A version of the piece below was previously published in The Fresno Bee on June 1, 2018.
The big parenting lesson I’m having a hard time living up to? Self-care for families sometimes means sitting out — it doesn’t make us smaller sometimes it must happen even if we resist it. Not so easy when you’ve been raised to be bigger from the depths of your bones ever since you can remember…
As a self-confessed ‘dance mom‘ to my young tap-and-jazz-dancing girls, I am personally them to always be “bigger” too — to try with all their might, to give their absolute best, to get in there and get involved in a way that will be remembered… whether it be in a dance class, at school or just showing up to be a good friend.
Bigger is always better. I’ve carried this wisdom with me through life, work and family. Push harder, work faster, make an irreversible impression. Because it works.
But what happens when bigger is not an option? What happens when you’re obligated to sit out, watch from the sidelines as others showcase their “bigger” while you feel frustrated and so, so small?
A few weeks ago, my older daughter broke her arm just in time to bench her from our big dance recital. This is the daughter whose jazz-dancing reminds me so much of myself, who has worked so hard on her chasse-leaps and whose effortlessly lit-up face (while she’s chasse-leaping) shows how much fun she’s having in class. Thankfully, things are the mend and she’s handling everything like a champ.
Unfortunately my ego has had trouble catching up. “Can’t she just do the recital?” I begged my [surgeon] husband. “She’s worked so hard! And she’s so good! And she’s so sad to miss out!” (That last part is the truth — she started crying when I broke news about her not being able to perform with her class.) “You’re crazy,” my husband tells me. “That arm needs to heal all the way… or else she can have problems later.”
I know he’s right, but sitting on the sidelines has always been hard for me. (Yes, this is my own problem to deal with…) As a mom coping with huge, fairly recent changes, I’ve practically bullied myself into taking drastic pauses in life and work for the sake of long-term self-care. It hasn’t been easy for this A-type, but I’m slowly learning that one of life’s other big skills is knowing when to take a step down in the name of proper healing and good sense. I don’t know one parent who can’t relate with this in some way… physically, mentally, emotionally. I also can’t help but note the timing of our benched dance recital here is ironic. Slowing down does not make us smaller. It’s like a big sign — in the shape of a hot pink cast on my daughter’s right arm — has been shoved in my face.
I stand by the value of living “big,” but I’ll now add that of life’s biggest skills is to be honest about when we need a rest, a check-in, a relief from the go-go-go mentality of always doing at full capacity. Sometimes, opting for smaller is the bigger thing to do in the name of healing — for us adults and our kids.
Leave it to my first-born and a monkey bars incident gone awry to teach me the large lesson I hadn’t figured out before motherhood: Living our biggest life sometimes means opting for a small, temporary seat on the sidelines — with a smile on our face — so we can continue to “make it bigger” for the next show ahead.
Since August 2016, you can catch my FAB Mom Parenting Lifestyle columns in The Fresno Bee (California) newspaper the first Saturday of every month.