If I read one more article demanding I make time for self-care, I will burn the Internet to the ground.
I mean it. This isn’t like the time I threatened to use all the women’s magazines in the drugstore to make pirate hats for my baby feminist army because I was done hearing about quinoa. This is a real beef. I am constantly being told what I have to do – for work, for my family, for my community. I am drawing the line at being told off for not making enough “me time”. Self-care shaming is officially off limits!
I have nothing against the concept of self-care.
As parents, we become used to putting the needs of our children before our own. It is deeply appealing to reframe our own needs as an important priority. I am all in favor of making time to do the things that refill your heart and refresh your body. Light that candle, make that gratitude list, and schedule that massage. You do you – fine! Please enjoy and reap all the benefits. What I object to is being told I must do it. I rankle at prescriptive advice in many things, but especially in the area of my precious private moments. We all know that parental personal time is at a premium. I am not begrudging how anyone chooses to spend it. I am just so tired of being told what to do.
How can I care for someone if I haven’t taken care of myself? I just get out of bed and I do it. The same as you do – day after day after ever-loving day we roll out and do what we have to do to make our world work. Some days this involves some pretty heavy lifting. Other days, we lie in hammocks drinking fruity drinks while gazing at the stars. But whether I get some sweet hammock time or not, lunches will be made, laundry will be done, work projects will be completed. I cannot predicate my daily life on whether I am adequately rested and fulfilled. That bar is set too high; it is not possible to do it all. When a well-meaning expert tells me that by not making the time to recharge my batteries, I am harming my child – I see red.
There is a gendered element to the squawking chorus of self-care gurus that I find disquieting. My partner works very hard too. Yet his Facebook feed is not full of memes ordering him to take a bubble bath and drink some chardonnay. No one offers him seminars on body acceptance and mindful hiking. When women are told to do something that no one feels they need to tell men, I grow wary. It may be that men are socialized to automatically take their “fulfillment” time ahead of their domestic duties. Now, before you start crowing “Not All Men” – I am not indicting every man in our lives of dereliction. I am simply noticing that there doesn’t seem to be a growing cultural pressure to sell them lavender eye pillows.
Often, the calls for self-care accompany a suggested activity. These suggestions might be low cost – say, going for a walk, or meditating. But follow the path and you often find a financial string tied to this inner peace – pricey walking shoes, or a wellness phone app to track your mood and zen schedule. More and more, the subtext of self-care is to spend money on yourself. I find the loudest proponents of self-care on my social media feeds are selling “wellness” products. This annoys me the most: preying on exhausted women – especially young mothers – who are feeling burned out by the large burdens of domestic and professional life – with slick promises of personal fulfillment and growth through generic commercial products. If we could just buy our way to contentment, we would have done that by now. The truth is that refueling ourselves is harder than that.
You are worth it. With or without fancy face cream.
The fact is that we all need to recharge. The purpose of the self-care rhetoric is to help us rationalize the time we spend focusing on what refreshes us. What gives you the strength and energy to do all the things you have to do? This is one of the most important pieces of advice we give to new moms: it is essential to take care of yourself. But before you can, you have to know what you need. My own self-care needs are necessarily different than yours. I find the concept of having my hair done stressful. For you, that may be heaven. I have a daily yoga practice. That may make you roll your eyes. If self-care is going to work, it needs to spark from our own desires, not from a Buzzfeed listicle or an Instagram hashtag.
The one area I concede is that if you feel you need permission to use your time and energy on yourself, then you should have it automatically. I disagree with needing to ask permission to care for yourself- what you need is the support to be able to do it. No one has the authority to tell you what you need to do to care of yourself. You may just need help to get it done – someone to watch the baby, or pick up domestic slack. This is about having each other’s backs. I know we don’t always have that support. It is my fondest wish for you that you do.