My friend’s teenage daughter and her friends have a weekend routine.
While Saturday night is friend night, Friday night is self-care night. When possible, they stay home to rest and decompress after a stressful week.
These girls are high school juniors, and given the demands of junior year, I like this habit they’ve adopted. I think it’s a good example of how the next generation values self-care.
The mothers raising them, on the other hand, are still playing catch-up. Unlike our children, we didn’t grow up hearing buzzwords like self-care, self-love, and self-compassion. To no surprise, it’s left us a little confused. While some moms eagerly embrace self-care, others roll their eyes and see it as vanity or self-indulgence.
Maybe it’s because we associate self-care with two opposing extremes. We feel like we must choose one:
- The spa day mentality (a constant mindset of “I’ll treat myself because I deserve it”), or
- The mommy martyrdom mentality (a mindset of “my kids are my world, and I can’t do anything for myself”)
Neither extreme is healthy because real health means moderation. Overdoing it in either direction can lead to self-worship or self-neglect, both of which hurt a mother and her family.
Am I saying it is wrong to visit a spa, and that motherhood does not require a lot of sacrifice? Absolutely not. Most of us enjoy a good massage and would sacrifice anything for the good of our family.
But after parenting for two decades, I’ve learned there must be a middle ground. There must be self-care that strengthens us – and expands our bandwidth – so we can thrive and handle life trials.
Like many moms, I’ve wrestled with burnout from the pandemic. I’ve felt overwhelmed by the demands pressed upon moms as we return to a full-throttle speed. I may be hitting the marks (driving carpools, keeping appointments, meeting the needs of my kids), yet in trying to keep up, I sometimes feel robotic and empty. I’m learning to tune into my internal health and broaden my idea of self-care.
I used to think that self-care meant bubble baths and fancy vacations. It was the “reward” earned by hard work. Today I see self-care as habits, mindsets, and choices that build wellness from the inside out. It’s what strengthens us and keeps us healthy in mind, body, and spirit.
As moms, we need that strength. The older our kids get, the bigger problems they face, and the more inner strength it takes to guide and love them well. While it’s tempting to postpone self-care until our kids are grown, we need it while they’re home. It equips us to handle the difficult days.
In the toddler and teenage years, for instance, we need extra self-care in the form of friendships. On a good day, friends are a bonus – and on a bad day, they’re a lifeline. They restore us when we’re exhausted and boost us when we’re discouraged. They give us the strength to face monotonous days and to love a teenager who’s acting salty. This helps us become the parent our children want and need.
I have a counselor friend who coaches moms on improving their mental health. Her clients often tell her, “I know what I need to do, but how?” They feel overwhelmed and crave practical tips on how to fight burnout.