If you spend any time looking at blogs or websites or social media for moms, you’ve heard of self-care. It’s the idea that you have to take care of yourself first, or you won’t be able to take care of your family. Self-care ideas often include mom’s nights out, spa treatments, shopping, going on trips with friends, spending time alone in prayer or meditation, exercising, beauty treatments, and so on. Sometimes, self-care is even used as a reason for moms to stay in the workforce: if you need your work to feel “fulfilled,” then you need to keep working, because you won’t be a good stay-at-home mom if you’re feeling unfulfilled and resentful. Take care of yourself, keep your job, and let someone else deal with the kids all day.
When I read about self-care, my first response is, “YES! I want a spa day! And a mom’s night! And a 7-day Caribbean cruise vacation with my friends!” There are seasons when I feel like I NEVER get a break…it’s just day after day after day and night after night after night of taking care of everyone else, at the expense of what I think I need or deserve. I’m not against the idea of self-care at all – I long for it sometimes, like when I’m nursing a baby at 3 am (and then 4 am and 5 am), or when I look down at my feet and realize it’s been months since I even thought about clipping my toenails.
But I think we need to be cautious about indulging in too much self-care, and in the types of self-care we choose. Why?
1. I, like most of you, live in EXTREME comfort compared to most of civilization past and present. I consider myself to be somewhat self-care-deprived, yet here are just a few of the things I enjoy on a regular (if not daily) basis: indoor plumbing with hot water, electricity, a climate-controlled home, comfortable furniture, an abundance of nice clothing, as much food as I want, enough time to shower, do my hair, and put on makeup every morning, easy access to childcare (if I need it), a phone and computer to communicate with anyone I want or access any information I need in an instant, grocery stores with processed/pre-made foods like bread, pasta, and canned goods that make meal prep a 30-minute process or less…that’s a lot of self-care that I don’t even recognize as such most of the time. If you’ve ever visited a third-world country, I’m sure you can think of many more ways that we’re pampered, even without setting foot in a salon.
2. Self-care feels good in the moment, but most of it doesn’t provide real, lasting refreshment. Have you ever been on a vacation and returned to work the following week feeling like you never left? Or returned from a day at the mall overwhelmed with guilt and remorse at the money you spent? Sometimes, I know that I need a break from my kids. If I want to avoid doing or saying something I’ll regret, I have to get out of the house and do something without my family. But that something can be as simple as picking up a few groceries, or having a cup of coffee with a friend, or walking through the thrift store. I don’t have to spend much money or time away to get the pick-me-up I need to come home with a better attitude. Thirty minutes of self-care that costs $5 or less is usually just as effective as an elaborately planned (and expensive) mom’s day or night out.
3. Self-care doesn’t make you feel as good about yourself as self-sacrifice. Take a few minutes to write down all of the sacrifices you’ve made for your family and friends this week. Even the little stuff, because that little stuff adds up. Did you spend Saturday morning doing laundry instead of catching up on social media? Did you watch The Spongebob Movie instead of your favorite Netflix show because your 8-year-old wanted a family movie night? Maybe you made rice crispie bars as an after-school snack when you could have been napping or spent your clothing budget on new gym shoes for your son instead of that cute sweater you found on Amazon. When you read over your list, what kind of person does it describe? Isn’t that exactly the kind of person you want to be? Don’t you kind of wish the list was even longer? Now think back to the last time you spent a night out with the girls, or went to a salon for a manicure and pedicure. Did you come home feeling refreshed, or were you exhausted and hungover? Did you appreciate your new manicure, or did you feel guilty about spending so much money on something that was gone after a couple of days of dishes or gardening? Sometimes, all the self-care you need is to remind yourself of all the hard work you do and who you do it for.
4. Most self-care is focused on our physical and emotional selves, and those are certainly important. We do need time to rest our bodies and feel happy and appreciated. However, the most effective self-care is spiritual, and you’re not going to find that downtown or at the salon or the bar. Instead of trying to carve out the time and budget for a tropical vacation or a spa day, figure out how you can spend more time with God. Are you going to church regularly? Do you find time for daily prayer? Do you ask God for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed? If you turn to God to meet your needs, including your need for self-care, He will always be there for you, and He will always satisfy you. For real.
So, it turns out that prayer is the best form of self-care.
Invite God into your frustration, your exhaustion, and your heartache, and he will give you true refreshment. I know how hard it is to make room in your day for God, and once you actually make room, it’s equally hard to figure out what exactly to say or do. Taking 15 minutes out of your day to pray sounds like the easiest thing in the world, and yet I can easily count how many times I’ve done it in the last month (because it’s zero).
Now, figuring out how to pray is a topic for another post – or a dozen posts – so I won’t try to do it here. Plus, I probably shouldn’t try to write about how to pray until I’ve actually figured it out for myself. I’m not exactly an authority at this point. However, there are a couple of resources I want to share because I really think they can help you if you’re new to prayer:
If you’re looking for a quick guide to getting started, try Matthew Kelly’s Prayer Process: https://dynamiccatholic.com/learning/the-prayer-process.
I also love Peter Kreeft’s (short) book on prayer called Prayer for Beginners: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/325189.Prayer_for_Beginners.
A great way to start your day and turn EVERYTHING you do into a form of prayer is to say the morning offering: https://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayers/morning2.htm. This is a perfect prayer for moms, because it’s super short and easy to say, and it turns all of the little things you do all day long, like mopping the floor and changing diapers, into offerings for God. I have it stuck to my bathroom mirror so I remember to say it every morning.
If you want to start right away with something simple, try the “Jesus Prayer.” It goes like this: “Lord, Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” You don’t have to go somewhere quiet or kneel down or even stop what you’re doing; you just say it. I say it (in my head) every time a toddler tests my patience, or I drop cereal all over the floor, or I yell at someone who really didn’t deserve it. I say it every time that voice in my head starts criticizing me because I never find time to pray. I think it’s a good start.
What’s your take on self-care? What’s the last thing you did that you’d consider self-care, and how effective was it?