(broad)ject self #8: Self-Care When...You're With Your Family

Apologies, friends and subscribers, for delivering this week’s newsletter to you a day late. 90% of the reason is that I knew I wanted to write about self-care and family, and since I was going to be with my own family over the weekend, I wanted to have the source material available. The other 10% is because even though I technically could have slammed out the newsletter while flying back to Toronto, I chose to work on a devilishly difficult Kenken puzzle and drink prosecco instead. We’ll save more on that for another edition called “Self-Care When…You’re Terrified of Flying” or “Why I Believe Keeping Myself Distracted Keeps the Plane in the Air”.

My last visit home, as you may recall, was a bit of a stressful whirlwind. I believe I referred to myself on that trip as behaving like a “demonic hair shirted martyr” with regards to my deep urge to be helpful. My own self-care journey has made huge strides in these past months though, and I was eager to put my learnings to the test. The trip this weekend was a perfect incubator, as it was a short trip (48 hours) and featured a visit from my older sister as well as my older brother and five year old niece. My goals for the weekend were to soak up time with my niece, make sure my mom was enjoying having her three children (by birth) in one place, and be appropriately helpful. This mostly meant resisting the urge to not tell either of my brothers (31 and 50 respectively) that they were being dumb.

Late Friday night my older brother and I cleaned the kitchen and had some sibling time. By the time bedtime rolled around, I was wound up after landing in Winnipeg to the terrible news from Paris, so instead of fitfully tossing and turning I listened toJudge John Hodgman with my earphones on and practiced some alternate nostril breathing. I woke up early on Saturday morning, as is my custom, and instead of going back to sleep I did some morning yoga. I tried to do the little things around the house that might get overlooked while leaving the big things that my mom would frankly rather to do herself for her to do. Even cooking dinner on Saturday night, which did feature a few tense moments due to timing, was 100% worth it because I got to make a delicious dinner that my whole family enjoyed, drink amazing (real) champagne, and make a decadent chocolate cake with my niece. I was intentional in all my choices and prioritized connecting with my family, attempting to find moments of ease, usefulness, and poise, thereby covering my core desired feelings.

Was it perfect? Of course not. There were stressful moments regarding the delicate timing dance that any family who has home care workers in their lives will recognize. My niece dropped my brother’s Americano, which I had let her carry because I’m an indulgent aunt, on the floor of Chapters. I didn’t grease the baking pans for the cake sufficiently and ended up having to cut a chunk of it off. My niece ended up with icing sugar in her hair. But every moment was filled with love and joy and gratitude.

When I say your in the title of this newsletter, I do so deliberately. Partly I meanyour in the sense of whomever you define as your family, be it by blood or by choice. In my case, the emphasis is on my family versus David’s family, because I feel a pressure to be perfect with my own family that I don’t feel living with his mother. Because I don’t get to see them all the time (although arguably still more than many), I feel guilty if I’m not spending every waking moment I can with them.  But what’s true for caregivers of any stripe applies here too: I needed to learn how to put on my own oxygen mask first. I can’t return from every trip to Winnipeg feeling worn out because a) that just causes my mother way more stress and b) I can’t live like that.

I can be a wee bit rigid when it comes to schedules and rules and traditions, so I am making a concerted effort to continue to say NO to letting my need for structure overcome enjoying life. When you only get to spend 40 hours with your amazing five year old niece? You gotta roll with the punches even if that means that the paper doll sticker clothing doesn’t end up perfectly lined up on the paper doll or if she hates the Laura Ashley romper from 1988 that you made her try on.

Your homework assignment this third week of NO-vember is to ponder if there’s anything you need to say no to regarding your family, particularly as the holiday season draws ever closer. Are there traditions that need revamping? Expectations that need re-setting? As ever, I want to hear about it.

Self-caringly yours,