How to Take Care of Ourselves when our Golden Handcuffs start Pinching.
That’s what my husband and I used to call it when he worked for one of the largest software companies in the world. He had an employer who paid him a generous-enough salary that afforded us the luxury of me staying home with our babies for as long as I wanted.
They also provided amazing benefits—we never paid a single copay for 10 years. Not for doctors’ office visits, specialists, or hospital coverage for the birth of both of our babies. I don’t even think we paid copays for prescriptions. That seems completely unbelievable now, so I feel like I’m making that up. But I know it’s true because I remember the pediatrician’s office and pharmacists commenting on it every time we went.
We knew we were blessed. And we also felt trapped.
He wasn’t happy in his job any longer, but we couldn’t imagine not having those luxuries—not getting those quarterly commission checks or the annual bonuses. So he stayed. At least until we had the chance to move back to our home state.
I’ve been thinking about those golden handcuffs lately. Because I have been feeling trapped. This time, in a whole different way.
My life is filled with blessings:
>> Two healthy children whose teachers make me cry at parent-teacher conferences because they look us in the eye and tell us what amazing little humans they are—not just students, but humans. (Cue my ugly cry.)
>> A modest, beautiful home that gives us a roof over our heads, in a neighborhood we love, with fantastic neighbors, and my parents only two miles away.
>> Jobs that provide us with fulfilling professional opportunities, and the means with which we can pay for sports, dance lessons, and the option to consider private high school for our daughter, even if we don’t take lavish vacations every year.
And recently, I have felt trapped by all of it. (First world problems, I am well aware.) But I also know I’m not alone in this. Who among us hasn’t dreamed of selling everything and finding a quiet, little job in a relaxed, tropical location where everything runs on island time?
But lately, that trapped feeling has become more and more suffocating for me.
All of these riches. All of these blessings. And it feels like they are wrapping their soft, professionally-manicured hands around the panic rising in my throat.
There was a day recently when, after having taken my children to school, I had to take my parents to the hospital. My dad was having surgery, and my mom and I spent the day in the waiting room together, trying not to think about the scary reality that this surgery could possibly confirm.
But before my dad was out of surgery, I had to make three separate trips to school to pick up kids from different activities and get them settled at home—where my teenage daughter was put in charge of making dinner and overseeing homework for my son, so I could race back to the hospital.
Dad was out of surgery before I got back to the hospital, and I had less than two hours to spend with him before needing to settle my mom back at their house and get home in time to get my son to bed, while my daughter headed off to her dance school with a friend.
I. Was. Drowning.
I was overwhelmed by responsibilities and obligations—not to mention the emotions of the day. And at the same time, I was grateful for all of them.
So grateful that I still have my parents in my life and my children’s life—but having a hard time believing that I am at this point in my life when I am sandwiched between caring for both their generations at the same time.
So thankful for healthy, active children—but exhausted by the constant busyness and coordinating and carpooling their school work and activities mean for my daily life.
So grateful for a flexible job that allows me to take the time off needed to care for my parents on a day like that—but still feeling guilty for needing to take days off to do so. No matter how much my employer believes in and supports the need for flexible work.
How is it possible to feel so blessed—and so trapped—all at the same time?!
In one moment, I feel like my life is not my own. It’s always been children first, managing the household while my husband travels (all week, every week) second, and now caring for my parents.
And in the next moment, I feel so selfish for wanting something for myself…for feeling this way at all. I have only recently started creating something professional for myself again, and I want so much to be able to focus on that.
And I love my parents and my children so much—there’s no question that I want to give back to them as much as they give to me. All the time.
But how do I make all of these blessings fit with the new world I am creating for myself? How do I manage all of these responsibilities and not feel resentful of it all? Resentful of this gilded cage. These golden handcuffs.
How do we find the balance between feeling like it’s our turn (dammit!)—and feeling selfish for wanting to put ourselves first? I’m still working on the answer to that one.
But in the meantime, here are a few ways we can get centered and take care of ourselves, while in the midst of these midlife obligations:
1. Get outside.
This one has been missing from my life for too long. I let other things get in the way, and forgot how free I feel when I am outside, taking a walk for pleasure, under the trees and with a cool breeze in my face. Even if you don’t have time for an hour-long hike, just get outside for a walk around the block or meditate in the park. Also, play music that you love really, really loudly, so that it fills your soul up with as much joy as possible.
2. Get creative.
For me, I have to write. Every day. There are days when I mentally write things in my head the whole day, but never actually get them down on paper. But here’s what I have discovered about myself and writing: it makes me feel powerful. It makes me feel like I can do anything I want to do. It makes me feel smart and creative and like I am doing what I am meant to be doing. Plus, it gets the crazy out. So even if it’s just a funny, two-line Facebook post about something my son said or the way my smart, sassy teenage daughter rolled her gorgeous eyes at me again, I will write every day. Morning pages, a blog post, or an article…I just need to write. I get that now. Find something that you enjoy creating—art, a meal, a garden—and do a little of it every day.
3. Get connected.
I know I am not alone in feeling this way. I know there are many others who feel blessed beyond measure, but who still feel trapped in some ways. You are my people. And when I keep writing, I find more of you. We find each other. And I hope we can connect so you feel like you are not alone in feeling this way, either. We can feel grateful and still want more all at the same time. It’s okay. So whether it’s connecting by phone to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or having a device-free conversation with a family member, make it a point to make a genuine connection with someone in your world.
I know that—not in a million years—would we give up the precious time we have with our children or parents, or the rest of our friends and family.
But we also need to remember that we are still here, in the middle of the chaos, and that a little self-care and self-love—and yes, even selfishness—can go a long way in making us feel like ourselves again.
Author: Christy Williams
Editor: Travis May
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