I have a big favor to ask you. I’m not asking you to give up your morning coffee or to tell you to stop watching Real Housewives of Wherever marathons. I’m just asking that you stop limiting self-care.
It’s nothing earth shattering, but it is important.
Part of the reason I believe this is important is that there are SO MANY limited and inaccurate perceptions about what self-care actually is.
I recently read a really powerful article about why “self-care isn’t the answer” to the problems plaguing moms. I agreed with the main point the author was making: we need more support. We need a village. We need to be able to ask for help.
She’s totally right. But there was one big thing she got wrong and it’s the one thing people always seem to get wrong about self-care.
Before I go any further, let me ask you what you think of when you hear the words “self-care?”
My guess is that the first things you think of are candlelit bubble baths and fancy facials and a day at the spa or going to get a mani/pedi.
I’m sure you probably think of other things, too, which is great.
That default idea of self-care is generally limited to those bubble baths, facials, spa days, and paying someone to paint your toenails — this was the image of self-care the author created in the blog that fired me up.
And it drives me crazy.
It’s also not entirely her fault.
This limited idea of self-care is what’s most often fed to use in movies and tv shows and most popular media.
I think it’s a big problem because it trivializes self-care and the women who need it the most.
I also think that it’s not the full picture of what self-care actually is.
Self-care is a lot more expansive than the tiny, limited picture of self-care the media presents.
Self-care is the act of listening to your body, mind, and heart and then actually doing what your body, mind, or heart is asking for.
This leaves the door pretty wide open for whatever kinds of care you actually need.
Incidentally, this also means self-care is sometimes boring. Far from the realm of bubble baths and massages, sometimes self-care is putting on clean underwear or brushing your teeth or stepping outside to take a quick breath of fresh air.
It also makes the choice to take care of yourself entirely your own. No one else can decide for you. People can’t come to your house and force you to go get your hair done or go get a massage. You have to choose it and choose to do it. Which admittedly is harder than it should be.
The only thing this definition doesn’t offer is the HOW.
That’s trickier and also more complex and also deeply personal and also presents a wide variety of obstacles.
The HOW is where we tend to get stuck.
That takes way more than a blog to explain, though. That’s why I create programs to teach people the HOW.
Here’s the first important takeaway:
Self-care is not one-size-fits-all.
Self-care is as diverse as we are as people.
It’s just that manis/pedis and bubble baths aren’t actually self-care to everyone. They’re certainly not to me. So no, they won’t solve my problems.
But knowing what DOES make me feel good and what will help me in various situations or with various moods is an important start.
Because not all self-care works in all situations, either.
A bubble bath isn’t a universal cure-all for mothers everywhere, everytime.
Here’s the second important takeaway:
While self-care might not solve all of your problems, it will set the standard for how you want to be treated.
Here’s an example:
Choosing to take time for myself to move my body and advocating for that time with my partner and my kids DOES
This choice teaches me the value of advocating for myself, for acknowledging what I need, and for choosing myself when I’ve been programmed to choose others all the time instead.
This choice also teaches the people around me that I value my physical and mental health.
And hopefully it also teaches them that making these choices for themselves is an important skill worth learning.
Finally, self-care does not have to relegated to the margins of your day. – another problematic point the author of that blog made.
I sprinkle self-care in throughout my day.
I take breaks from work and parenting to pause. To read, to rest, to move, and to play.
As I was writing this blog, I stopped at one point to read a few pages in a book. And then, when my brain felt too full again, I laid down in a restorative yoga pose to give my body and my brain a break. And asked my kids to keep it mellow while I did, too. They played with legos next to me while I rested.
Self-care doesn’t have to happen only when your kids are asleep.
You can choose to do self-care while they’re awake and not only take care of yourself, but teach them the value of listening to your body and setting healthy boundaries about how those needs are met.
So self-care, as the author described it, might not keep us from drowning in motherhood. As moms, we need a range of things. Support systems and self-care, both.
But let’s stop limiting self-care.
Stop limiting self-care to bubble baths and manicures and specific times of day.
Instead, let’s recognize that self-care is much broader than the ideas pop culture feeds us. That true self-care involves learning how to advocate for yourself, build your support system, and yes, do those things that make you feel good.