Wednesday, December 21, 2016

5 Steps to a Renewing Winter "Break"

This week we are lucky to have a guest blogger, Deb Shine Valentine!  She has her own terrific blog and is a long time early childhood educator who has worked with children and adults her entire career. She has some thoughts for us about how to take care of ourselves when we eventually do get a break from the work we do with children and families.  Happy Holidays and Happy New Year everyone!

It’s that time of year when those amazing folks who provide care and education for children feel life speeding up and slowing down at the same time.   Some of you are looking forward to a week (or maybe 2 weeks!) off work.  Some will have only a couple of days off, but perhaps also fewer children in class and a slightly more relaxed day at work.  Some will be off “work,” but home with their own children—which is lovely, but not exactly a “break.”  But I imagine most of you are hopeful.  Hopeful that you will find some renewal, so you can enter 2017 feeling like you just took a deep breath in and are ready to go.  

So, how can you make this “break” work for you?  Well, in part, that depends on you.  Some people will thrive on the energy of activity.  Others crave silence and a chance to quietly meander through the day with no agenda.  That’s why I suggest you take the following steps to increase the chance that this year your break will be what you hope for most.

Step 1:  Pause. Take time to get clear on what you want most from your “break.”
I know. You want ALL the things.  You want to get a massage and clear all the clutter out of the basement.  Go on a date with your spouse and prep all your lesson plans for the first week of the new year.  Relax all day in your PJs and magically also re-organize all your files, bake cookies, make all your children’s dreams come true, and OH YEAH, start running again. But perhaps, just perhaps, you won’t manage to do everything you hope to do in the next couple of weeks.  And that’s okay.  Really.  If you pause and choose now I can just about guarantee that you will get what you want MOST, and that will be enough.  Choosing is hard, but finding out too late that what you wanted most is the thing that fell off the bottom of your “to do” list is harder.  So, are you with me?  Okay, then spend 10-20 minutes brainstorming about every possible thing you’d love to do during your break (or between today and Dec. 31 or Jan. 2 – whatever works for you.)  Add the tasks you feel you must do - like finish gift shopping etc.  Then move to step two we’ll tackle HOW to figure out which of these things you want most (which is often the hardest part!)

Step 2:  Check in with the smartest part of you.  (Hint:  It’s not the logic of your brain)
In American culture we’re taught that decisions should be made through logic and reason and that our body, intuition and emotions are generally not to be trusted. The problem with this theory is that when we follow it we are missing out a HUGE chunk of information that our bodies and the non-verbal parts of our brain know already, and the logical part of our brain does not. (It’s also, by the way, a very male-dominant way of viewing wisdom, which just maybe isn’t a great fit for our female-dominated profession.)  So, I want to encourage you to check in with your BODY to help you figure out what you want most.  If you’re skeptical, that’s okay, just think of it as an experiment.  Here’s how I suggest you try it.
  • Take that list you made, a pen or, if you have them, two different colored highlighters, and sit down in a comfortable spot where you can be alone for at least 15 minutes.  (Sit in the bathroom or hide your closet if you must!) 
  • Think of a time in your life that you never want to experience again and notice what you feel in your body—this is the worst part of the exercise, I promise!  (A knot in your stomach?  A tightness in your jaw?  A feeling of pressure in your chest?  An impulse to run?)  This is your NO-WAY-DON’T-DO-IT-EVEN-IF-YOU’RE-SUPPOSED-TO feeling. If you have a highlighter choose a color that will represent this feeling.
  • Now, literally shake this yucky feeling off.  Shake your arms and hands, your whole body if you want to.
  • Next, think of a favorite memory and feel how that feels in your body.  (A fluttering in your chest?  A lightness?  An urge to smile?  A sense of calm in your belly?)  This is your ABSOLUTELY-YES-EVEN-IF-IT-SEEMS-SILLY-OR-UNIMPORTANT-OR-SELFISH feeling.  If you have a highlighter, choose a color that will represent this feeling.
  • Then, go through your list one item at a time and note what you feel in your body about each one.  If you have highlighters use them.  If not you can just write YES, NO, MAYBE next to the items. For some items you will have a very strong reaction, for others maybe not much of one.  That’s fine.  Just notice what you notice and keep moving down the list. 

Step 3:  Pick three of the ABSOLUTELY-YES-EVEN-IF-IT-SEEMS-SILLY-OR-UNIMPORTANT-OR-SELFISH items and commit to making sure that no matter what happens these will. 
Put them on a post-it note on the bathroom mirror, on your calendar, on the fridge.  Tell your family or friends.  Post your commitment on Facebook.  Do what you need to do to be sure that barring an outbreak of Scarlet Fever these three things are non-negotiable.  WHICH means - that everything else is. 

Step 4:  Get rid of the NO-WAY-DON’T-DO-IT-EVEN-IF-YOU’RE-SUPPOSED-TO items.
You will believe that you can’t possibly miss Aunt Martha’s annual holiday party even though it makes you break out in hives.  You will believe that you can’t possibly tell your kids that you just don’t have it in you to make gingerbread houses this year, their pain will be too great. BUT YOU CAN.  You may disappoint someone (but I promise you both you and they will live through it.)  OR you may find that your loved ones are quite happy with whatever it is that you are able to do. 

Alternative for the faint of heart: if your body says “no way,” but you want to go ahead with the task, think of a way to improve it.  Maybe call ahead to Aunt Martha and tell her you’ll only be able to stay an hour.  Make the gingerbread houses, but buy premade pieces.  Make Christmas dinner, but don’t make every single traditional dish possible.  Extra hint: If you choose to keep some of these NO-WAY items on your list, don’t procrastinate on them.  Finish any that you can as soon as possible and feel the lightness that rushes into your body once you do.

Step 5: Don’t worry if you couldn’t do the above steps perfectly. 
As women and caregivers we often don’t have much practice with noticing what we want OR making sure we get it.  It takes practice.  You also may be so out of touch with your body that it wasn’t that much help.  It’s okay.  If you’re still unsure, just choose ONE thing that you’re pretty sure you want for this break.   A little tiny step towards caring for yourself is not NOTHING. 

I’ll be here cheering you on. 

Thanks so much all you do to care for children.  It matters.  So do you.  Happy Holidays!

Here are some other blogs Deb recommends:

As a teacher, Deb Shine Valentine really wanted to “save the world,” but (surprise!) she couldn’t quite manage it.  Now she just tries to be happy and as it turns out it’s helping her to be more effective in making a difference in kids’ lives too! She’s on a mission to help other educators and moms do the crucial work of caregiving while feeling energized and happy themselves.  If that sounds good to you check out her free guide Six Ways to Go From Surviving Your Day to Loving Your Life.

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