By Rebecca Branstetter
My garden is in ruins.
It seemed like such a good idea at the beginning of the pandemic. I would plant vegetables to get through the tough times, much like folks during the World Wars cultivated Victory Gardens to combat food shortages and raise their spirits.
Thus, in the name of food sovereignty and fun, I decided to plant a “Covictory Garden,” if you will.
My neighbor had already grown a veritable Whole Foods in his backyard, and I keenly observed (spied, whatever) that he and his family were eating off the land and didn’t have to go to the store for produce. I watched his kids plucking snacks from berry bushes and fruit trees and I imagined my kids having that same bucolic and joyful memory of quarantine times.
This guy really loved his gardening too – he said he found it “therapeutic” – so maybe I needed this for my self-care even though I had no interest in gardening?
For a while, my garden was looking great. My children helped. We learned about photosynthesis. We looked hopefully at the little sprouts, and a few months later, enjoyed our first-ever fresh from the garden snap pea together. I was Mrs. Freakin’ McGregor, the wife I imagine master gardener Mr. McGregor from Peter Rabbit had. I envisioned leveling up my homespun garden-to-table with backyard chickens!
Except, I wasn’t really enjoying gardening. I didn’t find it therapeutic. I found it to be another chore I didn’t want to do. And my kids Little Red Henned me and wouldn’t help.
So, after the first snap pea harvest, I didn’t do anything with the garden. No watering. No weeding. No therapeutic tending. No stopping our new quarantine puppy from snapping the broccoli in half. No chickens producing my breakfast omelet. And everything in the garden died.
About a month ago, I glanced at my weed patch, and it bummed me out. There it was, my failed gardening-as-self-care. I briefly thought about how much my neighbor loved his garden and considered rebooting it. But I didn’t have the energy. Truth be told, I had pandemic fatigue.
After a year plus of tending to my 6 - and 9 - year-olds distance learning, raging against the (Chrome) machine and Google Slides or whatever ZipZop app was currently contributing to my daughters’ meltdown du jour, I was spent. And truth be told, work/life balance has also been a hot mess. I used to be uber-productive, and now it can take hours to write an email that took five minutes in the “before times.”
So when I saw my garden in ruins, the thought of tending to it at the end of the day sounded about as much fun as poking my eyes out. Tending to anything, really, felt burdensome. I was down to doing the bare minimum in the self-care department. I’m not sure when self-care went from lovingly tending to a family garden to sitting alone in my car in my driveway hiding from everyone….but if you know, you know.
Then, this past weekend, I saw it.
In my garden, one row of hardy kale plants had inexplicably grown in the dry clay. It was enough to harvest one whole dinner side dish! We joyfully gathered ‘round ye olde Covictory Garden and my 6-year-old began the harvest. And do you know what I noticed while she was clipping this death-defying plant? I had casually dropped an old irrigation hose near the kale and it had been watering the row the whole time.
I had an epiphany. What if self-care wasn’t about making tons of time to do a thing because you feel you should enjoy it? What if self-care was about automating and integrating? What if it was about creating systems that make nurturing your own well-being too small and too easy to fail?
I started thinking about all the ways I had learned to put self-care on autopilot during the pandemic (something, ironically, I teach all day long in my positive parenting courses based on the science of habit formation).
- I pair my morning coffee ritual (a well-established habit, y’all) with putting a note in our family gratitude jar, which we then routinely read together over ice cream on Sundays.
- I use my signature go-to phrase whenever I find myself criticizing my parenting, my productivity, or others. I simply added “… in a global pandemic” to the end of the criticism. As in: “My garden died … in a global pandemic.” Or “My kid is having a meltdown over nothing … in a global pandemic” or “I did not get through my to-do list today…in a FREAKING GLOBAL PANDEMIC.”
- I learned to take breaks when my kids had their scheduled “recess” on distance learning. Like actual breaks from my inbox. Dance breaks, jump on the trampoline breaks and laying in the sun snuggling my kiddos breaks. Adult recess breaks…it’s now a thing.
- When my gym closed and I realized I had no desire to take up running (I feel like running should be reserved for when you are in danger), I signed up for weekly online hip hop classes with my favorite teacher from a decade ago. This was what I actually wanted - total immersion in the music and what-move-comes-next for a full hour. With one simple sign-up, I automated having fun and working out three times a week.
I bet you’ve learned some things about yourself in these wild times, too. Have you found your self-care thing? And have you found a way to build it in your day? Or are you looking into your neighbor’s garden for what you should do to take care of yourself and then beating yourself up for not self-caring correctly?
Self-care looks different for everyone. And it’s certainly not just one big thing you do because someone else tells you it should be therapeutic (like gardening).
Self-care is not forcing yourself to take me-time when you want to work or forcing social interaction when you want to be alone.
Self-care is all the little ways you do you.
Want to learn how to embed self-care into your day AND teach your child social-emotional skills? Check out our free 25-minute training video now.