Life can be hectic for most of us at times, particularly if you are a parent or carer. We quite often learn to juggle our ever increasing tasks or responsibilities until they become second nature.
Looking after the kids or a loved one, running a home, being head cook and bottle washer, chauffer, counsellor, confidant and main provider all compete for attention – meaning you need to prioritise what needs to be done in the time you have to do it.
Like most people I had and continue to have many responsibilities as an adult. Being a mum/latterly step mum, a single parent (for large period of my children’s lives ), to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (managing school or psychological services meetings and planning for changes, like school holidays), working or studying , running a home (shopping, managing money, bills, cooking, cleaning, childcare, washing), looking after animals, a husband/new family and so it goes on.
The majority of people experience this in some form or another and with all this going on its no wonder that we quite often find ourselves (our wants or needs) near the bottom of the list, or even shuffled off it all together.
This is what happened to me, over the years. Often in the past I would focus entirely on all the things that I listed above and precisely zero on what I ‘really’ needed as an individual or the ‘lead’ person of our family. (By this I mean the main person for keeping everything going)
Now I’m not talking about owning a horse and maybe going out for the odd night out or lunch out with my friends – I’m taking about truly considering what the best course of action or simply put, the ‘things’ that I needed to live a healthy happy life- which was and continues to be a my main focus for my then children, now adult children and family.
It has never dawned on me before that if my health or happiness needs were never met or even considered, that it would effect my ability to function or keep all those plates spinning fully. Or that by putting myself last continually, would mean that others would take my lead and inadvertently do the same.
There is a reason when flying, that the responsible adult puts on their oxygen mask on first…
However this was what was happening and my well intentioned or more accurately unconscious ‘sacrifices’ were not only actually causing me harm – but also helping to instil bad habits into the very people I was trying to protect – not to mention providing a poor example for ‘some’ aspects of our life, particularly around healthy eating.
Thinking back on my life before I ‘rebooted’ it, 2 years 9 months ago – I was so busy focusing on ‘doing a good job’ and supporting everything and everyone else that I totally removed myself and my needs from the equation altogether.
An example I can share would be with my choice of meals and food – particularly when I was a single parent. My priority tended to be what could I cook in the time & budget that I had, that the boys would eat. To anyone who knows my family the flaws in this are obvious, but those who don’t, I’ll share them with you. both my boys have a form of Autism and their choices of foods that they like to eat are not only extremely limited but different from each other.
So at that point in our lives my focus and choices would generally have consisted of;
- cooking three totally separate meals or three different variations of the same meal,
- or an easier option of a large ready meal (like cottage pie or lasagne) – as well as a separate meal for one of the boys,
- or the totally easy option of a pizza or large dish or cheesy pasta or take away from the local chip shop, (that sold chips, pizza and chicken strips, so everyone had something that they could eat).
As you can see the first option is time consuming and costly so I would tend to steer away from that one, particularly when the boys were younger and I was a working single mum. The second option I went for quite a lot and the third option became the norm for a while, when we first moved to the Highlands and I was on my own and juggling everything with limited support.
The difference now is that I think more in terms of what do I want or need and then to focus on how can I either make it work for everyone or what else could do to make sure that we’re all catered for.
Now if things are crazy busy, which they quite often are and we’re pushed for time for our evening meal I would generally do the following;
- plan in advance and have made something I can reheat or make something in the slow cooker that everyone likes – like homemade spaghetti bolognaise
- let everyone else have take away and I rustle up a healthy speedy meal for me, like stir-fry
- or we get a take away that we can all eat where I can choose a reasonable option, like Chinese food (the boys like chicken balls and chips or rice).
These aren’t earth shattering changes, however they make a world of difference to me and us as a family.
As I mentioned in the post 4: Change your ‘Final Destination’ by Planning for Success, in the past I wouldn’t generally consider my needs and would automatically roll with whatever suited everyone else. Which really hindered any chance of success I may of had with trying to make positive changes to my/our life.
Still sticking with food. We now live as part of a larger family and my shopping list has grown in keeping with the increase of our family. Everyone takes packed lunches to work, college or school ( and I still have the constraints of an exceptionally fussy eater, who has an incredibly limited range of foods they will eat) – so I need to buy a large range of things that gives everyone something they like to eat.
For a while I didn’t consider my own needs within this and would eat what everyone else wanted. I quite often got, can you get me this that or the next thing? which I did – but I would never get the things I wanted or needed. At the time I remember thinking that it was a big waste or a luxury buying these low fat or specific items for one person, so I wouldn’t buy them – which compromised trying to lose weight and would see me fail time and time again.
I Now don’t see things this way, in fact I actually I see them as polar opposite from before. Now I feel it is absolutely essential for the cupboards, fridge and freezer to have the things that I can eat in them and totally unacceptable for this not to be the case.
I have also become much more stricter with who eats this food. This aspect has been a bit of a change for some within my family, who liked to have their full fat cake and eat all the low fat alternatives too! They had to get used to the fact that for once I had started to be a bit more ‘self-fish’ and put my needs first – basically learning to say no to the things that weren’t in my best interest.
This shift has took a bit of getting used to, for me and for the other people in my life, however this has become our normal way of working and we ‘all’ have a far better standard of life because of it.
Instead of going with the flow the first thing my family now ask is, are you ok with going there, eating that or doing that, to which we can make informed choices that caters for us all.
Learning to love myself and put my own needs on the map has not only helped me to lose almost 15stone in weight, giving me a better standard of health, as well as feeling happier and more confident with who I am -but has also led to a change in ‘us’ a family. We are finding that we are doing more activities as a family now than ever before, due to these changes and are planning our next family holiday where we’re going to go scuba diving, something we wouldn’t have even considered before.
The most important thing for me is I feel that I am able to be a better example to my children, by taking control of my health, life and changing things for the better. I really feel that I can be proud of my achievement, and I actively encourage my now adult children to make sure they put their ‘true’ needs, if not first, then up there alongside other peoples in their relationships and situations in life.
I now live within a larger family so have the luxury of being able to work in partnership with my husband and share the tasks and responsibilities that I once did alone, which has created more space to allow us to focus more on ourselves and our needs and wants.
I’ve had numerous conversations over the last few years with fellow slimmer’s and this ‘problem’ of being at the bottom of the list, is a regular feature within them.
My advice to anyone thinking about making any kind of lifestyle change is to evaluate where you sit on your list and if you’re not at the top or pretty close to it, you need to change it.
Neglecting my own needs turned out be very detrimental to my health and essentially not only led to unhealthy choices but to me putting my life at risk. Should I have continued down the route I was on, I know wouldn’t have been around in my boys future and wouldn’t be able to watch them grow and flourish or support or help them with their challenges.
Nor would I have discovered or enjoyed the many hidden treasures that I’ve discovered just by making a few, at times slightly uncomfortable but totally worthwhile, changes.
I hope you find this post of interest, next time I will be focusing on consciously eating and how mindfulness helped me achieve success this time.