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!

Why I Quit Teaching

I’m not a teacher anymore.

I can’t believe those words are my reality, but here we are. I guess I should say I am not a teacher in the traditional sense. My classroom is now my basement office, all school-related decorations confined to a few tri-fold boards I trade in and out as needed based on the online class I’m teaching.

I have left the brick and mortar school and taken on the life of stay at home mom, contract teacher, blogger, and student. Student because I am returning to school to be an accountant. I’m six months from turning 30 and I’m completely starting over career-wise.

I have given a lot of feeble excuses for leaving teaching.
I’ve said I quit teaching to spend more time with my babies.

This is true, but still only part of the larger story.  I am so blessed to have this time with them. They are the absolute best and fill my heart with indescribable joy. I love being at home with them. But honestly, being a SAHM is just icing on the cake at this point. I would probably have left teaching anyway after last year. Having the boys at home only made it easier.

I’ve said “it turns out, teaching isn’t for me.”

If you know me at all, you know I am lying when I say this. I am passionate about teaching and public education. I’ve worked with some remarkable educators and I have the utmost respect for them. Teaching is and always has been so much more than a job to me. It has been my investment in the future of society, my way of making the world a better place. It has been my calling. I have loved it from day one. All of it: planning, teaching, grading, coaching, laughing with kids, exploring emotions, learning life lessons, celebrating successes–both in the classroom and later in the students’ lives. There is nothing like receiving Facebook messages and emails from former students updating me on their successes and thanking me for helping them achieve their goals.

I’ve said that I’m just burnt out.

But this is another lie. I’ve said, along these same lines, that after I returned from maternity leave I didn’t love teaching anymore. Again, a lie. The truth is I wasn’t happy teaching for the school I was in anymore, but I still love teaching. I still have the same passion and excitement for my students and my content as I did my very first year. I say I’m not sure what changed. Another lie. I know exactly what changed.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that changed me–that changed my heart.

First, a little background.

I know I’m going to sound like I have no humility at all, but I’m being honest: I am a damn good teacher. So I made the choice to commit to teaching in Title I schools, which are low-income and usually high minority. There is probably low parent involvement. Many of the kids feel trapped in a cycle of generational poverty and wholeheartedly believe they are not capable of or worth any better.

All the odds are stacked against teachers in Title I schools. Sometimes I say teachers in non-Title-I schools get twice the results for half the effort, and I’m only sort of kidding. I decided if I was going to teach, I was going to give the best I could to kids who usually got the scraps. If you are interested in reading a little more about what it’s like to teach in a Title I school, you should check out this post on the Love, Teach Blog.

My first school

My first school was unique, even for a Title I school. 96% of students received free or reduced lunch (the 4% who didn’t were administrators’ kids) and roughly 80% of the population was homeless. The whole community had been affected by rampant drug use, transience, and dwindling economic opportunity. I loved the kids so much, but the community was difficult to adjust to. The little town the school served was in the middle of nowhere–a small rural community–but many of the kids (and their parents) seemed to think we were all in inner-city Chicago.

There were days at this school that it was difficult to feel safe. Once when the principal was out of the building we had to go on lock down because a student’s father, who was not to have contact with the student, informed her mother he was coming to school to take her. The door to my classroom hadn’t locked in months and no matter how many times I brought it up, no one had fixed it. The student in question was sitting in my room. Luckily, the police apprehended the father before he made it on campus, but that’s when I knew I needed to move on to a new school.

My second school

I moved to a new county, a new district, a new school. The first couple of years were so wonderful that I described it as teaching at Disney Land. As time passed my perception changed. I don’t know if the school itself changed or if I was just finally seeing problems I had been blind to before.  Regardless, I wasn’t happy there anymore. I was seriously considering moving to a different school but I guess I was letting a few things hold me back. My coworkers were amazing. I had made some of the most wonderful friends of my life and I didn’t want to have to move to a new school and figure out new people. I’m not really a social butterfly.

This school was a typical Title I school. It had its problems, but a lot of talented and dedicated teachers work really hard to make it a great place for students to learn. There was no real reason for me to leave.

When I returned to work in January after maternity leave, emotions were running high.

I have no idea what happened in the building the 12 weeks I was out but many people  said “You should be so glad you weren’t here last semester.” Some of these were people who never complained about anything ever. No one ever explained what happened, but there was no denying a very clear shift in the climate and culture of the building.

In addition to a less than happy work environment, there were external factors weighing on the building. Our governor was doing everything in his power to take away teacher’s pensions and school funding in the name of balancing the state budget, all while vilifying teachers. Some of his remarks were just outright disgusting. In addition to that, there were two school shootings. One in Western Kentucky at Marshall County High School in January and another in Parkland, Florida in February. Whenever this happens, it leaves every teacher in the nation on edge, wondering if next time it will be his/her building.

Real talk: all teachers know that it could be our school next.

The reality of this set in with me when, in the aftermath of the recent shootings, someone made a threat against my building. It was days after the Parkland incident and a person stated he was going to shoot up the school. Emotions were running high, but the superintendent and principal took the threat very seriously and dealt with it swiftly. Authorities alerted the administration the night before, who communicated the news with the staff as soon as possible.

I was walking into a building that was already on lock down, the police were already there and prepared.

I hugged my babies and kissed my wife and promised that if anything happened I wouldn’t play the hero–I’d come home to them. And I did. I came home safely that day, and the following work day I got up and went back. Despite knowing it could be our building next, teachers operate like we feel safe and secure, like it’s not going to happen to us.

All of these things–the school culture, the nastiness of our elected officials, and the school shootings–were weighing on everyone in the building. We were all on edge, we were all dealing with unhappiness to a certain degree, but I still didn’t want to stop teaching. I still believed I needed to teach.

The day I was done being a teacher was March 28.

I remember because it was my birthday.

My 6/7 block class threw a surprise birthday party for me. My plan was 5th period. While I was out of my room, they decorated with balloons and streamers. They brought in cupcakes and sodas and cups and napkins and gifts.

I don’t know how they knew pink carnations are my favorite flower, but there was a bouquet sitting on my desk in a pretty little glass vase. I don’t know how they knew M&Ms are my favorite candy, but there was a cute little apple jar full of them next to the flowers.

They wrote me some of the sweetest letters I have ever read in my life. Tears of gratitude stung my eyes as I turned on music and started organizing a party game. After going through all that work I wasn’t going to make them do classwork the entire period. We’d celebrate my birthday for a little while and then begin class.

Lock down

Just as celebrations were beginning there was an announcement for a medical lock down. That’s no big deal. It just means students are not allowed to leave the room because, most likely, someone had thrown up or something in the hall.

Within seconds there was an announcement for a full lock down, meaning there was a threat. We had to turn off all sounds, turn off all lights, lock all doors, cover all windows, and sit silently on the floor as hidden as possible.

It wasn’t a drill. It wasn’t planned. There was no warning. We were just on lock down.

My students assumed it was a drill at first. But minutes passed and no one released us from lock down and the kids started growing suspicious.

“What’s going on? Are we safe? Is this a real lock down?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, “but I am sure we are safe. We have followed all the procedures exactly. This is why we practice.” I kept my voice steady and calm and reassuring. They settled back into silence.

Time continued to pass and I could see the strain on the students’ faces.

Text messages from friends and siblings at the high school started rolling in and the strain gave way to all out panic.

We shared a campus with the high school. A small parking lot separated our buildings. A man had shot and killed his wife and then come to the high school to pick up their son. The man had a gun and was on school property. (He never made it into the building, but we didn’t know that yet.)

“What if he comes over here?” asked a sweet girl. I turned to where she was sitting with her besties–the little group of birthday party planners. There was fear and panic on their faces. It was obvious it was taking serious restraint for them to not cry or scream or run.

I smiled at her and said, “I’ve been in almost this exact situation at my old school-and my classroom door didn’t even lock then. Every single one of my students made it out just fine. I assure you we are safe. I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.”

The kid and all her friends relaxed. I watched as relief and comfort replaced the worry and fear on their faces. All because of my words–because of a promise I made that I would die trying to keep–but there was no guarantee I could actually keep it.

And that was it.

That was the moment I knew I could not continue to be a teacher. I can’t explain why, I don’t even know why, but that moment affected me more than any other. There was something about giving those kids a false sense of security that has messed with me to my core.

It’s been six months, and I still see their scared faces in my dreams. I don’t exactly know what to call the emotion I felt when I realized I was being dishonest, but I still feel it every time I remember the fear in that girl’s eyes when she asked me “What if?” and how it shifted to comfort and relaxation when I promised safety.

I stood in my classroom and heard gunshots.

My small-town-America classroom. Not my middle-of-a-war-torn-country classroom.

The man forced the police to shoot and kill him.

My classroom was on the opposite side of the building of the altercation, so the gunshots were not loud. You had to know what you were listening for, and you had to be actively listening. I don’t think any of the students noticed it at all.

I had taught the man’s son when he was in middle school. I’d met the man a few times, too. He had come in for a meeting once. I saw the son and his father at the animal shelter a few months after he started high school. He was so excited and proud to tell me he had joined ROTC and was doing really well in school. His dad stood behind him and beamed with pride.

Steph asked me once what my take was on the father when I met him. He seemed to me like a good dad. He was rough around the edges and uneducated, but he wanted what was best for his son.

My heart aches for the kid. He woke up one morning for a typical day of school and by the end of the school day he was an orphan.

These things aren’t supposed to happen.

Teachers aren’t supposed to tell their babies goodbye in the morning and wonder if they are going to come home to them in the afternoon.

Students aren’t supposed to start a normal school day and wind up an orphan before the final bell.

Children are not supposed to feel unsafe at school.

I can’t fix these problems. There’s nothing I can do about it. That’s not me admitting defeat, that is just me being matter of fact. It’s me facing reality.

But I also cannot continue operating in a system like this. I cannot continue willingly placing myself in a situation where I might have to choose between staying alive for my own babies, or risking my life for someone else’s children.

And I can’t continue lying to children about their safety. Not when they trust me so much.

I can’t.

I am not a teacher anymore.

 

 

 

Coming to a place where I am comfortable with changing careers and leaving a career I truly loved required a lot of reflection and introspection. Click below to receive a copy of my 28-day reflective journal so you can practice self-care through reflection.

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