The Myth of Self-Care for Moms
I was listening to a podcast about well-being in motherhood last week and one of the guests said something that’s been rolling around in my mind ever since:
“Real self-care is building a life that you don’t want to escape from.”
All of the mothers I know love their children desperately. Why, then, do we also dream of escape?
Parenting upends our lives. The lift we got pre-kid from having choice and agency, community and freedom may not be missed in the beginning because we may feel boosted in our new role as a caretaker and a parent. Over time, the demands of parenthood compound, and without social structures in place to support growing families, we don't often have a lot of time to recharge. When the boredom, overwhelm and frustration eventually set in, when we can no longer see ourselves outside our role as a parent and provider, all of a sudden we start asking ourselves:
“What the hell happened?”
“How did I get here?”
“What is this life?!?”
“Who AM I anymore?”
"What should I do?”
We need relief.
A quick search on Google for “self-care for moms” yields a plethora of results. Here are a few:
Reboot your morning cleansing routine!
Pamper yourself with a pedicure!
Become a master at meal-planning!
Fly to Bali for a wellness retreat!
Go shopping when the kids are asleep!
Spice up your sex life!
Get beauty treatments at home!
Treat yourself to new jewelry!
Hire a health coach!
Start taking collagen!
Schedule a full body massage!
The suggestions go on and on. While many of these activities could be considered part of an overall strategy for a balanced life, on their own, the benefits they provide don’t have a lasting impact on our well-being.
There is one reason for this.
When you finish your self-care activity, nothing has changed.
Everything you needed to escape from is right there waiting for you.
You return to the same environment, the same dynamic, the same frustrations and the same stressors that you temporarily left behind.
Real issues need sustainable solutions, not another juice cleanse, eyebrow pencil or spa day.
“Self-care” as peddled on social media and in our culture will have us believe that if we buy more or spend more (essential oils, weight tracking apps, self-help books, supplements) we can do more and be more.
The promise is that if we buy the product or commit to the program, we'll finally get a break. We'll finally feel content in a system that asks too much of mothers to begin with.
Self-care becomes about building resilience to continue to do more than we should be doing.
This type of self-care doesn't get to the root of the issue.
The reality is that systems of inequality, patriarchy and extreme capitalism make it almost impossible to parent in America today without losing sight of ourselves.
Self-care as presented in our culture is a one-trick pony, quick fixes in a society that conveys the notion that if we’re struggling, it’s our own fault. Just do a yoga class and take a walk! If you don’t feel better, that’s on you.
To truly build a life we don’t want to escape from, we must shift our life to make space for ourselves again.
1. Your values. Are you living in a way that prioritizes what is most important to you right now in your life? If you could plan out a schedule that encompasses everything that is important to you, would it look like the one you’re currently following? What do you need more of in your life? What do you need less of?
2. Your interests. What do you like to do? Do you have a hard time answering this question? What activities did you have to let go of when you became a parent? What aspects of your life were most fulfilling and important to you before you became a parent? What things do you do in your life right now that make you feel most connected to yourself and your purpose?
3. Your boundaries. How do you take a more active role in creating a balanced life? How do things need to change in your family, in your work, in your parenting, to ensure that your well-being is just as important as the rest of your family’s? What boundaries do you need to set with yourself and with others to ensure that your priorities get just as much attention as everyone else’s?
4. Your willingness to be vulnerable and ask for help: Are you willing to be vulnerable and admit to yourself, your partner and/or your friends that you don’t have it all together, that you want something different, something more? Are you willing to ask for help to make these shifts? Are you willing to let others step in and care for you? Are you willing to let some things go?
Real self-care isn’t a quick fix, the newest faze, that glass of wine after dinner every night (and sometimes more on the weekends). It’s a willingness to get clear on what you want your life to look like and having the courage to take steps to make your life one you want to be present for, not escape from.
In my practice, I help women get clear about what they want and support them as they build the courage to live more balanced, connected, joyful lives.
Ready to get started? Contact me today.
Michelle Deely, MFT specializes in helping burned out moms find relief. Michelle offers in-person therapy in San Francisco and online therapy to clients throughout California, Nevada and Florida.