What do you think about when you think about self-care? Is it a manicure? A bubble bath? A solo trip to the grocery store? Maybe a phone call with a friend? Finally the doctor’s appointment that you postponed to look after every single person in your household (and maybe a few others outside of your household)?
Self-care has been a pretty popular word lately, and it’s pretty charged too. How do you feel when you hear the sentence?
My daughter showed me what real self-care means
I cleaned up some painting supplies a few months ago while my daughter Z was working on her art table. She is an artist and maker and is constantly making cards for all upcoming occasions. My husband’s birthday is only in a few months, and I’ve already hidden three cards she made and asked me to keep.
That day she came up to me to show me what she had been working on. It was a small card made up of a 3 × 5 folded index card, and on the front was a little girl with her name on top.
“It’s for me,” she said. “I’ve made a map.”
I looked at the cover, admired their colors and the cute stick figure she had made, then opened the card. In it her message to herself: “Dear Z, I love you. Dear, Z. ”
I tore up a bit.
I was surprised, impressed, and hopeful that this innocent and uncomplicated idea of showing yourself some love and care will not be knocked out of it by the world we live in.
“It’s nice,” I said to her. “What a great idea. What do you want to do with it?”
“I think I’ll put it in my room so I can see it from my bed,” she told me.
Phew, I thought.
When do we lose this? When do we lose the simple, easy “Of course I would do myself something good” instinct?
How can you take care of yourself when you are conditioned to put yourself last?
Like most women, I was conditioned to put myself last. From an early age, girls are raised too “nice”, praised as “caring” and often told, directly or indirectly, that we are responsible for the feelings and behavior of others.
All of these things can get in the way of our feeling of having the right, privilege, and obligation to care for ourselves.
And then there are the structural forces that make it difficult for many of us women to practice self-care:
- who are expected to bear a full psychological burden in the household
- Lack of affordable childcare
- Fear of court
- Poverty or fear of poverty
- Sexism and Inequality in the Workplace
- Disintegration of multigenerational households
- Lack of respect and pay for work, which is disproportionate to women, often in addition to work outside the home
- Lack of access to services for undocumented families
- All of these forces put a particularly heavy strain on parents of color
Why list these? I’m sharing this here to make sure you know that there are real stressors that are causing our society (especially here where I am, in the US) to focus on the undervalued and unpaid work of women (and others who it is mainly to leave) responsible for looking after the children) so that it has become almost impossible for women to easily meet their own needs.
So any kind of self-care is really difficult. And it’s not your fault
But that’s also why I have to say that a bubble bath or nail polish was nice. But not much else. I quickly found myself consumed with life, burned out, and shortly afterwards got stuck. Anything sold to me for self-care did not address these deeper issues.
What I wanted was something longer lasting. I needed to feel the change I would expect if I took a month off and climbed mountains. (Something I absolutely couldn’t justify).
Let go of your guilt about self-care
Knowing that self-care was difficult and accepting that it wouldn’t happen overnight helped me let go of some of the guilt and resistance that I had that stood in my way of taking care of myself.
Here are the places that felt particularly difficult for me:
- I felt like I didn’t know what I needed (Maybe because I hadn’t been paying attention to my own needs for so long, I didn’t know what would really make a difference.)
- The feeling that I am “doing self-care wrong” – why have so many other people seemingly been filled with bubble baths, shopping trips and manicures? What did i miss
- I tried to enjoy the hour to myself – the pressure to spend that time so I could “make the most of it” was too much and I didn’t know what to do!
These things are difficult to overcome, but I’ve found a practice that has helped me every time.
Listening partnerships. (Learn more about the practice here.)
I found it most helpful to focus an entire listening session on my self-care and what got in my way, because the temptation to work on parental challenges is great – taking time just for that helped me with other requirements, do not run in to do this.
If you’re looking for a confident listening partnership, here are some useful tips:
- Talk about the first time you felt your needs are not important.
- Talk about the people who took care of you when you were young. How did they show (or not show) you how to meet your own needs?
- Use a self-care planner to list what you need and who can help you. This is excellent and can be printed out multiple times to use for different events or challenges in your life.
- Shout things like “Me first!” or “I am important!” and see what comes up for you. You can laugh, cry, or romp – let your listening partner help you explore the roots of your feelings.
- Practice asking for help.
- Imagine your ideal self-care scenario: what would it look like? How would it feel? Who would you rely on?
Once you’ve been listened to, it will help you think better about what you need.
Feeling stuck? You’re not alone. And you don’t have to either.
It can feel impossible to attend to our own needs with so many of those needs going unmet.
Your listening partnership will give you the space and security to voice those buried feelings that are holding you back from taking the first step towards self-care. Find another parent who feels like it and give it a try!
For me, good self-care nourishes me. It helps me regain flexibility and hope. Self-care lifts my mood and helps make decisions easier. I feel better able to move through life and show how I want. I get lost in so many ways.
What can this support look like?
You are worth your time and attention. However, at times you may still get stuck. Moving your body may be an impossible task. A walk that you know would be good for you. You may realize the need to set boundaries for your in-laws and every time you see them, let it slide. Perhaps you’ve got a breakthrough where you’d like to pull out your oils and paint away for an afternoon, and yet that feels so far away.
There are so many forces at work telling us to do something else instead, something “productive”.
What can help, and is wonderful, is that you have someone more supportive when you do this thing. You go against your usual stream and earn a little more.
What I love about it is the special time for adults.
Perhaps you have special times with your child, regularly or occasionally. Did you know it’s for adults too? We put so much love, interest and patience into our work with our children. Our kind attention is the balm that enables them to grow and explore, and we can use the same kind of attention from another adult.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out Hand in Hands Special Time Replay for Adults here. All you need is another adult (in person or by phone or video chat) and a timer. And if you’d like to try this out with experienced experts, give us a call during our recharge fundraisers. There are several sessions devoted to special time and others to listening time.
I used the special time for adults to figure out difficult technology, work on mastering a new physical skill, or even have someone with me while I was on a difficult phone call. Things that seem impossible on their own become manageable when someone else radiates their joy and trust in my direction.
Want a Self Care Cheat Sheet? Here is a roadmap:
Sometimes it is good to have some outline or a mental framework to think about a change. This post is a good starting point and organizes self-care into four different areas: physical, psychological / cognitive, emotional and spiritual.
You can also use the principles of self-care to tackle larger issues in your life and in your community, and to build your sense of power and agency. There are many excellent organizations leading movements in this area – here is a good start.
- Discover what is holding you back: write in a journal, speak out loud, or just pay attention to the emotions that emerge as you ponder what to do in order to begin the path of self-care.
- Get Support: Time to bring your questions into a listening partnership. Take a look at the prompts above to guide you. With support, find out what’s in your way and why it’s so hard to put yourself first.
- Make a plan: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Here is a good template.
- Get to know yourself better: what do you love? What makes you feel whole What do you want to get rid of What do you do that you think makes you feel better but actually makes you feel worse?
- Find your strength: take action and get support. Try a special adult time to free your playful mind and take on great challenges.
- Passing the Torch: How can you help someone else claim their right to self-care? Let’s make this the norm – together we are stronger.
And if your doubts arise or your inner critic raises concerns when you mentally postpone the moment you play or take time off, rrecall.
They are worth taking care of.
You can only do it for yourself.
And guess what? The impact all of this has on your family and community is the bonus.
Give yourself a long lasting boost
Try listening time, get special time, play, laugh, grieve, and find hope.
Parenthood is tough and you deserve a break. Try it out at our Recharge fundraiser, a virtual support event for parents.
We are here to serve you. See more about Recharge here and get your ticket.