Stop Telling Me I Need to Practice More 'Self-Care'

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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Now that I’m a graying 38-year old mom of three kids in school, I’ve learned to accept the hard truth that motherhood and marriage and adulting never really let up. There’s never an aaaahhh moment when you can chill out and say, Yes, Mama. Good work. Everything on the list is checked off. Everyone got where they needed to be on time. No one forgot anything. No one is sick. Everyone is well rested. There is enough money in the bank account and energy in my body to do all the things.

And if the stars align and fairy dust rains from the heavens as pigs fly over your head and all of those unlikely scenarios DO happen, well, you had better take a picture and play the lottery because it ain’t happening again.

So yeah—motherhood is a busy and tiring and unrelenting at times. But lately, it’s been extra super rewarding as I’ve been pulled in more directions I knew existed to meet everyone’s needs. I am stretched too tight, about to snap. People can see it, and in trying to “help,” they continuously offer that famous go-to line: “Honey, you need some self-care.”

And then I take the last ounce of energy I have, lift my arm, and throat punch them. (Kidding. I’m too tired to punch anyone.)

Listen, Mary, I know you mean well, but that advice helps in zero ways. Don’t you think I know that? Don’t you think I KNOW I need to take care of myself? THERE. IS. NO. TIME.

There is no time for “Mommy self-care”when you got stuck in a work project and then hit unexpected traffic and roll up late to your son’s soccer game so you have to push him onto the field and pray his cleats are tied. There is no time for self-care when two kids have long-term school projects sitting on the counter, and the other is struggling with math and needs your help (but WTF are ten-frames and comparison bars), and no one has had time to go grocery shopping yet so it looks like sandwiches for dinner with questionable lunch meat again.

There is no time for Mommy to practice self-care when she has to rush her child to the ER mid-asthma attack/allergic reaction and administer breathing treatments every four hours for the next six days.

Or when your kids get sick and you’re slammed at work and the car won’t start and the electric bill is overdue.

There is no time for self-care when the basement is flooded and… Don’t forget! It’s school picture day! and Don’t forget! Fundraiser money is due tomorrow! and Don’t forget! We have outdoor education this week so the kids need bug spray and Don’t forget! Your child needs to bring in a flashlight and rain boots (you don’t know why) and Don’t forget! It’s spirit week so make sure they wear school colors (what even are the school colors?!).

There is no time for self-care when “Don’t forget!” post-it notes cover so much of your counter that you couldn’t possibly cook a meal even if you had grocery shopped.

There is no time for self-care when you are so mentally and physically depleted that all of the last few drops left in your tank have to be reserved for your family because they need you. And it’s your job.

There is no time for self-care when self-care requires you to make another decision, run another errand, or take one more step and one more breath.

The truth is, some moms don’t practice self-care because they are martyrs and thrive on falling on their swords for everyone else. But some of us moms would. We really would take better care of ourselves if we were able. Some of us are so damn tired and don’t know how we’ll do tomorrow, but adding in whatever “self-care” looks like is one more thing and we just cannot do it.

And what does self-care look like anyway? A bath? A pedicure? A nap? Not for me, because all of the things on those post-its will still be there when I get home, get out of the tub, or wake up. And all I did was waste time when I could have checked another thing off and cleared some counter space. That’s not going to make me feel better.

How about this? How about we give moms less shit to do rather than handing them everyone else’s needs and school fundraisers and team pictures for baseball (5:00 sharp! Don’t be late or you’ll hold up the entire team!) and school projects that involve interviewing or researching someone who’s traveled with the circus?

My house is a fucking circus so can my kid interview me? Oh wait, that’s one more thing on my plate. Never mind. Google it is.

I don’t really know what self-care looks like. Is it a weekend away that requires writing a 10-page dissertation of notes regarding kids’ schedules, allergy meds, and reminders to check the 5-year-old’s butt after he poops?

Is it a pricey spa treatment that makes you feel guilty because your kids don’t currently have any pants that fit?

Is it going for a run when you haven’t slept in a week and your legs feel like lead just walking to the bus stop?

Or is it a coffee date with a girlfriend consumed with bitching about kids, spouses, and this whole “self-care” thing in general?

All I know is after several nights of laying awake next to my sick kid who can’t breathe and making a mental note to schedule the kids’ flu shots and aren’t they due for a dentist appointment? And crap, the soccer uniform isn’t clean and there’s a game tomorrow and oh my god I’m so tired…

The last thing I need is Mary from the PTA to tell me I don’t look so good and need a little self-care. Okay, Mary. You’re right. Here’s my son’s inhaler, my daughter’s school project, a bucket to collect the water in our basement, and can you take them in next week for flu shots? The little one’s a fighter, so you’ll really need to hold him down. Good luck. I’m gonna go lie down.

Let me know if you need me. Actually, don’t.

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