The world sees self-care, but I see another thing for my to-do list. Another thing I’m failing at. Another thing I feel guilty over.
I know what it’s like.
You’re tired—right to your bones.
The kind of tired you don’t think even a week of slumber on a desert island would cure.
You’re a bit fuzzy about the pile of paperwork that’s mounting on the corner of the kitchen table, but you know you’ve paid the electricity bill so everything else can wait.
You arrived at the school drop-off this morning perfectly on time with children fed, dressed, lunches in backpacks and ready for the day, but realized as you waved to another parent that you hadn’t looked in the mirror before you left home (or for several days, actually), and there’s every likelihood you have toast in your teeth and spit-up in your hair, and you’re definitely wearing the same workout clothes you had on yesterday—because you had every intention of working out but the day got in the way.
You feel 10 years older than you are because your greys are showing and the thought of sitting for hours in a salon with a toddler wriggling on your lap or emptying the trolley of clips and curlers is putting you off making an appointment.
You forget to eat lunch and then are so hungry you inhale the kids’ leftover fish fingers, and hate yourself when your jeans dig uncomfortably into what used to be your waistline.
I’m a mama too, so I know what all these things feel like. I know they’re so much a part of your day you don’t even think about them.
I know that 10 years ago this wasn’t the way you pictured yourself, and I also know that—right now—you’re just too tired to care.
Self-care. Did you know there’s an Instagram hashtag for #selfcare? Of course there is; there’s a hashtag for everything. But when I scroll through the perfect little square pictures of colorful, nutritious-looking salads and selfies from the nail salon or the yoga retreat, I do not see my life.
I see another thing for my to-do list. Another thing I’m failing at. Another thing I feel guilty for letting go of when I got on this crazy train called motherhood.
Do I really need to find time for myself in each day? How? In between everything else I have on my plate? I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
The truth is that “self-care” means different things to different people, but it also means different things in different seasons of life.
I know I can’t give from a cup that’s empty.
I know I need to fit my own metaphorical oxygen mask before I assist others with theirs.
I know taking care of myself is vital if I’m going to be able to do my job as a mother.
I know that self-care and selfish are not the same thing. But putting it into practice is another matter.
The notion of self-care can be overwhelming and unnatural. Motherhood changed me forever, and now my version of self-care is different from what it was B.C. (before children). It’s a case of finding out what my altered self needs, and looking for ways to give it to her.
So I’m learning to give myself grace in the seasons.
In the heady, newborn days where time disappeared into a vortex and the days blurred into the nights, self-care meant survival. It meant giving love every hour of every day, and sleeping whenever the opportunity presented itself.
In the toddler years self-care was about asking for help—just for an hour at a time—so I could take a rest from the hyper-vigilance required to keep my daughters alive when there were plug sockets and flights of stairs to thwart my efforts.
And as my children get a tiny bit older, self-care is about finding certain things I want to prioritize over others. The weekly manicures of my twenties no longer seem like a necessity, but being fit and strong enough to keep up with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old does.
Nights out on the town with girlfriends can now be a quarterly event (we see each other in the playground most days anyway), but a quiet dinner alone with my husband to catch up with each other and align our frequencies is something much more pressing.
I like to run, so now I get up an hour earlier each morning to go and do that thing which brings me pleasure. I steal an extra hour and it makes me feel better about myself all day long —and that must be a good barometer for self-care.
I’ve discovered a great hair spray that temporarily covers greys so I don’t have to spend valuable hours in the salon to avoid feeling older than I am. I’ve found two reliable babysitters who my children adore, so I can plan date nights with my husband and accept weekend dinner party invitations without guilt.
I wash my face and apply moisturizer every night before I crawl gratefully towards my pillow. I write a gratitude journal and read a book for five minutes at night before I close my eyes. These are small things I can do, things I don’t feel intimidated by. Things I believe make me better at my day job—being mom.
But mostly, I accept that self-care means something very different to me in this season, and I choose to find the things that make me happy in the moments I share with my girls.
We dance. In the kitchen. A lot. We laugh. We read books. I listen to the things they want to tell me and I let them teach me to play again. They give me energy as well as take it, and in their company I feel replenished.
I’ve given myself the grace to stop expecting things of myself that I don’t have the bandwidth to give in this season.
And I know that one day, my girls will be grown, and then I’ll have far more time than I could ever want to focus on myself again.