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

Meredith Ethington
Published in
3 min readJan 10, 2021


Photo: Shannon Fagan/Getty Images

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.



Meredith Ethington
Writer for

Meredith Ethington, Author - Mom Life: Perfection Pending, Blogger at Perfectionpending.net and Editor in Chief of Filterfreeparents.com