Ahh, self-care. It feels good, doesn’t it? It feels dutiful, responsible, and oh so Instagrammable. And it feels like at last, someone is thinking about me, even if it’s only me. The importance of self-care is preached everywhere, with a frequency and passion that seems it is the single most important thing, above all else.
It’s a fixation. Maybe even an obsession.
Different Types of Self-Care
At the new year, I saw dozens of resolutions for better self-care, but the lists consisted of details like this: shower more, eat less of my kids’ chicken nuggets, exercise more… In other words, classic New Year’s Resolutions going by the name of ‘self-care.’ This brand of self-care seems to be common-sense adulting. Call it self-care if you want, but it’s really just you being a responsible person.
The other brand of self-care might sound familiar to you: “You are the sun in your solar system. Everyone else in your life rotates around you. You do not rotate around them.”
But here’s the thing. We can’t all be suns. Only one of us can be the sun if we’re hoping for anyone else to rotate around us. Are we desperate for self-care because we’ve been rotating around our husband or children like they are the sun? Here’s the freeing truth: not an earthly one of us is or can be the sun.
The most common one I see is “You can’t fill from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” This strikes a major chord with moms because it feels like we’re filling all the cups and giving ourselves the crumbs. But why do we believe we are the ones to fill our own cups and all the other cups? It assumes no one is able to fill our cup or others’ as well as we are. Are we that amazing? I’m not. That’s an overwhelming responsibility, and I’m pretty sure the ability to single-handedly fill all the cups is not in our DNA.
Is Self-Care Selfish??
We see and hear ideas like this throughout every day, and we start thinking that we deserve to shut out anyone who gets in the way of our dream life. But we have children. And children affect our ability to do what we want, whenever we want. If I’m in this to make a beautiful life for myself, I could easily see my children as obstacles to this beauty rather than some of the biggest contributors of it. And if a child believes she is a roadblock to her mother’s fulfillment, she will, at best, want a distant relationship.
What I find most strange in the self-care conversation is the silence surrounding personal character. Because self-care isn’t selfish until it is. One effective way to deal with difficult circumstances is to have the character to deal with them, right? Couldn’t developing strong character be a form of self-care? If we escape every time instead of stand firm, we are no more able to handle something hard than we were the first time. Standing firm is like a muscle; the more we practice, the stronger we get.
I’m not a therapist (obviously?), but I have a hard time believing that as a culture at large we’ve lost the ability to care for ourselves. There are individuals with a real need for help in this area, but I don’t think that as a culture we would neglect ourselves if it weren’t for all the self-care encouragement. My fear is that we’re buying into this deception that the best way to care for ourselves is to focus on ourselves. That may feel good today, but what if we reap exactly what we sow? What if all we get in the end is ourselves? That’s too lonely a thought for me to bear.
What It’s All About
Like most things, this is about our hearts more than it is about our circumstances.
For example, I got regular massages during my last pregnancy. A big percentage of our monthly budget goes to quality food and the occasional restaurant. I enjoy a skincare routine. Although it’s sometimes lukewarm, I have coffee every morning. I go for walks. For now, my house is professionally cleaned. I rest. These things do not make or break my day, and they will change constantly over the course of my life. With the exception of washing my face, this list is done with or for other people, and I happily benefit. There is usually nothing wrong with the stuff that makes up self-care. The questions to answer are why we do it and what we hope to gain.
Take care of yourself. Of course, take care of yourself. Step back and enjoy that beautiful life you’re already living. Sure, a few things may be out of balance and it may be true that you need more time each day to catch your breath. Those things tend to work themselves out. But self-love is a tricky little devil that looks so desirable, yet seldom delivers on its promises. Just ask Miss Piggy and Dorian Gray. As for us moms, let’s keep dreaming, goal-setting, exercising and eating well. But let’s not give up on treating others the way we’d want to be treated, because after all, what goes around comes around.