I’m writing this month about relaxation, which seems almost antithetical to what is going on right now in the life of a typical DC mom. First, September and October are probably the busiest months of the year for parents (in addition to the end of school in May or June). Second, every woman that I know well in my mom group is anxious, angry and spinning in their reactions to the Brett Kavanaugh interviews, reporting, and backlash. And, third, I started off the year a bit “off” due to a loss in my family, which disrupted our transition back into a smooth school schedule.
As a mom and a therapist in the Washington, DC area, what have I done to cope with all of this confusion and uncertainty? I promptly got myself back into my own counseling in order to get my bearings straight and amp up my self-care. I’ll admit that I’m a pro at squeezing “me time” out of a hectic schedule of 3 kids, a busy professional life, and full family/social agendas. Yet, when my therapist told me to “Just RELAX,” I gawked at her in confusion. I found myself getting defensive inside–Now, how in the HELL am I going to find time to do that? She repeated this advice several times, and I started to get an inkling of what she was trying to tell me. She wasn’t criticizing me or condemning me for being a busy, overachieving mom; she was actually trying to coach me into a mindset of not doing. This mindset is uncomfortable for me. I looooove to work and produce things–I get excited about creating, whether it is a new recipe or a new program at work. I find pleasure in being active with my kids. I like to have a fun, full schedule.
After the session, I wrapped up my work for the day and dashed home to get my family ready for a weekend road trip. I was on my way out of town with my 3 kids and extended family for a wedding that would include preparing for and participating in festivities, entertaining kids, and hiking in the great outdoors of WV. Who has time to relax, right?
Good news–the wedding was in one of my favorite destinations, the beautiful mountains of Snowshoe, WV. That is exactly where I started to internalize and understand my therapist’s message more fully. Here’s how it happened. The morning after we arrived, me and my children gathered our gear for a hike along the ridge of Snowshoe Mountain to a backwoods hut that is unknown to many outsiders. Given that they are beginner hikers, the kids were surprisingly excited. What I found along the 4 mile hike in and out that day was that doing things that satisfied my wants rather than mostly focusing on managing the obligations of “having to do” for others allowed me the opportunity to JUST RELAX. I found myself thinking—”Wow, I’m Being Just ME in this moment! I’m not only a mom right now….I’m hiking like I did before I was a mom…like when I was a kid…. just for the pure pleasure of it!” I found myself embracing this mindset of not doing. It is the difference between doing what we want to do sometimes without always prioritizing what we have to do for others. In my role as a therapist with parents or clients, I often work with them on differentiating between the “have to’s” and “want to’s” in daily life as a way of claiming their own self-confidence and assertiveness. Thanks to to my own therapy, that lesson was mine on that glorious Saturday in the woods.