Love, Always

How to take care of yourself even when life is “crazy busy” and everyone “needs” you.


You’ve decided to take the afternoon off. A well-deserved gift to yourself.

You’ve been looking forward to this precious time all week long.

You’ve got a lovely book to read, your favorite music loaded into your mp3 player, and plans to enjoy a quiet walk to reflect on your life, your career, your new goals…

Your boss has OK’d it. Your kids are taken care of.

Everything is handled. Nobody needs you right now.

But then …

Your boss sends an email pleading for help with an urgent deadline.

Your kid misses the public bus and needs a lift to dance class.

Your partner — who promised to cook dinner for the family so you wouldn’t have to — is running late and asks, “Can you whip something up instead, honey?”

Suddenly, “real life” is colliding with your beautiful self-care plans.

It’s totally unfair and annoying. But what’s the right thing to do?

Say “no” to everybody and stick to your original plans? (While feeling guilty and worrying that you are letting people down…?)

Say “yes” to everybody and accept that self-care will have to wait? (While feeling resentful and irritated for having to cancel your lovely plans…?)

Some combination of both? Or what!?

We’re often told, “Put yourself first! You can’t take good care of other people if you are not taking good care of yourself.”

This advice makes sense in theory. But in practical reality? It can be difficult to follow.

The best solution that I’ve found is a combination of advance planning (to anticipate potential distractions and issues that might disrupt your self-care time) and forgiveness (of yourself and others when things don’t go according to plan).

Here are some basic guidelines on how to do both: plan for the best and forgive when things go askew.

Or, in other words, guidelines on how to take care of yourself even when life is “crazy busy” and everyone “needs” you:

— Before your scheduled “self-care date,” find someone you trust and put them in charge.

Unplugging from work for the day? Turn on an email auto-responder and instruct people to connect with your assistant — or another trusted colleague.

Unplugging from your “other” job as a parent, for the afternoon? Remind your kids that if they need anything, dad / grandma / your babysitter is the person in charge.

Give your person-in-charge clear instructions about when (and when NOT) to contact you:

“If there’s a genuine emergency, you can find me / reach me at _________________________________________.

I define an ‘emergency’ as ___________________________________________________________________.

Anything less serious than that? Please let it wait until I get back. Thank you.”

— Switch all devices to OFF or “Do Not Disturb.”

When it comes to your physical and emotional health, taking a temporary digital sabbatical is one of the best things you can do.

But it can feel a bit scary — especially if you’re not used to unplugging completely or if you have children with special needs.

A good option is switching your phone to Do Not Disturb” mode.

You can set it up so that only certain calls — say, an emergency call from your sitter — come through. Everything else goes straight to voicemail without even ringing once.

Liberation and peace of mind! Best of both worlds.

— Trust that tough love is good love.

Even with the best possible planning, there will be scenarios that rattle your emotions and challenge your commitment to self-care.

And in those moments? Tough love is good love.

If your kid misses the bus because she’s socializing with her friends and loses track of time, she might call you in a panic, begging for a ride to dance class.

(In her mind, this qualifies as an “emergency!”)

But assuming she’s not in harm’s way, your “tough love” response ought to be:

“Sorry kiddo, I’m not available to pick you up. You’ll need to miss dance class. That’s what happens when you don’t manage your time. So catch the next bus home, it will be there soon.” 

That kind of response might seem “mean,” but it’s not.

It’s actually the most loving thing you can do — for you and your child.

She’s going to learn a valuable lesson about time management, early in life.

And you’re going to get the rest and space you need to be the best possible parent to her, once you’re back home.

— When all else fails…

… and “real life” completely wrecks your plans, despite all of your preparation…

Accept it.

Breathe deeply.

Know that you can create another opportunity for self-care very soon.

Remember, too, that when you make plans to take some personal time for yourself, you are not just refilling your own energetic tank.

Your actions are also teaching a valuable lesson to others.

You are becoming a powerful role model — showing your kids, your partner and your colleagues what taking good care of your body and mind looks like.

You’ll be much better for it — and so will they.

So, go be a beautiful self-care teacher — and savor your quiet, restorative (and hopefully!) blissfully uninterrupted day.