When 'Frumpy' Goes Too Far: Don't Neglect Yourselves, Mamas

by Rita Templeton
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

As I write this, I’m wearing decade-old Cat in the Hat pajama pants (with a gaping hole in the crotch — you’re welcome) and a T-shirt with a stretched-out neckline. My hair is in a ponytail, but not the bouncy, shiny kind that you carefully brush into place and spray to eliminate flyaways; it’s the kind that happens when you wake up and realize you should have been out of bed like 10 minutes ago, and you’ve got to rush to get the kids ready for school. And I’m wearing glasses, of course, because I didn’t have time to bother with my contacts.

And yeah, I wore the Cat in the Hat pj’s to school drop-off. But I wore a coat over it so, like, nobody noticed. Probably.

It’s still morning, so right now I’m in the “safe zone,” where the majority of mothers still look like me — harried, hurried, so caught up in others’ needs that they haven’t yet had time to tend to themselves. But gradually, as dawn turns into day, the coffee will kick in. Showers will be had. Jeans and bras and shoes will be put on. Makeup will be applied (well, you know, maybe). Hair and teeth will be brushed. Shit will get done.

Unless it doesn’t.

We all have those days when we can’t muster up the motivation to do anything but…nothing. The yoga pants stay on (I love how “yoga pants” implies that actual yoga has been done while wearing them) and the pits start to get that musty funk and the dishes pile up, but hey, at least you caught up on all those shows you DVRed and made good use of your couch. Those days, in small numbers, are good for your mental health. They allow you to take a much-needed breather.

But…the thing about those days is that they’re not every day.

If they are, you’re treading into the dangerous territory of “frumpy.” And even though the very word itself is kind of funny and cartoon-ish, it’s not at all a funny state to be in. Take it from me, someone who has gone from one high-maintenance extreme to the lowest possible maintenance level, and is now trying to balance somewhere in the middle. Frumpy is a state, one you can take up long-term residence in without even realizing it. Being a proponent of perpetual leggings and occasional braless-ness (because, comfort and practicality) is one thing, but all-out frumpiness is a different animal.

It’s barely having the energy to meet all your kids’ needs, let alone your own.

It’s letting personal hygiene fall by the wayside.

It’s feeling like you shouldn’t even put forth the effort to shower or get dressed or wear makeup or fix your hair, because why bother?

It’s feeling guilty. And inadequate. And ugly. And like a failure — as a mother, as a woman.

It’s isolating yourself because you don’t want anybody to see how much you’ve “let yourself go.”

Falling into the frump trap headfirst is so easy, because in the beginning, frumpy offers a freeing sense of simplicity. When it first happened to me, I was at a point in life where it just felt like there weren’t enough minutes in the day; the demands of my kids were weighing heavy on my shoulders. So I cut a few corners. Stopped wearing makeup. Pulled my hair back in a quick, messy ponytail. Skipped the shave. And — voila! — I had a few extra minutes here and there.

I told myself I was doing what it took to devote more time to what mattered most — my family, my home — right?

Frumpiness is a deceptive beast though. It lulls you in with the sense that you’re being practical, dutiful, putting others’ needs before your own. It makes you feel less pressured at first, but it quietly progresses until you’re consumed with it, and it becomes you. It dulls your sparkle, subtly eroding your confidence. Before long, you’re not neglecting yourself because you’re using the time to cater to others — you’re neglecting yourself because you feel like you’re a lost cause.

And one day, you realize just how far from your former self you’ve drifted. You hardly recognize the person in the mirror any more, because even the shiniest object becomes tarnished if you stop polishing it.

I know this. I’ve been there. And sometimes it threatens to overtake me again, like a strong wind poised to topple me over. But the only way to fight it is to do the opposite. The antithesis of frumpiness is self-care, and if that means you have to start with the basics — like showering more often — then so be it. Then you can move on to the next baby steps. Deep-condition your hair. Lotion up those crusty heels. Put on mascara if that’s your thing. Pull together a semi-stylish outfit that includes actual pants.

But don’t do it on anyone’s behalf but your own. Do it because you owe it to your sorely battered self-esteem, because you’re worth the effort it takes to feel good. Even if that means leaving the dishes in the sink a little longer, or skipping the kids’ bath for the night so you can soak in your own (with bubbles, naturally). Even if it seems like it isn’t going to do any good, do it anyway.

Re-giving myself the gift of — well, myself — was the best thing I could have done. Not just for me, but for my family, who as it turns out, weren’t all that fulfilled by a joyless shell of a person who mechanically wiped butts and provided meals (go figure). It doesn’t happen overnight. But I promise that even the tiniest things will add up to a return to the person you were before you started giving pieces of yourself to everyone else. Take back your power and rediscover how good it feels to care for yourself like you mean something too.

Because, mama, you mean the world. And it’s time to start treating yourself accordingly.