Women Tending to Their Basic Needs Is Not Self-Care
That kid-free trip to Target is not going to bring you back to life
I’m a big fan of self-care. Five out of five stars. No one can pour from an empty cup, right?
But lately, all over Instagram accounts and the Facebook mom groups I belong to, I’m seeing something that troubles me — a subtle message that can be misleading and even downright damaging.
The message? That fulfilling our basic human needs counts as self-care.
I’ve seen moms write that their time in the bathroom without any kids climbing on them is like “a mini-vacation.” Or that they got seven hours of sleep for the first time in months and now they’re rested, recharged, and ready to take on the world. Or that they took a solo trip to Target to do something for themselves. I’m sorry, but while I enjoy a kid-free trip to Target as much as anyone, it’s still always filled with a mental checklist of items that my family needs:
My husband is out of deodorant.
My daughter needs new socks — no-show ones, I think. Didn’t she ask for white?
Do we have eggs at home for dinner later? Are we out of dog food?
As women, our load has become so great that we see taking any amount of time for ourselves as the equivalent of self-care. It’s not.
Self-care, as psychologist Agnes Wainman explained, is “something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.” Does going to the bathroom alone really refuel you? How about taking a 15-minute power nap after being up all night with a colicky child? I’d guess the answer is a big fat no.
Moms, let’s stop pretending we’re getting self-care when we’re not. For one, it’s damaging to our own well-being: “I had a full 45 minutes to grocery shop alone this morning — so why do I still feel so awful?” It’s also sending the wrong message to those around us: When we label a trip to the drive-thru Starbucks as self-care, our partners will always think this is all we need to refuel and recharge and survive. And we’re subconsciously modeling for our kids that it’s okay, even good, for someone to ignore their needs in favor of everyone else’s.
In my experience, this isn’t really a problem for men. My husband, for example, knows that mowing the yard alone isn’t his self-care. Instead, he recognizes that his self-care is deliberately planning time for himself to do something physical, like climbing mountains or going on a bike ride. It’s intentional. It serves only him.
It’s fine if you really, really love going to Target alone, but that’s not the same thing.
Buying more underwear and dishwashing soap is not self-care.
Sitting down to eat a meal or having a cup of hot coffee is not self-care.
Going to the bathroom is not self-care.
Chasing after a toddler at the park is not exercise you can call self-care.
Taking a sick day when you’re sick is not self-care.
Also, frankly, folding laundry while listening to an audiobook is not self-care. It’s just multitasking.
It’s time that we as women ask what we can actively do to care for ourselves. I learned the hard way as a new mom: I was a nursing machine, consumed with keeping this squishy, squirmy being alive, all while convinced that nobody else was adept at the job but me. I became angry and resentful, not to mention depressed and anxious. I’ve since learned that to truly refuel, I need more time away from my children than I thought. I need quiet hours (yes, hours — not 10 minutes in the shower) in order to revive my introverted little heart and soul. I need to accept not only that my husband is more than capable, but that these children are also his responsibility.
Once you figure out what you need — and it will look different for everyone — tell your partner and those supporting you. And then put it in your calendar. Until you make time for what really nourishes you, you’ll always be wandering through the desert of life with an empty cup.