How I learned to care less about my family and more about myself

Guest post by Amy Stewart
Sometimes caring about yourself means taking time for banana smoothies. (Photo is not the author. By: essieCC BY 2.0)

My morning routine is very much the same every morning, which becomes aggravating at times because I’m the only person awake to do it. I’m typically up at 5 AM, when I proceed to feed all of the animals, take the dogs out for a walk, shower, pack my daughter’s lunch, wake her up, make her breakfast, and maybe finish a couple of smaller tasks that didn’t get completed the night before, like putting away folded laundry or cleaning the smelly litter boxes. I do this every morning, weekends included.

If you noticed, nothing in that routine was about me with the exception of un-stinking myself — but that’s really for the pleasure of other people, as I consider showers to be a real waste of time on most days. My morning routine revolves entirely around my family. Most days I don’t bother eating breakfast, or making lunch for myself to take to work, because I am too focused on taking care of everyone else.

While putting everyone before me can be considered a commendable trait, there is a part of me that realizes that there is a real issue with never allowing myself the opportunity to be important.

I almost start to develop a bit of a resentment towards my family. Why does he get to sit on the internet for hours at a time? Why does she get to play on her DS and I can’t? It’s obviously not their faults, they do their best. But they are lucky in that there is a balance for them between caring for themselves and caring for others, and they are awesome because they can both do it flawlessly and without any effort. I, on the other hand, cannot.

This was brought very vividly to the surface a few months ago when I decided to commit to shaving off some extra weight. I decided to try going mostly raw to boost my health. What kept me from taking the plunge, however, was the sheer amount of time that would be involved every morning making food. I’d have to make smoothies for myself, and pack my lunches. I’d have to commit to working out every day. How the hell was I going to have the time to do all of this, when I barely had the time to take care of all that other crap in my day?

This was when I realized that I had a problem far bigger than the 20 pounds I wanted to shake off. When had I become the lowest common denominator in my own life? Where had the switch occurred?

Here I was, wanting to get healthy, but feeling as though I wouldn’t have the time to do it. The time, of course, being the five minutes it would take to throw some ice and bananas in a blender in the morning and maybe 30 minutes total in exercise time. It seemed unbalanced to me that litter boxes and dishes and dog food had suddenly become more important than my own health and happiness. I needed to restore balance, and the only way that I could do that was if I started caring less about my family and more about myself.

It may sound terrible and selfish, but it’s the only way that my experience could be explained. I needed to learn that my health and happiness didn’t necessarily have to come first, but it had to come to a very close second in the grand scheme of things. I had to be selfish for just a moment and remind myself that I am important, that I am worth the time spent trying to make myself happy. I needed to learn to stop feeling guilty if I was sort of happy that my kid wanted to spend the entire evening outside with her friends. I needed to learn to ask for help, because as I said, my family is awesome, and they will almost always be happy to stop doing what they are doing for a moment to do something that I politely asked them to do.

About a month ago, I woke up at my usual time and reminded myself that I was worth it. I fed the animals and made a big banana smoothie for breakfast. I then took the dogs for a 45 minute walk, getting in my exercise while doing something that I had to do anyway. I came home, showered, packed my lunch, and woke my daughter up. When I told her she’d be packing her own lunches from this point forward, she was actually pretty happy about it. I texted the hubs when he woke up and asked if he would do the dishes from the night before. The litter boxes could wait until I got home. My daughter’s bed time went from 9PM to 8PM, because I need a little downtime at night and an early bedtime. And between 8PM and when I went to bed at 10, I started working on a novel I hadn’t touched in months and mindlessly surfed the internet.

I felt great. And I realized that caring more about myself didn’t implode the house, or kill my family, or send swarms of locusts through the neighborhood. It felt pretty damn good to consider myself important again.

Comments on How I learned to care less about my family and more about myself

  1. I like how you did this….

    It doesn’t seem that you got angry with your family (as I would probably have done) and it doesn’t seem that any of the changes you made were unreasonable. It seems like (while I’m sure it was difficult for you) it was an easy transition for your family. So even in focusing a little bit more on yourself, you were still very considerate to your family!

    I’m struggling with almost the same thing right now. My working hours just changed from 8am to 7am and so an hour that I HAD carved out for myself is now gone…and I have to figure out how I’m going to get it back. I was very seriously considering getting angry with my husband for surfing the internet while I cook dinner, do dishes, fold laundry and prepare lunches for tomorrow…but your way sounds so much better then that….

    So thanks!! I’ll be copying you soon!! And I’m sure my family will thank you for a smoother transition….

  2. This paragraph:

    About a month ago, I woke up at my usual time and reminded myself that I was worth it. I fed the animals and made a big banana smoothie for breakfast. I then took the dogs for a 45 minute walk, getting in my exercise while doing something that I had to do anyway. I came home, showered, packed my lunch, and woke my daughter up. When I told her she’d be packing her own lunches from this point forward, she was actually pretty happy about it. I texted the hubs when he woke up and asked if he would do the dishes from the night before. The litter boxes could wait until I got home. My daughter’s bed time went from 9PM to 8PM, because I need a little downtime at night and an early bedtime. And between 8PM and when I went to bed at 10, I started working on a novel I hadn’t touched in months and mindlessly surfed the internet.

    That is a MASTER STROKE in compromise. Very few people have the ability to do it so flawlessly. Seriously, you need to give yourself one MASSIVE pat on the back because you ACED that shit.

  3. Why does he get to sit on the internet for hours at a time? Why does she get to play on her DS and I can’t? It’s obviously not their faults, they do their best. But they are lucky in that there is a balance for them between caring for themselves and caring for others, and they are awesome because they can both do it flawlessly and without any effort. I, on the other hand, cannot.

    This is me, exactly. I have to force myself to do “fun things” or fulfilling things for myself when I can. For instance, right now my 3 kids are sleeping/resting, and I’m trying very hard to ignore the two loads of laundry waiting to be done and the dishes waiting to be put away in lieu of reading a few blogs and taking some time to get caught up on things that I want to do. But it’s so easy to fall into all the things I *have* to do to take care of the family rather than doing my own things too.

    • Oh yeah. My 15mo has just gone down for his nap. He let us have 5 hours sleep last night (unwell with unspecified bug), and I need to do at least two loads of laundry and want to do some baking so I can have a yummy snack. And I need to study for my uni courses.
      But, darn it, I’m taking the next 20 minutes out. Hopefully, since we did swimming this morning, he’ll have a nice long nap, so I can actually get stuff done.

  4. Brava. Simply brava.

    One of my philosophies in life is summed up by the in-flight briefing flight attendents give. “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you.” If you’re not in a healthy place – physically, mentally, emotionally – then trying to help others can end up with both of you in the shit.

    Good on you for taking care of yourself.

    • Even the Xtian Bible recommends this concept: You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew something something… What? It w a s in Godspell….

    • I was part of an extracurricular organization in high school for students interested in going into medicine, and 16-year-old me remembers them talking about how doctors should beware of going into a situation that’s unsafe. I initially thought that was very selfish (“You’re a doctor! You’re supposed to help people!”), until they pointed out that if you as the doctor are injured/killed then all those people won’t get help and medical care they need. It’s actually more unselfish to take care of yourself so that you can help others. Exactly like the oxygen mask.

  5. You know, my family doesn’t include kids yet and I am already learning from your epic-itude. I feel like some of the resentment I’ve been feeling lately has been from taking care of the house, my fiancee, and our pets and not myself. I really needed to read this! Thanks!

  6. I’m impressed with the way you went about this! Another idea, if your daughter is old enough to make her own lunches she is probably old enough to take on a few regular household chores in exchange for a small allowance; for example, cleaning the litter box! Everyone wins!

    • And fosters a love and empathy for animals. I remember being about 4 years old helping clean the litter boxes for our farm cats and having so much fun because I got to cart them around on my little wagon to move them over to the compost for dumping. I now lurv kitty cats! (Even the poop, yes.)

    • This is the one thing my husband will do everytime, without question (the whole toxoplasmosis thing, especially since we’re going to start a family soon). He may not get to it right away, and not do it the way I would, but it doesn’t make it the wrong way.

  7. I’ve been trying to do this me- family balance thing for 3 years now. It started when my twins were in the NICU and the nurses kept telling me to take a break to recharge myself. They kept telling me that ‘taking time for myself doesn’t mean I love my family less it just means I need to start loving my self.” Now that my twins are older I keep trying to make time to recharge and spend time for me. But it usually just ends with me resenting my husband. Which helps absolutely noone. I love how instead of focusing on how your family should do x,y, or z you instead focus on what you need to do to make you happy. I love it! Now I just need to learn from your example.

  8. I love everything about this! It seems selfish on the surface, but honestly taking care of yourself is the most unselfish thing you can do. It recharges your batteries and allows you to care for your family in better ways, especially by modeling great self care for your kids. It’s like putting your oxygen mask on first before assisting other people. You are doing a great service to yourself, your family and the world by sharing this !!!

  9. I need this so much right now. I have an extremely stressful and emotionally taxing job, which has been even moreso the last few weeks. I have a husband who has gone back to school, so there’s stress in that our income has halved in the last 18 months. I also have a husband (same one, I’m not a bigamist), who has a pattern of leaving all the cleaning and cooking in the house to me (though he has improved somewhat).
    I need some time off work, but I absolutely know that if I take it, I’m likely to just end up feeling responsible for entertaining him and getting all the house jobs done. What I ACTUALLY need is time by myself, and I need to not feel guilty for taking it and recharging!
    Thank you!

  10. Household chores are one of the top things my husband and I fight about. It has been a long process, but I feel like we are finally getting to a place where we both are accomplishing things around the house AND practicing being thankful to each other. That second part is important.

    Your way sounds so much simpler. Unfortunately, I have the habit of trying to make these sorts of transitions without letting anyone else know or asking them to complete a chore for me, then getting resentful that they aren’t getting done. Makes sense, right?

    I think it can be really hard to ask others to do a chore. Maybe there’s a sense of: if you can’t do it all, you’re a failure. I think I also have this weird fear that if I ask someone to do a chore, they’ll get mad at me, which is a totally unfounded fear. It is a brave thing that you did to communicate so well in this transition of yours.

  11. Yesterday I went to see my physician. Been light headed, feeling faint, having a hard time breathing, can’t sleep. I’m 52 years old. Still haven’t started menopause.

    He said b.p. bottom number isn’t right. Heart rate is tacking away at 120 ( what does that mean… It’s bad apparently ).

    Let’s do an cardio exam with 10 leads linked on. About a gallons worth of blood, some yellow stuff. Then, he asked, “are you stressed?” “Well yes, I am!”

    So if the lab work comes out alright then it’s off to see a psychiatrist for meds to control stress.

    I get up n do all the same thing the author does. Except I have two kids. One’s bipolar. The other has an auditory dysfunction, a.d.d….she might never be able to read…is severely under weight. A Dalmatian that is 14 years old and so ill she needs 24 hours care…I do that night n day because I value my carpet, and, for some reason, my husband can’t let go of a sad, dying, dog…probably because he sleeps soundly through the whole night.

    And my husband, who is successful and works hard at his 8-5, comes home stressed and flustered, making the kids and me scurry for cover. Quite the perfectionist, he is. But, he holds himself to the same standard. And does stuff like, well, last night he replaced the motor to the a.c..

    So, yes, girls. Get this under control before it effects your health. It’s so much work to teach them to help, but maybe it will help you in the end.

    So today, I am moving a chair to each of the three bathrooms to observe as my son cleans them. And in particular the toilets and floors where his 15 year old self is often too busy to aim well… That’s his chore now. Three times a week ( bet he quits peeing all over stuff n directly in the toilet). And his 12 year old sister is learning to unload/load, dirty/clean dishes. They already bring laundry to the washer, but now, they WILL learn to do it without bitching.

    So, yes, please!, folks learn to do this early. It might save you health issues in the end.

    Thanks for letting me rant. Thanks for the timely article.

  12. I have always had a really good relationship with my parents, and I think one of the reasons is that they were ‘selfish’ when I was a kid, and I always got a sense of them as people in their own right, not only mum and dad. Once I was old enough to learn how to set an alarm clock, I was responsible for setting it, getting out of bed in time, getting my own breakfast and getting outside in time to catch the school bus. And after missing the bus a couple of times early on, I got my shit together and made it all work.

    I really appreciate that my parents were lovingly neglectful (to coin a phrase) because as an adult I’m pretty self-confident and practical and no-nonsense. I hope to be the same way towards my future children (Of course, knowing the universe’s twisted sense of humour, I’m going to end up being the helicopter parent from hell and you all have permission to point out the irony to me)

  13. Thank you so much for this article, because it is something I have been trying to do/get up the courage to do myself as of late. I need to focus on me a lot more (much like you in trying to get healthier seemingly without the time to do it). I’ve got it easier than you in that I don’t have kids, but I do have a rather large extended family that I am very close to and want to please in other ways at the same time as focusing on myself.

  14. This was really thoughtful. You captured some of the feelings I have also been having as of late – feeling like there is not enough time and I get lost in the shuffle. My FH is currently between jobs, and is sleeping around 12 hours a day – literally until noon or 1pm most days. He then watches an hour or more of TV before doing anything. It makes me so angry some days I can’t even speak. I am the sole breadwinner, and while I do work from home 2-3 days a week, I am working. Yes, I know he needs time to apply to jobs and I appreciate this, but doing something: running errands, dishes, laundry, cleaning, SOMETHING, so that when I’m working from home I am actually working.

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