I woke up this morning thinking about self-care, and how different that looks now than at any point in my adult life.
For one thing, I now know and use the phrase self-care and I don’t even feel too awkward or embarrassed about it. Well. I still feel a little awkward, to be honest. Taking care of my self has not always been easy for me.
Briefly: when I was in college, many of these things came very naturally. Part of that can be attributed to the environment I was in (I was surrounded by friends, literally living with my best friend, and living in the middle of a place where I felt valued and respected. My academic career, my campus jobs and volunteer opportunities, and my sorority all packed those years chock-full of caring for myself – but back then, I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening.
Which meant that as adulting hit break-neck speed (we got married, Chris started chemo, I started my first job, we moved, he started medical school, we had miscarriages and then eventually a baby and another and another), I didn’t realize some of the things I needed to do to nurture my self.
Eventually, I started to realize I needed care because I was starting to crack. And over the years, I have figured out a lot of ways to take care of myself – and over the years, I’ve been all over the board in terms of how much time, money, and energy I’ve had to devote to self-care.
I thought that it might be helpful to share some of what has worked for me, in case you:
- are pretty gosh-darn broke
- are a single mom or a “work widow”
- are knee-deep in the baby stage with a little one who can’t be left for long
- are up to your eyeballs with multiple kids at multiple ages
- finally have a little bit of fun-money to spend
- just got out of the baby stage and have a few minutes to yourself now and then
…because I’ve been at ALL those places. Each of those circumstances have their own challenges, but self-care can still happen.
What does self-care mean, exactly?
Self-care is anything you do that feeds your spirit. It recharges your batteries and connects you to who you really are. It may involve caring for your physical body, your mental health, your emotional state, or your spirituality.
I think I get it. But I need examples!
Okay, good. That’s what this post was supposed to be about, anyway! Here we go. A quick guide to the notations:
$ (when you’re super broke)
$$ (when you have a little cash)
$$$ (when money’s no object)
SW – single mom or work-widow mom
NB – newborn nearby
MK – multiple kids
FT – finally have a little free time
$ – A quick cuppa can be crazy-cheap if you do it at home. It’s more about the time and the ritual of slowing down and enjoying it.
$$ – With a little investment in a French press and a beautiful mug that makes you smile, you can upgrade those just for you moments with some sparkle.
$$$ – Get yourself your favorite treat from your favorite place. Bonus points if you manage to go in the coffeeshop and sit down for a few minutes.
$, NB, MK – Grab a new color while you’re at the grocery store, and DIY. With a baby, either schedule your nails for the MOMENT your little one falls asleep, or as soon as they hit that happy spot after a meal and you know you’ll have ten calm minutes. Resist the urge to do something you “have to” do. You know what you have to do? You have to take care of yourself! With multiple kids, try running a bubble bath (or have an indoor pool party – throw them in the tub in their swimsuits, if you’ve got kids spread across genders and ages that don’t work for community baths anymore) and paint your tips while they splash a little.
$$ – A monthly trip to a salon? If you’re the extroverted type, take along a friend or sister and double-up the self-care by getting a dose of chatter. If you’re an introvert, take along a book to your pedi so the manicurist won’t feel the need to talk and rob you of the energy you’re trying to find!
$, NB – Try walking in your neighborhood. Bonus points if you get a little vitamin D while you’re at it. This is another option to do solo if you’re introverted and need alone time, or with a pal if you’re extroverted and need to connect.
$$ – Pick a gym or a boutique fitness spot and get a one-month membership. Sometimes new members get great introductory rates, and you might learn a few moves you’ll be able to continue to do at home. If you’re a single mom, look for a place with in-house childcare. If you’re a married mom but your spouse has a challenging schedule, look for a place with accomodating hours (5:30 a.m. boot camp or 7:00 pm Zumba – it’s out there!)
$$$ – Hire a personal trainer, and target exactly the fitness issues you want to focus on and the types of exercises that really work best for you. Because your body is a temple.
(And note: if the idea of exercise is not a JOY to you, but instead is something you HATE, don’t put it on your list. Your own personal list is going to be filled with things that make you happy and cared-for. Don’t write down ‘exercise’ because you have to. Promise? Okay, moving on.)
Professional Care Appointments
$ – Your insurance may cover a certain number of visits with a chiropractor or counselor. That can make those visits free or very nearly so.
$$ – Services like babysitting, hair appointments, massage therapy, or chiropractic out-of-pocket.
It’s hard to break these down by the codes, because people’s interests vary so widely, but I’ll say this: what do you like to do, just for fun? Just because it makes you happy? Just because it lets you stretch your creative muscles or feel playful and young again? Find a way to do that again. For example:
-reading (free via library, cheap via e-reader, spendy via hardbacks to fill your shelves)
-sewing or knitting (we all know you can make these as expensive as you want, but if you need to save pennies you don’t have to quit altogther – bargain shop! Thrift stores and garage sales can be your secret weapon.)
-scrapbooking (cheap if you make it all digital, various degrees of spendy if you print an album or do classic albums with pics and ‘need’ a million stickers)
-singing, dancing (cheap via community choirs, churches, and boogie-ing in your PJs, more if you take classes or join performance troupes)
Always free, but I know: challenging if you are a S/W and have NB or MK.
With a baby and being solo, I’ve always loved the idea to make one room in your house totally baby-safe. Close the door, lay down on the floor with a pillow and blanket, and let baby crawl around and explore happily while you doze. It won’t be deep, solid sleep – but it can be surprisingly restorative.
If you have a partner or a pal, asking for help is okay. Someone else can play with your kids (bonus points if they take them out of the house!) while you get an hour’s rest.
This is the one thing I feel the most stupid about forgetting, back when I was neglecting self-care. When we had no pennies for splurging and I had babies to care for 24/7, I still could have managed to fit in one or two bubble baths a week. If it’s been a long time since you’ve indulged, I beg you: as soon as you finish reading this post (because I don’t want you to drop your phone into the tub!) go have a long, bubbly soak. Chandler knows what I’m talking about:
What makes you laugh, mama? Good, deep, hard, belly laughs that bring tears to your eyes? Whatever it is, go after that.
I’ve got a “Humor” board on Pinterest that cracks me the heck up. Sometimes I just lock myself in the bathroom for ten minutes and stare at those videos and memes. It lifts my spirit and reminds me that I have a sense of humor – and sometimes that’s all it takes to get through a day, am I right?
Maybe you’re an in-person laugher. You might need a regularly scheduled girls’ night out with your best pal who always has you in stitches.
Or if you like quirky jokes or pratfalls or adolescent potty humor, there’s a Netflix category for that, I promise! Stream a movie or a comedy special. Yuk it up!
Okay, hopefully a few things from my list have helped you start to imagine what a life filled with self-care might look like. I don’t do all of those every single day. But, I’m at a stage right now where I have a little pocket money; I have multiple kids but due to school and parent’s morning out I have six child-free hours per week; I’m still a work widow but not as drastically as a few years ago. So I try to do at least three things for myself every week – time with a hobby, time with a friend, exercise, a care appointment, reading a book while ignoring the laundry…. Sometimes I spend money (now that I can) but sometimes the best, most restorative things I do are still the freebies.
So how do I get started?
Step One: Reflect
Not all of my suggestions will sound comforting or energizing to you. Some of these would be torture and you’d run away screaming for the hills. That’s okay. A few of these will work for you, and maybe they’ll help you think of other things that recharge your batteries. Craft your own personalized list.
Step Two: Reserve
Your list of things that give you warm fuzzies won’t be worth the crayon it’s scribbled in, if you never make the time to do something you wrote down. Reserve a few minutes for yourself.
Now, it’s a Self-Care Law of the Universe that saying YES to yourself will require saying NO to something else. (Remember that law of the universe from science class about how one bit of matter can’t occupy the same space as another bit of matter? Or something like that. I wasn’t great at sciencing. Anyway, it’s just like that.) The 24 hours in your day can only accomodate so many to-dos. Reserving time means that you have to prioritize. Feed your kids and make sure your house isn’t a health hazard, but let the rest go for fifteen minutes or an hour. It’s okay.
Because! There is a fascinating corollary to the Self-Care Law of the Universe! Whenever you say YES to something from your list, something that only exists because it cares for your self, you will reap energy you were missing before, and that usually means that you can accomplish so much MORE than you could when you were telling yourself no and operating in a depleted state.
Step Three: Review
After a few weeks, check in with yourself. Get somewhere quiet and observe: do you feel calmer in your own skin? Have you found yourself smiling for no reason? Are you happier and sweeter with your family members? If the answer is yes, then it’s working. Keep doing what you’re doing. If the answer is no, then go back to step one. Maybe the things you picked were self-care tasks that “sound good” but don’t feed your spirit. Maybe you wrote a self-care task on your to-do list every day for a week but never actually got around to it. Take stock and see what you need to change.
I’d love to hear from you. Are you in a phase of life where you’re struggling with self-care? Did I leave your favorite one off my list? Please drop me a note in the comments!
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But it might not be “The Talk” you’re thinking.
“When we drive to At-a-lanta on Saturday, are we going to see that police again? Remembah last time we went to Georgia we see’d a police?”
“Well, we will probably see at least one police car because it’s a long drive. But it probably won’t be the same police officer we saw last time.”
“Yeah, but when we see’d the police the last time I was SO scared and I thought, ‘Oh no, oh no, are we gonna go to jail?’”
“You don’t have to be scared, baby. I will drive us safely and follow the rules. We won’t go to jail. You know, it’s the job of police officers to help keep everyone safe.”
“But dey don’t!”
“What do you mean they don’t?” (Now, I was thinking, I know of several instances where police officers have failed at their sworn duty to keep everyone safe, but I didn’t think she did.)
“Remembah when that girl, that poor girl was so sad, and she had long hair and that police was hurting her on the ground? And she was cryin for her mama. She wasn’t keeping safe.”
And so my heart broke a little. But, at the same time, there was a glimmer of rightness in having this conversation with my baby. Because she was watching and she was listening that day the McKinney, Texas pool party video went viral. She heard that young girl’s cries, and my outrage and my sadness about the whole incident.
See, I believe that white moms need to have The Talk –not the birds & the bees talk, the police talk– with their white children, too. For far too long, black and brown parents have had the conversation with their children while, in ignorance and bliss, white parents sat in privilege and just… never even thought about it. But that has to end. It ends for Mike Brown. It ends for Tamir Rice. It ends for Sandra Bland. It ends for John Crawford.
Here’s the really important thing, though. If you’re one of my white friends, and you’re reading this and thinking about this subject, please don’t just listen to me. You need to listen to Black voices. It’s not my place to speak for the people who are really on the recieving end of the trauma and terror of police violence. You need to tune in and listen: listen online, via Facebook and Twitter and great blogs and websites, listen in person. And then you need to have this conversation with your kids, too.
So Abi and I talked a little more, in the car on our way home, about how most police officers are wonderful, conscientious, courageous men and women. It’s always important to be respectful and polite when we speak to them. But sometimes, even police officers make mistakes or even do things out of anger. Sometimes, like in the video she remembered, one might even hurt someone just because of what they look like.
I admit, I felt really inadequate to the task and I worried how much she was ready for. But like every important parenting conversation – it’s not a one and done deal. We’ll revisit this, again and again. I have the chance to get it right. I’ll go over it with her siblings.
And I hope you will, too. (In fact: if you’ve already started having The Talk with your kids, I’d love to hear what you said at various ages. Please drop me a note! Comments go to moderation, so if you’d rather yours stay private please just say so and it won’t be published publicly.)
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I overhear some cute conversations. Tonight, S helped A fall asleep. (I have NO idea why this worked, but apparently it did.)
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Susannah has a new and consuming obsession with volcanoes. Viewing videos and photos and reading about volcanoes hasn’t satisfied her curiosity.We have the following conversation at least once a day.
“Mommy, what’s a bolcano?”
“A volcano… is a mountain with an opening where lava, steam, and ashes come out when it erupts.”
“Mommy, what’s hop laba?”
“Hot lava is melted rocks.”
“Mommy, why does a bolcano interrupt?”
“A volcano erupts when the pressure inside it gets high and the lava needs to pour out.”
“Hey mommy? What’s a bolcano?”
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This morning, Susannah wanted to call Granddaddy. “Hey, Granddaddy! You wanna do a video chat?” Of course, he said yes, and we got the laptops fired up for a nice, pajama’ed, messy-haired chat session. Susannah was her silly self, making up words and enjoying watching herself on the picture-in-picture box. Jonas was not himself at all. He barely talked to Dad, and kept acting out aggressively (growling at the screen when Granddaddy asked him a question, antagonizing Susannah while she was trying to talk). After we hung up, Jonas was slouched on the sofa, curled into a grumpy lump, with his back toward the room.
“Jonas, are you upset? Because you seem really grumpy.”
“Yes. I’m grumpy. I’m angry.”
“Are you angry at Granddaddy?”
“Yes.” His eyes glistened with little-boy-trying-not-to-cry-tears.
And I knew. I knew the conversation we were going to have today. I’d sensed it coming, even before Mom died. When things got bad around Thanksgiving, and I tried to explain brain tumors and cancer in spinal fluid to an almost 6 year old, I knew that soon I was going to have a very angry young man on my hands.
I sank onto the couch beside him. I lowered my face so that our foreheads touched. And as carefully as I could, I told him, “You don’t need to be angry at Granddaddy. I bet seeing him and talking to him makes you think about Grandmama, and that makes you sad and angry. Is that right?”
“But, baby, it is not Granddaddy’s fault that Grandmama died.“
Jonas sat upright. His cheeks flushed, and he blurted out, “I know! I know it’s not his fault! IT’S GOD’S FAULT THAT SHE DIED. And when I get up there, I am going to BREAK HIM.”
And then the tears did come – hot, angry tears. Maybe tears of shame at finally confessing this anger, this wish to see God face-to-face and break Him into pieces as punishment for taking away Grandmama. And my tears came, too. Mine were tears of sadness of missing my mom, sadness for my son’s hurting heart, and tears of desperation for how to explain this big, big situation to a little boy.
So I grabbed him and I held him and I told him I understand. We turned on a show for Susannah to watch and we went to sit on the stairs, so we could talk in private.
I did my best.
“I know, but how does the anger make your body feel? Does it make your tummy hurt?”
“Yes.” He looked relieved, maybe to know that the knot in his belly was related to the anger bubbling in his chest. “My tummy hurts. And I feel… I just feel…. all half.”
“Half.” I thought about that for a second. “You feel like half is missing? Do you mean, you feel like something is missing inside here?” I touched his chest. He folded into me for another hug. “Yeah.”
“Grandmama’s body just got weaker when the cancer got stronger, and when her body couldn’t live anymore… that’s when God just let her come to Heaven. Her body died. Her spirit lived – it will always live, and when we go to Heaven (a long, long time from now, I hope) we will all be together there.”
We talked about being angry and sad, and how it’s okay to feel that way. It’s okay to talk about how you feel, and Mommy and Daddy and Granddaddy can all listen and help. We talked about what’s NOT okay (like yelling at your sister because you feel angry about something else) and we talked about pretty soon Jonas will probably feel less angry but he might feel sad for a while still.
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Meet the author
I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!