We tell ourselves many stories about why self-care is impossible. Our children require so much; there’s simply no time to care for ourselves. We don’t have the energy for self-care after spending our days caring for others. Massages are expensive; we can’t afford it.
These stories may all be true to some extent, but I believe there’s a much deeper reason that we can so easily care for others, yet have such difficulty caring for ourselves.
We don’t believe that we’re worth it.
This all became clear to me in a Seattle yoga studio, where I recently attended a Manifestation Workshop. (Don’t know what a Manifestation Workshop is? Me either. Except that it’s amazing, and you should do it too.) Appropriately, I’d decided to attend the workshop – which involved some yoga, some writing, and lots of emotion – as a form of self-care. A theme emerged among the women in the workshop: many of us shared the self-limiting belief that we’re not “good enough,” and therefore not worthy of love and happiness. One mother explained through tears that she wasn’t caring for herself, despite being incredibly depleted, because she just didn’t believe that she deserved it. My heart ached; I’ve been there too.
It’s unsurprising that so many women struggle with these feelings of unworthiness. Since our own childhoods, we’ve been taught that our value lies in our ability to care for others, even at the expense of – especially at the expense of – caring for ourselves. Women in our society are deemed worthy in direct proportion to the extent that we’re willing to sacrifice ourselves for others. We are validated when we invalidate ourselves.
This is especially true for mothers.
Consider the mantras of motherhood. Motherhood is “a selfless endeavor.” Our job is to “put our children first.” Being a mother “is about sacrifice.” Mothers who care for themselves are “indulgent” and “selfish.”
At the risk of being labeled a heretic, I suggest that we abandon these mantras and the self-sacrifice that they encourage. Motherhood shouldn’t mean sacrificing yourself. It shouldn’t be a competition to see who can give up the most, who can bear the most guilt for her “imperfections,” who can accept the least amount of help.
I expect that this view might be controversial. I know I feel some unease about giving up this self-immolating identity. But this, too, is the result of a culture that values women who put others before themselves. If we’re taught that’s where our value lies, we’re likely to be pretty uncomfortable with the idea of abandoning self-sacrifice. It makes sense to cling to the identity that we’ve been praised so long for assuming.
But doing so benefits neither us nor our children.
This mindset – that we must sacrifice ourselves to be good mothers – creates the illusion that we are at odds with our children, that we cannot both meet their needs and our own. It sets us up for guilt when we meet our own needs and resentment when we meet theirs. Of course, there will be conflicts, and nobody’s needs will be met all of the time. But the balance shouldn’t always be tipped against you.
Practicing self-care teaches our children that we all deserve to be cared for. Children are little sponges, soaking up even our subconscious beliefs. When we care for ourselves, we teach our girls that their value does not lie in their ability to please or care for others. And we teach our boys that women are just as worthy of love and respect as are men. (Our children might also learn that they’re not the center of the world, which could be okay, too.)
And, though it might be clichéd, it’s true: We’re better mothers when we practice self-care. Our children’s needs seem less overwhelming; our own emotional triggers are less easily provoked. We can be present with our children in ways that we can’t when we’re depleted.
Most importantly, though, mothers are worthy of self-care in our own right, regardless of whether it makes us better mothers. Frankly, the benefits to our children, though wonderful, are incidental.
So abandon the mantras of motherhood that equate mothering with self-sacrifice. Make a list of the things that inspire you – and do them. Take up your friends and family on their offers for help. Commit to doing just one nice thing for yourself every day. Care for yourself with the same love and attention that you give your children. And do it without guilt, knowing that you’re worth it.
Photo Credit: lyn tally