My life has been a little challenging since July 23rd – the day my husband, Fred, and I brought home a Mini Australian Shepherd puppy. The puppy’s name is Tailor. He’s so great, but he is an Aussie and he is a puppy, which means he is a handful. Within a week of bringing him home, my world felt out-of-control. Though Fred and I are both parents, we didn’t raise children together, and suddenly, here we were, attempting to co-parent a furry, four-footed baby! This was a new challenge for us as a unit, and Tailor’s boisterous entrance into our lives magnified Fred’s tendency to be inflexible and my inclination to people-please. (Not a great combo!) Between work and struggling to keep Tailor out of Fred’s hair, I feared I’d never have time for myself again.
Before Tailor arrived, Fred and I had achieved a stasis in our lives. Fred is retired, but he hosts a weekly music show on public radio, and he is on the board of an environmental group. Plus, he works hard in the yard and does all the grocery shopping and food preparation. I work many hours at Confident Stitch and love to hike and sew in my off hours.
But, when we brought him home, Tailor quickly began to wreak havoc on both our domains. Fred’s yard and garden were ripe for digging, and his time for meal preparation was interrupted by Tailor’s shenanigans. My desire to work, sew, and hike was thwarted by needing to keep Tailor out of trouble and entertained while Fred did his thing at home.
No Quick Fix
At first, my solution was to work hard on getting Tailor trained up. We invested in classes and a puppy crate and worked on setting consistent boundaries with our little Tasmanian devil. But soon it became apparent that no amount of training could combat pure puppy energy. Puppies need to run and dig, chew, and bark! There’s no universe in which Tailor could have seamlessly joined our household. Change to our routines had to happen. But, because I knew Fred didn’t really want things to change, I began to bend over backward to try and take the burden off of him.
Bringing home a puppy is hardly a traumatic experience. It’s not akin to a cancer diagnosis, or a parent with Alzheimer’s, or a car accident. Nevertheless, Tailor’s arrival created a situation that threw me for a loop.
I wasn’t sleeping enough because the puppy demanded a 5 am breakfast and play outside. My work schedule became erratic because I would rush home at random times to take over puppy care after receiving a call that Fred had hit his limit. I turned down invitations to do things so as not to leave the dog unattended, and, on top of it all, I had absolutely no time for my number one stress reliever: sewing.
My nerves were fraying. I was frustrated and felt at a loss. But then, while rereading The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron, I stumbled across a passage that has made all the difference. In Week Seven she writes:
Make this phrase a mantra: Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.
After weeks of not daring to ask for sewing time, I decided to start treating myself like a precious object. I needed/wanted a new pair of pants, so when Fred and I talked about our plans for the day during breakfast one Sunday, I said I’d like one hour to sew. I was only able to carve out 30 minutes that day, but I found over an hour the next day. By treating myself like a precious object, I felt stronger. And so I decided to look at other areas of my life where this mantra could be applied.
For the past 8 years, I’ve spent over 40 hours every week working at the Confident Stitch because that’s what it takes to get a business up and running! After getting Tailor, I didn’t want to admit that I might need to cut back my hours. (I have a bad habit of trying to care for everyone but myself.) But, with Julia’s words in my head, I finally broached the topic with my staff, and we found a solution.
It seems obvious now that letting my team run the shop on their own for a few hours a day isn’t that big of a deal. But it wasn’t until this mantra helped me to frame my self-care as a strength and a necessity that I was able to take a step back and see the whole picture.
Your Needs Matter
I’ve learned from this experience that it’s important to express your needs to the people around you. Because I’m such a people-pleaser, I spend a lot of my time worrying about what other people want. When Tailor began to disrupt our routines, I began to overcompensate. Fred wasn’t quite ready to get a puppy, and he made a lot of sacrifices. He cut way back on his environmental work and made less time for friends. I felt that I couldn’t ask him for one more thing, even if that thing (time to sew) was important to me. But, the longer I disregarded my needs, the more frustrated I became. I felt powerless.
As soon as I took my power back, started taking care of myself, and expressing my needs, things became better. I hope that next time you and I feel like we’re giving more than we can give, we both stop to remember the mantra: treating myself like a precious object will make me strong. We don’t exist just to wait on the people and puppies around us. We are precious, and taking care of ourselves is a valuable strength.
Now go do some sewing!