The concept of self care seems to be a big topic of conversation for overwhelmed and exhausted parents. This makes sense because a lot of us are trying to figure out how to juggle work, friends, families, romance and the demands of all this can feel endless. The most commonly proposed solution? Make time for self care.
While self care means different things to different people, the type I am talking about in this blog post is what you see in most self help and time management books. This is the type of self care that orders you to increase the amount of time you spend doing things that are generally known for improving health and decrease the amount of time doing things generally known for making you more tired. So, more wild salmon and going for walks and reading. Less coffee and television and alcohol.
Now I do understand that self care is important. I want to be clear that I am not AGAINST self care. It’s not a bad thing – it’s a good thing! But it’s good in the same way eating organic is good for you. We should probably all do it, but we can’t always afford to. My issue with self care is that it’s a paradox. We need self care to feel energized and renewed, but the time and money it costs to engage in self care can deplete us.
Here is a brief history of my own complex relationship with self care. I was first introduced to it when I was a single mother. I still remember what it’s like to have young children, be working full time, be a part time student, and trying to start a business – all while going through a difficult breakup. When I reached out for help because I was so tired and so poor and so sad, I was told I needed to start practicing self care. In fact, the message I received was that I didn’t have time NOT to practice self care. So after reviewing my self care prescription, I dutifully put each advised activity on my to do list. Meditating. Journaling. Yoga. Exercise. Eating healthier. Going to bed earlier. I was going to be so zen! I couldn’t wait.
But I didn’t become zen. Actually, my self care prescription was the worst. Each activity became one more thing I needed to find time for during exhausting and never ending days. Before long I started to resent self care. At first I did it religiously. Then half heartedly. Then I started skipping days until I gave it up completely and went back to spending my free time doing the things that made me happy. Like drink wine and eat ice cream out of the tub and watch zombie television shows until well past midnight.
But something was different. This time I couldn’t relax at the end of the day because there was this nagging little voice in the back of my head that said “you shouldn’t be watching tv right now. You should be meditating. If you are tired tomorrow it’s going to be your fault because you aren’t doing self care right”. It took me months to get over this failed experiment and be able to fully relax again.
My story is not unique. Most parents – particularly new moms – are given the same generic lecture about how important self care is, but not everyone has the same resources and supports in place to make it happen. And while maybe it should be, self care is not a universal right. It’s a privilege for those who are lucky enough to have spare time, money, and energy.
At this point of my life, I am one of those lucky people who can practice self care any way I want. My kids are older, I’m partnered, I work less hours and get paid well to do what I love. Now I thoroughly enjoy workouts with my running partner, regular massages, and awesome vacations. Looking back, I realize that what I needed several years ago was not a prescriptive order for self care. I just needed to cope. I didn’t need more to do, I needed to be told it was going to be okay. That I was doing a good job. That what I was working so hard for was worth it. That it is fine to just survive for a while – even if my coping strategies appeared to be nothing more than a long list of bad habits.
Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP