What no one tells us about self-care

What no one tells us about self-care

If you are a human living in present day, chances are you’ve heard the phrase self-care. Self-care came on to my radar when I had my first child in 2016. The way I understood it, to be a good mom, I had to first take care of myself. And “self,” to me, meant my physical body: I needed to eat well, exercise, moisturize, and hydrate to keep my mom-machine going.

As I became a more experienced parent, I realized that self-care wasn't just about my body--it was about caring for my spirit too.  But it wasn't until I faced the constant uncertainty of 2020 that I realized something else about self-care: it could change, according to what life threw at me. If self-care is nurturing our bodies and spirits, well...shouldn't it change as our bodies and spirits change? Self-care, I realized, is every bit as flexible as we are.

I haven't always known this. For most of the time that self-care has been on my radar, it’s been defined by “shoulds,” not actual introspection about my own needs at the time. Here's a peek at some of my failed attempts at self-care over the last 5 years: 

  • Mom to one newborn: self-care was simply putting my baby down so I could pee alone and doing a deep conditioning treatment in my hair each week.

  • Mom to a toddler: horseback riding! Getting back to my pre-baby hobby will make me clear-headed, interesting, rested...right? 

  • Mom to a toddler and a newborn: Instagram told me this goop/tool/subscription would change my life so I am ordering it right this minute. 

Surprise, reader: none of it worked. I wasn't asking myself what I wanted from self-care...I was letting others tell me what I needed. A long hard bout of postpartum depression landed me with a therapist who began to nudge me in the right direction about self-care. Mostly, she helped me understand myself...and isn't that critical for knowing how to care for a self? Yep. It was an important start.

It wasn’t until 2020 that I had an epiphany on how to care for myself--body and spirit. In the midst of yet another day of too much togetherness, I had the opportunity to do the “pick ups” for the week. Driving solo, listening to my music, hearing my own thoughts, rehashing old memories--I felt like my full self. It wasn't a massage or a manicure--it was just me and my minivan. And y'all? I felt refreshed and recharged and full of gratitude. It was just the thing I needed for body and spirit.

What I've learned is this: self-care is what you do to nurture the body and spirit of who you are RIGHT NOW. In this moment, with all the challenges and joys that only this moment in your life has. If that's a bubble bath, do it! If that's meal-planning, get on that. But notice the critical word there is "nurture": self-care should serve your life, not distance you from your life. That's self-comfort. And it's important too! Binge Bridgerton. Have a glass of wine. Escape your life for a few hours. But then ask yourself--what will nurture me right now? Then lean in--that's the self-care that will deliver.

I share my story now, at the beginning of a new year in hopes that as you set your resolutions and goals for the year, include self-care. Do some exploring to find out what self-care is for you right now. And know that it is ever-changing, since your life is also ever-changing. Help your partner figure out what fills their cup and encourage one another to fill them often. You and your partner are dynamic people--always growing and changing and flexing in the face of new circumstances. Your self-care can--and should--do the same!