It’s become an oddly accepted reality that a “good” mom will sacrifice some or all of herself in motherhood.
I wish there was someone to blame for this, in a way, but I’m not sure who it would be. Generations before us? Patricia Heaton’s Debra Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond, with all her mom jeans and mom haircuts and mom-style nagging? June Cleaver, with her whole world revolving around her family?
Whatever. I think it’s beyond the point. The point is that, somehow, so many of us have taken on the idea that motherhood equals self-sacrifice.
And to some degree, it’s true:
I don’t regret it. But some things, I took too far.
That’s the other end of the spectrum that we’re all afraid of, right? If you’re not a Debra, what’s left but to be Peg Bundy in Married with Children— lazy, dysfunctional, emotionally absent?
Being a great mom doesn’t mean you have to ditch the self-care. In fact, I think that being a great mom means you have to prioritize self-care.
Four years ago, my daughter rushed into the world like a lightning bolt that had suddenly realized it was supposed to do its bolting two weeks ago. I was both over and underprepared. Breastfeeding was a painful challenge. Sleep was scarce.
I willingly upended my life but accidentally tossed aside things that mattered, too. It was a winding road to find my way back. I didn’t actually find my way back until last year.
I know what it’s like to think of self-care as a cute thing that was a priority pre-kids and an impossibility post-kids. I know that it’s disastrous to think of it that way.
I felt hemmed in because so much of what I wanted for me felt in conflict with what I wanted for my kids. I knew how important presence was, and quality time, and family time. I truly valued fresh, home-cooked, organic meals and natural cleaning products. I spent hours researching, cooking, making things from scratch. I was home, and somehow felt I had to earn that right. I saw laundry and cleaning and cooking as tests of how deserving I was of leaving behind full-time employment. I found it impossible to “sleep while the baby sleeps.”
I also valued the lifestyle that came with working for myself. I created mounds of self-imposed pressure to do it all right, to succeed. I spent hours of time focused on all the wrong things.
I so badly wanted to be everything for my kids that I kept going and going and going just to ensure that I would feel like I had done my best.
I remember telling my brother about how I let myself sit down and do nothing during my daughter’s nap, once a month. I whispered it, like a secret I was guilty of. “Once a month?” he repeated back. Even when I heard the surprise in his voice, it didn’t occur to me that I was stretching myself too thin. How far I pushed myself was a point of pride.
I was proud that I was “making it work”: skipping showers and getting my daughter to music class and play dates (holla, dry shampoo); working late and still managing to be the one to get up with the baby.
Once I really looked at the life I had created, I realized that I had left little room for the me who I really am.
The woman who likes to lose herself in a good book, who values having an impeccable pedicure, who loves to browse HomeGoods looking for nothing at all, who needs to write to be sane, who craves sunshine and meandering walks in the woods. That girl inside of me who is still infinitely curious, who sees things differently, who is bursting with energy and light.
I was still all of those things, but I wasn’t creating any space in my life to actually be them.
The details of self-care in motherhood look different than they did before, and feels different than it did before (even more precious, I think) but what self-care actually is hasn’t changed.
A spa day is not self-care if you spend the whole time feeling guilty for being away from your family. A shopping trip is not self-care if you swoop through the aisles of Target in a rush to get back home.
It’s about doing what is meaningful to you, not what counts to anyone else, or even what felt most significant yesterday. Sometimes it’s getting up and going to yoga, and sometimes it’s staying in bed a little longer.
Real self-care means you listen to yourself and know what you need. It means that what you need becomes as important — and sometimes more important — than what everybody else needs.
There was a time when I thought self-care was impossible, but now it’s a non-negotiable.
Self-care is the hour in the morning when I get up before everyone else. Self-care is the meal I plan because it’s my favorite, not someone else’s. Self-care is taking an impromptu, mid-day hike with my husband. Self-care is making coffee before I play cars. Self-care is ending the work day 20 minutes early so I can read a book before the kids get home. Self-care is yoga, chocolate and green smoothies. It’s good books and new makeup, it’s regular hair appointments and the occasional reiki session, it’s weekends away and it’s moments to myself, it’s sex, it’s sleep, it’s ordering out instead of cooking, it’s a lavender-and-epsom-salt bath, it’s an audiobook in the car instead of kids’ music. Self-care is so, so simple and once you know what really matters to you, it can be pervasive, even in mom life.
As moms and business owners, our schedules are often full and some things are out of our control. Self-care requires flexibility and intention. We have to know what we need, how much it matters and we have to be flexible about when, how and where it happens. We have little time to ourselves, and it’s up to us to make the most of it, to use it by doing what really makes us feel good, instead of defaulting to Netflix and mindless social media scrolling.
We are not the casualties of parenthood. We are not martyrs. We are the role models for our children. We are showing them how to live.
Someday, we will not be raising our kids anymore. They will be grown.
I want my kids to know how to take care of themselves as well as I take care of them. I’ve realized that starts with me showing them that I take really great care of me. It starts with me being happy, fulfilled, lit-up. It starts with me living in my own unique space, somewhere between Barone and Bundy– loving, present, strong, capable, vibrant, patient, kind, silly, joyful, quirky, independent.
Everything I do impacts my kids. That’s a big responsibility. And, finally — finally — I’ve learned that when I take care of me, I take care of them.
MotherHustle panelist Stacy Firth is a writer and content strategist who helps moms who are small business owners and solopreneurs create online content that keeps it real. She also leads workshops that help mamas lead a lit-up life, and is mama to two. You can find her on her website or on Instagram at @stacyrfirth.
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