Leaky pots

downriver

With the very first name that comes into your head: who is the most important person in your everyday life? (I should point out here that the dog doesn’t count, regardless of what she thinks… not in this particular instance anyway. The rest of the time, she has a point…)

Now, hold that thought… the thought of the most important person in your world… then ask yourself what you do for them? I don’t just mean the practical things like providing for them, cooking, buying flowers, throwing tennis balls or being on the end of a telephone. They are important, but they are ‘direct doing’. Think about the other things that you do because of them and their presence in your life… Do you make the house a home? Put a bit of extra effort into your appearance? Stay fit and healthy for them? Make real time for them? Even write because of them?

Why? Because you care… because you want them to be safe and well, happy, proud, comfortable…. the list of possible reasons is endless…

But what happens when time changes their needs and your lives? When your partner is no longer there, when your child goes out into the adult world or circumstances separate you from your friend?

These are scenarios that may happen to us all at some point in our lives and the transition is not always an easy one, even if the event that triggers such change is a happy one. Many parents feel bereft when their children finally leave home, even while they are frantically changing the locks and booking that second honeymoon.

Most just carry on as usual, through habit. Some seem to revel in the new freedom. For others, things start to slip a bit. There seems to be little point to the things they have done for a year, a decade or a lifetime. They stop doing things, or they slide back to basics, missing that extra ‘something’ that lifts necessity into pleasure. Eating through need rather than preparing a lovely meal. The house is tidy but not what it was. Appearance no longer matters quite so much… There is a piece of the jigsaw missing.

I know that feeling. When my late partner died many years ago, I was left stranded in a world I barely recognised, with no sense of direction and no reason, it seemed, to bother being the person I had been. The illness had been long and had defined our days as a family. Of necessity his care and that of my sons had been my focus. In the emotional vacuum of grief, the hours hung heavy and empty… a common feeling at such times. I was lucky; the boys kept me afloat, even though I took on a lot of water and made some real mistakes.

It was emerging from that time and those mistakes that I began to realise something. It took a long time to sink in beyond the conditioning of my generation, raised to care for families and spouses, and just one step removed from an earlier generation where that was the accepted role of womankind.

green river

Those who answered that initial question with the name of a child, partner, parent or friend are wrong. No matter how much you love them, no matter if you are responsible for their care and well-being or how happy you are… there is someone more important than them.

You.

This isn’t a selfish statement nor is it to suggest that we should put ourselves and our desires before all else. There will be times when circumstance demands that you come a long way down your list of priorities, but most of the time we have more space in our lives than we think to care for our own needs. We just have to remember that we have them. A leaky pot holds little water… you cannot give your best to others without looking after yourself too.

Our society is something of a paradox… with its loss of community, it seems outwardly self-focussed, yet most of our lives are ruled by our commitment to the requirements of others and as individuals many of us take little account of ourselves day to day.

On a practical level, it doesn’t need to be much… some time alone with space to think, potter in the garden, polish the car or wallow in a scented bath. A trip to the hairdressers… a favourite meal… a walk with the dog… even getting chores done early so you have a free day… as long as it is done for you.

The bigger shift in thinking needs to be more abstract and is a simple shift in focus. To do the best job you can for your own satisfaction lifts even the worst chores out of the mire. To formulate your own beliefs and principles, and forge your own path. To live according to the dictates of your heart and not let its light be quenched. To live with passion and integrity. You are the only person who can judge if you are who you would choose to be. The same principle can be applied to most areas of our lives and is a change of perspective that can change our personal view of the world. And after all, the one person you will always live with is yourself.

40 thoughts on “Leaky pots

  1. Hi Sue, this could well have been in response to Fandango’s One Word Challenge today which was prioritize!
    I’ve always wanted to do the best I can for everyone. I would have loved for Mum to come and live with us in the early years after Dad died, but she didn’t want to come, feeling my sister and the family needed her more. We offered to take over her care when dementia started to raise its ugly head, but again, she was content and in familiar surroundings so it would have been cruel to uproot her, taking her from everything and everyone she knew. We lived over 200 miles away, so it was hardly likely anyone would ‘pop in’ to visit.
    You are right though, there comes a time when you have to put yourself first. I did this in 1989, and although it upset a lot of people, it was the right thing for me.
    Hubby puts me and the dog first, I put him and the dog ahead of myself, so I guess we’ve got all angles covered. It’s not a question of him and I, as we are an ‘Us’ so I;ve got the best of both worlds.

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  2. What an excellent post. When my husband died, I was, like you, immersed in grief and had little or no direction. My purpose for being on earth had left. It was in finding myself again that I found new and exciting things to do and to be. Thank you for sharing your words. We must have a sense of self first and foremost.

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    1. One of the things that helped me the most at that time, other than my need to be there for the boys, was a letter he had left me, affirming his belief in me. So starting to move forward was still ‘for him’… until I realised I could do it for me too.

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  3. I like the metaphor of the leaky pot, Sue. I tend to think of self-care as filling the well – you can’t draw water from an empty well, for yourself or others. I also like the bigger shift in thought – that living according to our values, with passion and integrity, is another essential way to honor and care for oneself and the world. Loved this post. Thank you. ❤

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  4. Beautiful reminder Sue. And loved the metaphor of the leaky pot, so much truth. We often hear we must take care of ourselves, but how much we listen is another story. ❤ xx

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  5. You know, not too long before she died, my mother gave me this IDENTICAL talk. She said if you do not put yourself at the top of that list of important people in your world, you won’t be able to cope with the things that happen in your life. I’ve always thought about it, but I actually think that we are at a stage where we, to each other, really are most of the world. The would not have been quite so true 10 years ago, but we are both very dependent on each other for so many things.

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    1. We are programmed fairly early in life and ‘putting yourself first’ reallt goes against the grain. Looking after ourselves shouldn’t though… and it is the same thing.

      Ani, by the way, approves of your first choice of answer, as no doubt, would Dot. 😉

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