go through it all tomorrow without any sense of satisfaction. Just running on the proverbial hamster wheel. Ugh!
I remember one Pesach, I had finally finished putting everything away and cleaned up, and all I wanted to do was flop down on my EZ Boy chair and watch TV. Well, just as I finished, our guest flopped down in the chair and turned on the TV. I wanted to scream—but I just screamed inside. I just so desperately needed to unwind.
To tell you the truth, I am tired of it. I am tired of always mommy-ing or wife-ing. I no longer want to be a servant, running to fulfill everyone’s needs, wishes and desires. I want to drink my tea without stopping to make someone food and leaving my cold tea sitting there. (My house always has several half-filled cups of tea scattered around. It’s a family joke: a cold, half-filled cup of tea with the caption “Mom was here.”) I still want to be mom—I just want to stop compulsive mommy-ing—and all other kinds of compulsive caretaking. I am a grandma, so for sure all my kids and my husband can find something to eat by themselves by now.
So I’m working on freeing the inner slave. (In all fairness, my kids and husband have not demanded this of me. It’s my own inner demon.) I’m working on stepping off of that hamster wheel. It’s an inner battle I have been working on for many years.
I really have a lot fewer excuses now to not allow myself my own simple pleasures. But it’s a real balancing act for me. It’s like being on a high-wire. I am often falling off, but I feel much better when I am balancing on the high-wire of (dare I even say it out loud), “What is it that I need now?” I guess my needs matter too.
Here’s a perfect example. In the middle of writing this (and I love writing), a family member came into the room to lay down. This family member was not doing anything so horrible—except breathing very loudly. Not a crime, but it totally took me out of my space. I started to feel angry and resentful. Do I just learn to always write in a totally private space? That would probably be the best solution. But I could also—nicely—say, “I am writing an article. Can I have some space for an hour?” Even typing that out, I’m not sure if I am brave enough to say that…yet.
But I’ll tell you something that has really made a difference for me. I am allowing myself to enjoy the little things. The breeze through an open window. A cup of tea. Letting myself enjoy my lunch instead of gobbling it down. Right now I am sitting outside at 9 p.m., listening to the crickets chirping, and just enjoying sitting outside in the evening air. I am trying to slow down and be where I am. Instead of rushing to get through the cooking, I am trying to enjoy it. I find if I slow down and “be present” I can enjoy almost any activity. I can enjoy the bite of my beloved coffee Haagen Dazs instead of just rushing to shovel in the next spoonful.
Now that I am an empty nester, I no longer have countless tasks to do each day and finding it easier to relax. And I want to spend even more time allowing myself to have pleasure in my own life—enjoying my tea, sitting outside, reading, doing yoga, seeing my clients, or even watching my British shows.
I love all those people that I spent so many years taking care of, but now I am working on taking care of myself. And if I can do it, maybe there is a glimmer of hope for you, too.
Jewel Safren is an LCSW with decades of experience helping her clients get to the root cause of their emotional struggles while maintaining stability in their personal lives. Jewel lives in Fair Lawn with her hubby and uses her frequent flyer miles to visit her four kids and four grandkids. You can contact Jewel at (973) 464-8556 or [email protected]