Your best life is their root system

How’s your budget as the back-to-school expenses come rolling in? Because I’ve been using You Need a Budget for a while, I had the money I needed saved in advance for the first time. A life-enhancement enthusiast, I’ve been delighted to discover that consciously spending and saving is core to my self-care.

For my son Theo’s first eight years, I paid the equivalent of a second mortgage every month: first for daycare, and then for his private primary school education. Along the way, I became an indebted servant to the expense: stressed, exhausted, and consumed with producing and earning.

I valued the education my son was receiving, and I felt it was worth any sacrifice to provide it for him. I was limping along pretty convincingly for a while. Until the day Theo and I were discussing the school and camp choices we’d made for him along the way—and why.

“I just want you to live your best life,” I told him.

“What about your best life?” my son asked in reply.

“Of course, I want to live my best life, too. And I work hard at that. But the truth is, your best life is more important to me than my own,” I answered.

“But I need you to live your best life, so I can live mine” he said emphatically.

The lightning bolt of truth delivered by my son woke me out of the dream (nightmare?) of self-sacrifice.

Theo clearly understood at age nine what I had been slow to integrate entirely: My life is his root system. If I’m not attending to my wellbeing as primary, the entire ecosystem of our family becomes compromised. This meant, I realized, that self-care was family care. Scrimping on me meant scrimping on him.

That day, I moved myself from the end of the list up to the front—with Theo as #1 and me as #1A. And that fall, my son transferred to a public school, where he is thriving. Without the financial burden of paying school tuition, I have more time, energy, and delight to share with him. I cook more meals. We play more games and leave home for more adventures. Win-win.

As my life became more spacious, I started hearing the things my colleagues, friends, and clients were saying about themselves in a new way. One mom confessed when she buys berries, which she loves, she never eats them – they’re only for her son. Another lost her writing practice to the massive undertakings of carpool and laundry and food prep for her three boys. A third had lost her pristine diet and exercise regimen in the early years of motherhood—a decade ago. In short, the care of their families had unintentionally become a roadblock to their own self-care. And this was costing everyone.

When zoologist Alan Rabinowitz, a wildlife biologist and explorer, decided because of a cancer diagnoses to stop his wildlife conservation work around the globe, he discovered he wasn’t the father or husband he wanted to be without deep engagement in his work. When his family encouraged him to get back into the field, he realized “I had to live the life that defined me the best—both for myself and my family.” Which is how he spent the rest of his days.

I believe the same is true for you.

Whatever makes you most YOU is what your family needs to thrive. And if putting on your oxygen mask first means they have to forage snacks for themselves (or take turns making dinner) occasionally while you’re locked in a closet writing or making origami or playing solitaire, everyone’s going to be the better for it.

What have you sacrificed in the name of family that you’re ready to reclaim? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

I believe that the inverse of what many of us practice is true: doing what is essential to our wellbeing to us gives us more energy and capacity to be in service to others. Investing in ourselves is one of the most potent ways to invest in our families.

But it’s not easy to shift a long-established slump—especially without support and community. I’d love to help.

If you’d like a boost in getting your groove back, I hope you’ll join me for Fresh Start, a one-day live workshop on Sunday, September 30. Together, we’ll put the habit or practice that is essential to your wellbeing front and center again. So everyone in the family can thrive. There’s room for only 15 people. Learn more and register here!

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