Bubble Baths & Bullet Journals
I’d never heard the term “self care” until I started attending mommy groups when my first daughter was about six months old (and I was bored, isolated and needed to converse with someone who’s answers were more sophisticated than “mama” or *woof*). I attended several meet-ups where the topic du jour was discussing and brainstorming strategies for self care. We’d make lists of self care activities, strategize how to make time for it, and recite the mantra that we all deserved our “me time.” At this point in my mommyhood, I figured just having a shower was about as much self care as I could handle.
The concept of self care is a glorious one — it gives us permission to focus on ourselves amidst the chaos of parenthood. It reminds us that parenthood isn’t a sentence of martyrdom and that just because we are permanently emblazoned with the moniker of “Mommy” doesn’t mean we need to lose the moniker of “Me.”
It empowers us to view ourselves as a worthy investment. But — stay with me here — I feel like somewhere along the way, self care has gone a little off the rails. A quick Instagram search and you’ll find over 4.2 million references to #selfcare — yoga poses and bullet journals, sunsets and face creams, bubble baths, gym selfies, vitamins, bedheads and post-massage glows. I’m trying desperately to stop myself from typing the word frivolous, because these activities in and of themselves are not the least bit frivolous — especially for a new mom, they could be critical components to maintaining and/or regaining control over your mental health.
I want to create a life where I enjoy being me as a mom and wife, not one where I’m so tired, frustrated, lost and angry that I need to schedule time to check out.
Quite the opposed of frivolous, all of these activities have value if they help you maintain some semblance of sanity. However, our self-indulgent world of social media has turned an extremely powerful concept into one of mani-pedis and spa days, where, in reality, it’s so much more important than that.
But upon further reflection, maybe it’s not self care itself that’s gone off the rails, but the way we are living our lives as mothers. What a bizarre world we live in where a basic necessity like taking care of ourselves needs to be discussed, scheduled and justified under an Instagram-worthy hashtag.
This increasing reliance on self care is simply a symptom of a larger problem — moms are burning out. The massive expectation that we can “have it all” is destroying our sanity. We are being eaten alive by soul-crushing mom guilt.
Working moms, stay-at-home moms, work-at-home moms, moms on mat leave —we’re all simultaneously falling victim to societal expectations and when we (obviously!) feel like we’re falling short, we’re drowning in guilt. And people are wondering why maternal mental health is such an important topic!
So what’s society’s response to mommy burnout? The bandage of self care. Moms are encouraged, praised and even celebrated for their participation in acts of self care. But why are we discussing ways to escape our lives rather than discussing ways to make our lives something we don’t want to escape from? I want to create a life where I enjoy being me as a mom and wife, not one where I’m so tired, frustrated, lost and angry that I need to schedule time to check out.
Self care should be less about the instant gratification of the activity and more about taking steps to make our lives more livable. What can you do to make your day-to-day routine seem less overwhelming? Maybe it’s something tangible like spending a day preparing freezer meals so that dreaded late-afternoon time slot is less stressful. Or maybe it’s something larger scale like cutting out a toxic relationship, talking to your boss about the raise you know you deserve, or simply reaching out and asking for help (probably the single most difficult thing for a mom to do). Maybe self care is the dirty work, not the reward for surviving another day.
I contributed to a blog post last year for The Bump to Baby Show’s website and one of the questions she asked me was “How do you practice self care?” This question actually had me stumped. In the last six months, I feel like I’m in a better place to focus on myself — I found a gym that I love going to, I started seeing a naturopathic doctor, an osteopath and a massage therapist for nagging issues I’ve pushed aside, and I’m eating healthier than ever before. But I struggle to call these things “self care” — if I wasn’t a mom, these would just be normal elements of everyday life, but as mothers, we’re expected to push our needs aside and when we do take time for ourselves we call it self care to alleviate our own guilt.
After some reflection, I realized that my self care comes in the form of running my business. Even though it can be stressful, overwhelming and sometimes leaves me questioning what I got myself into, it provides me with the fulfillment I crave outside of my “job” as full-time mom and wife. When I’m working on my business, I feel more like “me” — I feel smart, confident, capable and energized (not things I usually associate with parenting two “spirited” daughers).
I also believe the time investment I’m putting in now will hopefully pay off for our family in the long term by providing me with a flexible, full-time career down the road. Every minute I spend on my business is a minute that’s going towards creating the life I want to lead. It’s not glamorous or photo-worthy, but it fills my cup.
I’m not diminishing the need for the massages, quiet sunsets or bubble baths — every mom recharges in her own way (and I would never judge anyone for how they chose to spend their time!) — but just imagine a life were you get to do something fun or frivolous simply because you want to, and not because it’s a mandated timeout before you snap.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Holistic Parent.