I have recently returned from a vacation with my husband, the first trip just the two of us have taken together since our children were born. Five days in the wide-open desert of Nevada, surrounded by breathtaking beauty and each other's company. Five days to reconnect with each other and my own spirit. Five days...without my kids.
I logically understand the importance of self care for parents and teachers alike. The longer I have both roles, the more adept I become at recognizing when I need a break and asking for one. But those breaks are usually the length of time it takes to make a cup of coffee or take a shower. This trip was different. It felt like a long time, and I would be far away - a five hour flight away. As excited as I was for this trip, I also felt nervous. And guilty.
When I came home, though, I felt as if I saw my children through new eyes. All of the little habits that annoy me, the behaviors that worry me, the feelings that overwhelm me - all of it came together and into a new focus. One that wasn't exhausted and drained by the stress of day-to-day living. One that allowed me to more clearly recognize how incredible and amazing my children are. So please, if you can, give yourself a break. Five more minutes in the shower. A really good book. A walk in nature. Anything. Allow yourself the space to recalibrate, so that you can bring your most authentic self to your parenting. I promise you won't be sorry.
One of the things I did on vacation, when I wasn't hiking canyons or stalking lizards, was read Debby Irving's "Waking Up White." It was a powerful read, and I found myself identifying with many aspects of Irving's experience as a white woman in the U.S. The author spends a good portion of the book reflecting on the white culture surrounding her as she grew up in the affluent suburbs of Boston. Like Irving, it had never really occurred to me that I have a culture of my own. This is problematic in itself, as it implies that only those who are different than I am have a culture; that my experience is the norm against which all others cultures and experiences should be measured. (It's admittedly embarrassing to recognize this in myself, and I know that I have so much more learning to do.) Something that resonated deeply with me was Irving's description of a culture that values "niceness" over honesty and expressions of emotion. Even now, as a 36-year-old with what I think is a high level of emotional intelligence, I find it really uncomfortable to experience conflict or express any emotion besides happiness.
My thoughts immediately went to my daughters. I cringe to think about the messages I might inadvertently send to them about their feelings. I have a lot of practice with young children and their feelings, after all. I can name and narrate and point out tears and model empathy and on and on. But, if I'm really being honest, my agenda is actually about helping them feel happy again. Of "fixing" them. What might happen if I allow myself - and them - the space to just feel the unpleasant stuff?
This new willingness to give space for feelings, my own and others, is one of the biggest things I brought back from my trip. I'm still practicing; it doesn't feel easy yet. But I can say that, in those times I've chosen to be a loving presence as my daughters work through an emotion that feels uncomfortable for me, I am awed by the resiliency, confidence, and sense of love that emerges on the other side.
Space, in so many ways, is such a beautiful gift.