“I have a problem with the term ‘Self-Care’”
This was the title of a blog post a friend of mine shared with me recently.
“What do you think,” my friend asked?
I had to roll my eyes. Not at my friend, but at the blog. This was the 3rd or 4th article I’d read that was clear backlash against self-care. This one in particular got under my skin because it was specifically about moms and self care, a topic I am extra passionate about. The author wrote, “Mothers are generally expected to do all the caring roles in our society. Children, elderly and often even men, receive the caring, but mothers are often excluded. Mothers are also expected to care for themselves along with everyone else.”
She isn’t wrong about this.
Women tend to carry the load when it comes to caring for anyone, whether for themselves or others.
Her stance became problematic when she tried to make the case that encouraging moms to do some nourishing self-care is really just mom shaming and blaming, and that self-care is one more thing added to her to-do list that will add to her stress. Instead of encouraging a mom to do some self-care, this mama blogger suggests that if you see a mom in need, just take care of her. Don’t wait for her to ask. Don’t ask her what she needs. Just do things for her.
Lovely idea, but it misses the point.
The point is that in order to truly honor her own needs, a mama has to learn to prioritize herself.
Yes, mom also has to learn to allow herself to be taken care of and let go some of the burden of care. But I believe the benefits of self-care are greater than the benefits of waiting around for someone to take care of you.
One of the most empowering acts a mom can do is to finally say YES to herself before she says yes to someone else.
If a mom can recognize that her own worth is the same as her kids or her partner or her boss or her friends, she can start making choices that reflect her value instead of continuing to bypass her own needs because she believes everyone else is more important than she is.
Because this is the mom default:
“My needs aren’t as important as those of my partner, child, boss, neighbor, parent, child’s teacher, second cousin, school bus driver.”
This is the mindset that needs to shift.
In fact, that mindset shift is an act of self-care.
See I am an ardent believer that when you change your attitude, you can change your life. Even further, when you change your habits, you change your life. I’d rather be an agent of change in my own life than wait for someone to come in on their white horse and sweep me off my feet.
When my daughter was born 4 years ago, I had my first taste of completely bypassing my own needs for the needs of my child. There was nothing inherently wrong with this. My daughter was born healthy but tiny. She needed constant feeding, but she struggled with finding a latch. We had to syringe feed her for 2 weeks until she finally figured out how to nurse. I got pressure from our pediatrician to give her formula to fatten her up. I got advice from my doula and midwife to pump in between every feeding to keep up my supply. It was a daunting, often frustrating task that left me in tears every single day. My husband also had to go back to work almost immediately so less than 2 weeks postpartum, I was alone at home with a baby who was struggling to eat.
Needless to say, my self-care was non-existent.
The thing is, I had amazing support. I had friends dropping by with food and companionship. I had friends who held my baby while I showered. I had a friend who walked my dog a month until I was healed and strong enough to walk the pup while wearing my daughter. My parents were over regularly, holding my baby while I slept. My husband was an incredible support, too.
Still, I was completely depleted and I felt profoundly neglected.
I had almost no self-care practices in place to help me take care of myself. I was also having trouble making space in my new life as a mom for the old, familiar self-care I had done before baby. I was struggling.
While I loved having my feet rubbed by my husband while I nursed our baby girl, I realized that I also needed to find ways to show myself that I cared about me.
It took me over a year to slowly integrate self-care back into my life. It took me another year to layer in self-care practices at times that made the most sense in my post baby life.
Now, 4 years into motherhood, I have finally discovered one of the secrets of successful self-care, which is that self-care comes in different shapes and sizes. Some self-care practices are foundational, basic, and daily – they’re the ones that keep me going. There are other self-care practices that fit in at different times, less frequently. These practices delight me and nourish me on a completely different level, but most aren’t everyday activities.
I don’t feel guilty on days I’m not doing the big fancy schmancy self-care practices that “look more like conventional self-care.” I don’t tell myself I suck on those days when I only get the bare minimum in. Instead, I thank myself for those small foundational self-care practices.
Struggling with self-care isn’t an opportunity to assign blame unless you choose it to be. Usually there are already lots of other things in place that have set the wheels in motion for the encouragement of self-care to be a trigger for blame or guilt.
My suggestion is not just to take care of mamas who are struggling, because let’s face it, every other day of motherhood is a struggle and that’s really ok.
My suggestion is to help a mama say yes to herself. Encourage her to rediscover what brings her joy. Encourage her to say no when it feels necessary and to tell her not to feel guilty about the no. Teach a mama to start small and build in smaller, simpler, foundational daily practices that nourish her, but don’t require a lot of effort. Remind her to recognize those small daily acts as essential self-care. Then, once those practices are established, help her create more practices that feel a little more special and nourish her in a different way, but that might not need to be every day.
Let’s shut down the idea of self-care as “just another thing on the to-do list.” Let’s do away with the notion that self-care is a tool being used against mamas. Let’s push back against the bogus backlash against self-care by empowering mamas to take charge of their own lives and acknowledge their own desires through self-care practices.