4 Min ReadLifestyle 15 May 2020
I have been a single mom for the better part of my 20-year-old son's life. And for the past 10 years of it, I have had virtually no help in raising him. My parents moved back to Croatia when he was about 8, and his father, bless his soul, was not that much help to begin with and moved back to Southern California during the last recession.
My son and I remained in Oakland alone in 2009, and I made it work. I started a new business working from home. I prioritized my work and my appointments around dropping off and picking up my son from school, cooking, and everything else a mom does. It was fine.
And by fine, I mean I have been single for the past 10 years, because frankly I did not have the bandwidth to handle a kid, a business, and a boyfriend all at the same time. For those of you who might not be aware, trying to date as a single mom means that on a Saturday night after working your ass off all week and burning the candle at both ends, someone expects you to get dolled up and go out to dinner and possibly even have sex. But at the end of the month, they don't help pay the rent. I'll pass.
What I meant to say is I made this single mom thing work by prioritizing my son and his needs above all else. Next came the job, because, well, I had to pay the bills, and lastly came me. Always.
I did, however, do one thing for myself. I studied and developed my spiritual awareness; I learned the tools to clear traumas and unwanted behaviors and raise my consciousness. Whatever free time or extra money I had, I devoted to this practice. It was frankly what kept me together all these years. Somewhere along the way, I heard this phrase "put your mask on first." What that means is if you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of anyone else. It made sense, but as for applying it to myself, at the time all it meant was dedicating some time to my spiritual practice.
Anyway, time passed and to my endless pride and joy, my son one day got accepted to Cal Poly. In September of 2018 he went off to college. After spending the past decade dedicating myself to raising him, I was suddenly an empty nester. It was hard at first, I missed him so much and some days I just did not know what to do with myself. After years of keeping busy every second of every day, I felt like I had so much time on my hands. A year went by like this and slowly I adjusted to my new life without him. I was finally able to make time for a long bath, a massage, a good binge-watch, or whatever else I might have felt like doing just to make myself happy.
I even started working out again, alternating my practice between yoga and other workout routines, taking vitamins, carefully curating my diet foods that are good for me, and drinking almost a gallon of water a day. I even started thinking about dating again.
I was finally able to make time for a long bath, a massage, a good binge-watch, or whatever else I might have felt like doing just to make myself happy.
Then Corona hit. After some initial back and forth, my son decided he would come home to finish out his last semester online, so on a moments' notice, I rented an SVU, drove down to San Luis Obispo, and packed up his dorm room to bring him home. And just like that, life changed... again. All of a sudden I forgot about me, I was focusing on making sure my son ate three square meals a day, that I washed all the dorm linens, that I put away all the boxes, and that I stayed on top of my own work. In a matter of three days, I lost my workout routine, I was sleeping two hours less a night, munching on chips while at my computer, and forgetting to take my vitamins again. That's a year's worth of self-care down the drain.
On the fourth day, I woke up exhausted, miserable, and wondering what was going on here. I looked back at the last four days of my life and realized that, once again, I was putting myself last. It only took a few days living like that to really tell the difference. I could feel the toll it was already taking on me to not take care of myself. I was sure that had I kept up my routines and my practices, I would have been better off not just for myself but also for my son. He needed my best, not my "barely making it" self, and so did I.
It was a wakeup call. And as I was filling up the tub with water, Epsom salt, and a touch of lavender oil, I thought to myself, "put your mask on first." Everyone will be better off because of it, especially you.
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5 Min Read
You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.
The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.
“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.
Shaping Her Career
Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.
"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."
After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.
As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.
How Did Acker Become A Judge?
In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."
Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.
Acker's Time Away From Home
Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.
Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."
She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.
“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."
“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."
Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."
Overcoming Racial Barriers
As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.
At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.
Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker
The Power Of Self-awareness
“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."
Know Your Support System
“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."
Learn From Your Experiences
“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.
“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.
Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.
This article was originally published May 15, 2019.