If one more person tells me I need to “fill my cup” in the interest of self-care, I’m going to hotbox them in a meat locker. With lots and lots of aged meats.
Stop telling me to get a massage. I don’t want a facial or a pedicure. I might be able to stomach a manicure if I wasn’t forced to sit still for longer than 20 minutes.
Here’s how it is
I have a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old. I work full-time as the breadwinner and am always running a side hustle or two at any given time. My husband stays home as the full-time caretaker so I feel guilty any time he has to take care of them outside of, you know, every day. Even though I couldn’t have found a more supportive spouse had I conjured him up from the Ideal Husband Factory in Palo Alto (don’t lie, you just Googled it).
My time with my daughters is precious. My time with my friends is insanely precious because it’s so rare. The idea of taking an hour or two to do something completely by myself sounds asinine. Calling it a “luxury” isn’t the right term. Being alone basically feels like a waste.
It’d be like trying to stick to a restricted diet where I am banned from eating brownies, bagels, coffee and cheese. It is completely unrealistic to believe I could follow that. I wouldn’t enjoy eating anymore, which would make me miserable. My self-care equivalent to a diet of beets and dandelion greens is being touched for an hour and slicked up with so much product the neighborhood kids could play Slip-and-Slide on my cheeks. I am never going to get behind the idea of self-care if it’s restricted to a certain type.
The importance of self-care has been scientifically proven. It’s a mental health regiment as much as a physical one, helping to reduce anxiety, elevate patience and resilience, foster creativity and open- mindedness as well as combating burnout and exhaustion.
It’s also a buzzword that has gotten a lot of face time recently. And just like any good, old-fashioned game of telephone, the more it’s talked about, the more its original meaning and purpose falls away, replaced by the commercialization of the concept for an individual’s or company’s own benefit.
Self-care is more than just actions taken. It says it right there in the name: it is the art of taking care of yourself. So for mothers who can’t fathom the space to spend hours doing something alone, who are overwhelmed and guilt-ridden by the idea of trying to practice self-care in the way it’s currently being marketed, it’s OK. You aren’t doing it wrong.
Do it your way
I practice self-care in four ways that are really important to me, and work for me rather than against me.
Boundary setting. Self-care to me means not straining my already overfilled mental and emotional load. Saying no to opportunities, no matter how awesome they seem or how much I want to help, is a tool it has taken me years to hone, but one that serves me well when it comes to my mental health. By stepping away from volunteer activities or extra projects, I give myself permission to prioritize what’s important to me at this time in my life, knowing I can go back to it later when I’m ready.
Literally taking care of myself. Making sure I am drinking water, choosing the stairs, eating good foods that fuel my body, taking a shower—no need to wile away in a pile of bubbles, just being clean is enough. Doing simple daily activities to give me the energy and confidence to tackle the day feels like a win.
Hanging out with friends. Those bitches are my life line! It doesn’t matter if I need to air out some grievances, bounce ideas off them or just check in to see what is going on in their lives, touching base with other women in my life truly energizes me and gives me the space to get out of my own head. The women I surround myself with are smart, driven and empathetic people. They listen, laugh and love with the best of them. I know walking away from a coffee or a walk with them will give me a new perspective or just a break from the monotony of the day. And, honestly, a hot coffee and really good breakfast sets me up for a week’s worth of happiness.
And one more…
Writing. It gives me such joy to share my perspective and feelings with the world to help women feel less alone. But even if I am journaling for no one but myself, getting my thoughts down on paper helps me work through situations more effectively than anything. Alternatively, writing creatively gives my mind an outlet, a space to go where I can imagine any scenario and outcome I want. I can create new characters and timelines. The freedom to create and see my work on paper is a gift and a release all at the same time.
Self-care doesn’t have to be a burden or one more proverbial item on the to-do list. The expectations for how self-care is supposed to go can sap the very mental energy it’s expected to bring. If you can make yourself a fancy meal that you can enjoy after bedtime instead of eating PB&J crusts and macerated vegetables, or steal away three minutes before walking in the door after work to meditate, or say no to the 10th birthday party this month, your mind, body and overfilled cup will thank you.