Self Care Is Not Selfish

I am in a couple of mom groups on Facebook. A group for SAHM moms, a couple of groups for twin moms, a group for teacher moms, a group for lesbian moms, a group for parents/grandparents who do not want to raise their children in fundamentalist tradition, etc. For the most part, I have enjoyed these groups. I have learned a lot from of them and found support in so many areas. It’s truly beautiful when women come together to support and empower one another.

But there is always that one person…

Recently a person posted in the group for SAHMs looking for advice about having “Me Time”. She wants to hire a babysitter once a week to help with her babies so that she can have time to recharge and be alone and maybe for her and her husband to have dinner or see a movie together. However, her husband is very uncomfortable with the idea of someone other than one of the two of them keeping their babies. I understand. We’re picky about who can keep our boys. Several women offered ideas for how to help him become comfortable with the idea of a babysitter. They were positive, encouraging, understanding, and wonderful.

Except that one. The one who replied that “Me time ended when you became a mom” and it is “completely selfish to pawn your kid off on someone else to have me time”.

Y’all, I tried. I tried so hard to just keep scrolling.

But I know there are moms out there who really struggle to make time for themselves and now here they were being called selfish for trying and I just couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t keep going without defending all of us moms who are still people even though we have babies.

“Self care is not selfish,” I replied, “but mom-shaming is.”

I am not the kind of person who engages in Facebook arguments with strangers, so I moved on expecting that to just be the end of it. But it wasn’t. Of course Sanctimommy (a title she was given by another mom who replied to her mom-shaming comment) wasn’t “mom-shaming” she was “stating facts and truth and sometimes the truth hurts” and I “just need to face it.” She said that I was “disrespecting my SO by wasting their hard-earned money on babysitters” when that was my job.

So I politely offered some perspective.

When I became a SAHM, Steph made sure I was given time for self care and time to recharge. It wasn’t my idea. I didn’t ask for it. It was Steph’s priority. I am the most introverted introvert who ever introverted. She has seen what happens when I don’t have my alone time and she does whatever she can to prevent that from happening.

So Granny comes over a couple of days per week so I can work. I have those two days per week to teach online, do my transcription jobs, write my blog, do homework, clean the house, clean our church, or whatever else I need to do. I don’t make a ton of money, but as a recovering workaholic, I am still making some money that contributes to running our household. It helps me not feel like a bum and keeps me intellectually stimulated. It isn’t just good for me, our boys love Granny and she adores them. There is no separating them.  

Also, it is important to Stephanie that I don’t lose my identity just because I am a mom. Yes, being Mama is the most important title I have ever held and it is my first priority after Wife, but I’m still Sarah–Sarah the Writer, Sarah the Painter, Sarah the Crafter, Sarah the Dog Mom, Sarah the Friend, Sarah the Coffee Obsessed, Sarah the Super Nerd. Those aspects of me and my life didn’t vanish because I harvested human beings with my body. I am not only an incubator and caretaker. I’m a whole person. And Steph loves all of me–even the not so great parts, so she makes sure I have time to be a whole person.

I feel sad for Sanctimommy.

According to her, my need to be alone, to be intellectually stimulated, and to be a whole person means that I’m just not a good enough mom. I’m lacking and I need to step it up.

A few years ago a comment like that would have devastated me. Now I am able to say, “If that’s what keeps everyone in your house happy, then you do you. Don’t shame others for having different needs and choices.”

Friends, Self Care IS NOT SELFISH. It is necessary. It is essential.

Three Reasons Self Care is Not Selfish

1. Self care strengthens authenticity

We all wear many hats and have many roles. We are a lot of different things for a lot of different people. But if we don’t take the time to step back and care for ourselves, we lose sight of who we are.

When I was a kid I would go spend the weekend with my older sister or friends. When I came home, I would almost always get in trouble for having a bad attitude. “If you can’t have a better attitude when you come home you’re not going to be allowed to go anywhere anymore,” I was told. I was so confused because I never tried to have a bad attitude, I wasn’t trying to be nasty, I just couldn’t help it.

Now that I understand more about myself and more about child and adolescent brain development, I realize that when I came home I needed to be alone. I needed to go to my room and recharge. I had been around people for however long I had been gone and I was not only physically tired, but mentally and emotionally tired, too. What I didn’t need was to answer a thousand questions from my parents and brother or have the television blaring in my ears. I needed to recharge so that I could return to being a kind, contributing family member.

That didn’t mean that I should be punished. There should not be punitive repercussions for being an introvert or an extrovert. These traits are beyond our control.

Through the years I have tried more than once to change that I am an introvert. And every time was a disaster that left me drained. In order to be a functioning human I need to take care of myself.

Practicing authenticity through self care helps you find purpose.  

After moms, the one group (in my opinion) who receives the most criticism for practicing self-care is teachers. Teachers are treated terribly.

When I was pregnant, I almost died trying to carry my twins to term. I did not want to have them early. When I was admitted to the hospital, hooked up to monitors and IVs, I tried my best to convince anyone who would listen that I should go home and come back in a couple of weeks. Finally the doctor told me, “If we don’t get these babies out of you by Monday, all of you might not make it.” So I had an emergency c-section at 1:30 Sunday morning.

I was still in recovery when texts and calls about work began. I spent the night in labor & delivery, and by the time I moved to a mom & baby room (without my babies) Steph had taken my phone.  I was trying to recover from a major surgery, my children were in intensive care, I still couldn’t regulate my blood pressure, I was a brand new mom to twins, I could barely walk, and people were bothering me about work.

And not because they needed to. Stephanie is a teacher, who teaches the same content I did in the same district. She contacted the administration in my building and taken care of my FMLA paperwork. She had taken care of sub plans. I had entered the data they needed into a Google Sheet before I left for fall break the week before.

Teachers, like moms, are often treated like they are not allowed to be people. For real, both teacher and mom shaming can be debilitating.  

I have three main purposes in my life: be a wife, be a mom, be a teacher. Thanks to contract teaching–and the ability to practice self-care by stepping away from a full-time career–I am able to do all three of them well and with joy. I feel like my true, authentic self for the first time in years. I am overwhelmingly happy.

2. Self care cultivates empowerment

The opposite of self-care is sabotage.  Putting myself on the back burner time and time again is detrimental to my mental, physical, and emotional self.  It makes my goals and aspirations seem like nothing more than silly daydreams.  

This doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to make willing sacrifices for others, but it does mean that you create healthy boundaries.  Learning to say “no” is freeing. Practice is the only way to cultivate this type of empowerment. A healthy dose of releasing guilt also helps.

Self-care has made it possible for me to not only be honest about my dreams, but take practical steps to seeing them come to fruition.

3. Self care enables us to care for others

Self care and selfishness are motivated by different intentions. Selfishness comes from a place of how can I make my situation better for me? How can I make this benefit me? Self care comes from a place of How can I improve myself so that I am able to care for others? What can I do to be better for my family/job/friends/etc?

There is nothing wrong with realizing you need a break from your children so that you can be a better mom. There is nothing wrong with using a sick day from work to take a “mental health day”. And there is nothing wrong with telling whoever you live with “I’m going to my room and I need to be left alone for a couple of hours to recharge,” or telling your significant other, “I need a break. You’re on baby duty.” Doing these things will refresh you and allow you to return with new energy and fresh perspective.

Taking these breaks increases our productivity as we care for others

Whether you are a mom, a wife, a friend, no matter your occupation, etc. becoming a stronger, more confident person will also make you better for the ones you love.

Our first week at home with the boys was amazing. It was so wonderful to have them at home. But it was also exhausting. I was still recovering from surgery and no longer had help from medically trained nurses and doctors. Steph and I were on our own. We had to figure out how to keep the two tiniest humans I had ever seen alive all by ourselves. Between diapers and feedings, especially considering Gryffin did not like to eat and Atticus had some severe reflux, there was barely enough time to eat and use the restroom. Any time I had I chose to sleep. When my mom visited the weekend after they came home, the first thing I said was “I’m so glad you’re here. I haven’t showered since Tuesday. I’m going to take a shower and a nap.”

“Why haven’t you showered?” My mom asked.

“Because every time Steph said ‘I got this. Go take a shower or something,’ I slept instead.”

After that shower, I was a completely different person. Instead of taking a nap, I made dinner.

It was a long shower. I used my favorite shampoo and soap and lotion and put on my favorite, most comfortable sweatpants, and felt like a brand new person. It felt as though I had been recreated. I was ready to be more than a “mombie”.

And after that I was a better mom. I was better at taking care of my kids and my wife. I was a better human. All because figured out how to care for my infants and be productive because I took an hour to step away and take care of me.

Regular breaks also “fill up your love cup”

I know that sounds ridiculously cheesy. I first learned the phrase when I read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. And I thought it was cheesy then, too, but the phrase has become a regular part of my and Steph’s vocabulary.

Our sweet boys have especially taught us about filling our love cups.  They are rambunctious fifteen month olds. In those little bodies are some big emotions they aren’t always sure how to deal with.  When one of them has a melt down (starting before they could even crawl) we will pick them up and talk to them, often also saying “aw, sweet baby, your love cup was just empty.”

Now that this has become their norm we have noticed that the boys often come to us for quick snuggles whenever they are feeling overwhelmed. In those moments, they practice self care; they realize they are overwhelmed and in need of a safe space. They come to us and receive love, attention, and/or comfort, and then continue playing happily. This doesn’t keep all the melt-downs from happening, but they do happen less often and are a little less severe.

It also taught me that self-care doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. The boys come to us to “fill their love cup.” We receive as much in these moments as we give. And it strengthens our bond as a family.

Taking Care of Yourself Is Not Selfish

In a world of increasing online interaction, where tones are misconstrued, and people can hide from taking responsibility for the damage their words can cause, it is easier than ever to attack others, to shame others, or to hurt others.

No matter what you read, please remember that YOU matter. YOU are important. And you need to take care of yourself.

Self care is never selfish.

Mom shaming is.

What is your favorite way to practice self care? Share with me in the comments!