The house had been quiet for half an hour, the air so still I could hear the high-pitched motor of the condensate pump in the downstairs utility closet humming through the air vents upstairs. The only hint of life came from the occasional swoosh of traffic out on the street. A sense of calm settled over me.
I was experiencing something unusual for a parent: a moment to myself.
For the first time in what felt like months, nothing and no one demanded my time and attention. There was no calamity to contend with, no housework to be done, no emails or texts in need of reply, no bills immediately due, no homework to be done, no dinner to be cooked, no child to be shuttled to and fro, no appointments to schedule, no phone calls to return, and no honey-dos to, well, do.
The world of endless demands had come to a temporary halt. I was damn near giddy.
My wife had left for work that Monday morning, taking our daughter with her to drop off at school. I stayed home, grateful for the privilege to telecommute, and another full half hour before I had to plug back into The Matrix.
Like the character Neo from the movie franchise, I began to see my thoughts as binary code forms of zeros and ones rather than their surface-level appearance. A moment of clarity seized me.
I’d been saying yes when I should have said no.
I didn’t just need a vacation. I needed a sabbatical.
It wasn’t just being tired from adulting; I was burned out as a caregiver.
Relieve the everyday stress, every day
It’s a byproduct of multiple stressors. Raising a special needs child with little family support. Supporting a spouse through long stretches of unemployment. Having a fulfilling yet demanding career. Joining the ranks of the “sandwich generation,” those 30- and 40-somethings who are raising children while caring for aging parents. You make sacrifices over the years to shoulder the load, to carry on, to do all that needs to be done, only to realize you’ve neglected to prioritize the most important component in the equation: you.
It reminds me of the ubiquitous Internet quote from author Alexander Den Heijer: “You often feel tired, not because you’ve done too much, but because you’ve done too little of what sparks a light in you.”
Why do some of us in our roles as fathers, husbands, parents and caregivers find it so difficult to practice self-care? I don’t just mean the glitter-speak notions of yoga, spa days, and walks in the park (I’m game for those, by the way). I mean the practice of taking time to simply exist with no expectation of doing something or getting something done. What has happened to the habit of pausing the busyness of our lives long enough to examine how we ended up with so much to do in the first place?
This is especially true for men. Research released in 2021 showed:
- 23% of men spend less than 30 minutes a day on activities that relax, de-stress and recharge themselves.
- 44% of men report “they could do a better job of taking care of themselves.”
- 83% of men agree that they do not worry about self-care since they don’t think it’s important.
Researchers and experts say men think of self-care practices as either feminine or unnecessarily self-indulgent. This prevents men from reaching an optimal level of healthiness, mental and physical, to help them meet the demands parenthood, work and life bring.
The moment I realized
So, like death and taxes, the exhaustion of life comes for us all — man or woman, parent or childless. But this unexpected hour of stillness helped me tune in to what sustains me.
There I sat at my home office desk, looking at the photos lining it. These snapshots are of the people, past and present, family and friends, who anchor my life.
There’s my cheerful daughter posing pretty in pink in a second-grade portrait. There’s my lovely wife flashing a smile as we walk through a nature park in Jamaica. Just over from her, I see my uncle Johnny, the pigeon fancier, in a loft tending to his birds. Next, I see my mother embracing 7-year-old me from behind as we stand in front of a grocery store display. Over there is my fraternity brother at his MBA graduation with his beaming parents. And there’s my grandmother in her younger years, footloose and fancy-free, strutting her stuff at a club. Reflecting on these memories tapped into the abundance of love in my life.
Filled with a deep sense of gratitude, I opened my work laptop and logged in.
I again felt ready to re-enter The Matrix.