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Permission to Pamper

Sarah Glazer

How is it that some women can give and give and still feel full while others are on the verge of collapse? The answer? They aren’t ashamed to indulge in good self-care

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

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THE CHEERFUL WIFE Self-care is inviting. “When women take care of themselves, it makes husbands think, I want to be around her,” says relationship educator Julie Lurie

"W henever I hear a client going on and on about her husband, complaining about what he doesn’t do for her, the first question I ask is about her self-care,” says Julie Lurie, a relationship educator and coach based in Chicago, Illinois.

“Is she getting enough sleep? Exercising? When’s the last time she treated herself to something nice? Or went out with a friend? There’s a basic formula in marriage that when our self-care goes down, our tolerance for our husbands also plummets.

“So many shalom bayis issues start with lack of self-care,” continues Julie, who runs marriage seminars and shalom bayis vaadim, as well as teaching kallos and lecturing regularly. “If we’re not taking good care of ourselves, we have no fuel to put into our marriages… or anything else. I could teach my clients a hundred ways to increase shalom bayis, but if they don’t have good self-care, they won’t be able to implement any of them.”

For many of us, self-care is a novel concept. We’re so used to putting others first — our husbands, children, parents, the next-door neighbor who just had a baby, the choleh who needs a ride to the doctor — that we rarely get around to meeting our own needs.

“I once went five days without a shower because I always found something else I needed to take care of first,” shares Aliza, who was blessed with three children in quick succession. “I was so busy running after the kids every morning that I didn’t eat breakfast until my husband walked in the door to relieve me.

“I quit my job after my third was born to be a better mother, but I was far worse. I was impatient, angry, over-reactive. I spoke to my rebbetzin and she stressed that I needed more time for myself, but I dismissed the idea. I didn’t see the connection. It took me years to finally see there’s a direct correlation between self-care and my ability to be a happy wife and mother.”

When we don’t take care of ourselves, we’re more prone to a profusion of problems, including exhaustion, stress, sickness, insecurity, weepiness, and burn out. “The main problem is that we end up living life reactively,” says Julie. “If our child does something we don’t like, we don’t have enough energy to think about how we want to ideally respond. We don’t have enough fuel to make a decision that’s in line with our vision of who we want to be. We’re working on autopilot because we’re so emotionally and physically drained.”

“Whenever I forget about self-care, I pay for it,” says Esther, a mother of six, including 17-month-old twin girls, one of whom has Down’s. “The days I don’t take care of myself, I’m terrible at taking care of everyone else.”

What Brings You Joy?

“Some people think self-care is a secular idea,” says Julie. Indeed, it’s lauded by many secular thinkers, including Laura Doyle, author of the best-selling book, The Surrendered Wife. But self-care is actually a Torah concept. “In Shemoneh Perakim, the Rambam talks about how, after working hard, we need to recharge. He says that both externally and internally, we need rest and rejuvenation,” Julie teaches.

“You can also look at Derech Hashem. The Ramchal divides all our positive actions into two categories — mitzvos and things done out of necessity. What’s considered a ‘necessity’? The Ramchal defines it as anything that gets us ready and able to serve Hashem, so long as it’s within halachah.”

This idea is expounded upon by Rav Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch in his sefer Shiurei Daas (ma’amar “Pales Maagal Raglecha”). “He writes that anything within halachah that allows a person to feel the strength of his capabilities, that motivates him and brings him joy, is included in the category of ‘necessity.’ This includes, Rav Bloch says, assorted physical pleasures, as well as going for a walk or spending time with friends — each person according to what he needs.

“Not doing so, Rav Bloch stresses, will cause a person to lack the chiyus, life energy, that’s needed to serve Hashem,” Julie says. “Rav Bloch even goes so far as to call this person a ‘choteh al hanefesh,’ one who mistreats his soul.”

Self-care is a necessity because it makes you a better giver — “which is what we want more than anything else in the world,” says Julie. “Look at Chava. Why was she so tempted by the fruit? Rashi says it’s because the snake told her, ‘you’ll be like Hashem, a creator.’ In Alei Shur, Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes that this is the deepest desire of every person: to be a creator. He explains that even a small act of chesed is an act of building and creating. When we do chesed, we’re completing what’s lacking — and that’s essentially creation.

“But here’s the part no one tells us about,” Julie continues. “In order to give, we need to fill ourselves up. That’s why I stress self-care so much.”

Taking care of yourself means eating three meals a day, showering, brushing your teeth, dressing nicely, going to the doctor, getting enough sleep. “So many of us ignore these basic needs,” says Julie. “I remember Rabbi Leib Kelemen speaking about how if you’re going to be compassionate toward others, you have to be compassionate toward yourself first. What if your son walked in on Friday afternoon famished, and asked for lunch. Would you ever reply, ‘We have a really busy day, so we’re skipping lunch.’ No! You’d never speak to your son that way. So why do we sometimes speak to ourselves that way?”

Beyond the fundamental needs of the body, self-care is about doing things that make you feel “full.” What these will be depends on your personality, age, and culture. During certain stages of life, talking to a friend once a day might be critical, at another stage, it might be talking less. “When I was 20, grocery shopping by myself wasn’t on my self-care list,” laughs Julie, a mother of five.

As a homework assignment, Julie pushes her clients to write a list of 25 self-care activities. “Some women draw a blank after number three,” says Julie. “They’ve neglected themselves for so long that they can’t even remember what they enjoy doing. The mere process of writing the list can be an act of self-discovery. They get to know themselves all over again.”

While food often makes a repeat appearance on many women’s self-care list — indulging in a favorite treat, eating out, baking, experimenting with new recipes, leafing through cookbooks — there are countless other self-care activities. For instance: playing an instrument, knitting, swimming, listening to a shiur, window shopping, reading, davening, writing, sewing, polishing your nails, running, organizing your closets, drawing, saying Tehillim, going out or speaking with friends, dancing, singing, having one-on-one time with a parent or grandparent, painting, or going on a date with your husband.

For Esther, exercise is a pivotal part of her self-care. But one Sunday, after a long day with the kids, what helped her recharge was a little solo trip to Target. “I came downstairs that morning thinking to myself, I’m going to be a great mom today,” recalls Esther. “But then one kid had a high fever. A twin was throwing up. It was freezing cold and we were stuck at home. Everything felt so chaotic and overwhelming. That night, I left the house and ended up at Target. I was strolling the aisles by myself. No one was demanding anything of me. I had space to think. And my mindset totally shifted. I felt happy. Suddenly, a high fever, a vomiting kid — these things weren’t such a big deal. I could handle it.”

What we’re really trying to accomplish, says Julie, is to better serve Hashem. And to achieve that goal, we need to do things for ourselves

Timing also matters. “My three big kids get out of school at four and I used to work up to the last minute, racing to get everything done before they came home,” says Aliza. “I was so exhausted, that instead of being attentive and warm, I was unable to deal with normal childhood antics. Now, half an hour before my kids come home, I resist the urge to finish that one last thing and I take care of myself — sometimes it’s eating a small meal, sometimes listening to music or reading. I devote the time entirely to myself, so I’m refreshed and smiling when I pick up my kids.”

The first step is creating the list. “The second is committing to it,” says Julie. Every single day, you should be doing three — or more — activities from your self-care list. And while you’re doing them, have in mind what you’re trying to accomplish through this self-care, whether it’s to be a more conscious parent or to improve your shalom bayis.

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