Self-Care and the “No Time for Bullshit” Mom – How to Love Yourself, Practically
A couple of years ago, I was invited to attend an “Entrepreneurial Women in Leadership” luncheon.
If I can help it, I avoid gender specific events. I prefer to attend functions based on the content, not the attendees, and I have zero effs to give as to the male-female mix of a room.
Because the invitation to the luncheon triggered an eye roll, I accepted it. Usually the stuff that makes me irritated, angry, or upset is the stuff I should be focusing on. I want to be better, so I decided to put in the effort.
I adjusted my attitude, signed up, and a few weeks later I attended.
The meeting itself was fairly insignificant. We discussed subjects relevant to entrepreneurs (life balance, using a day planner, clarifying your vision). We networked and identified needs we could fill for one another. The food was good, the people were kind.
As we waited for our lunch to arrive, the head speaker stood up at the podium and said, “Now it’s time to talk about our wants and needs.”
The event administrator handed a timer to the woman on her immediate left. She had set it for two minutes for the first participant. Each woman at every table, within their two allotted minutes, was to stand up, say who they were, describe their business, then tell the group one thing they needed for their business…
…and then identify one thing they wanted for themselves.
Me (to myself): “HOLY CRAP.”
I had no idea what I was going to say, because I had no idea what I wanted.
The woman leading the exercise said, “We’re really good about identifying the needs of our business and those around us, but we often fail to fill the needs we have ourselves. Balance is found in filling our own needs as well.”
At the time, I was a notorious giver and pleaser of people.
Can you relate?
I am a mom. I eat last, sometimes not at all. More than one time I have made a meal out of scraps that were left on kids’ plates. I can hold my bladder for up to 12 hours, and I have. Many times. I didn’t pee alone for almost nine years. I haven’t slept past 8:30 am in God knows how long. I pick up messes that aren’t mine, cook to please mouths that aren’t mine, pay money to clothe bodies that aren’t mine.
I am a business owner. I get paid last, sometimes not at all. I have written paychecks for thousands of dollars, then shopped for groceries off the expired-products rack because I had $3.56 in my checking account. My job is to make sure people can do their jobs, regardless of my own monetary compensation. When you’re the boss, there is no fanfare. There is no job security, other than that I make for myself. There is no one pushing me to go harder, a boss to coach me through my performance, or an understanding shoulder of equal height to lean on when I’ve had a shitty day. I work for my employees even more than I work for myself.
I am a homemaker. My desk, where I spend most of my time, is the last thing to get cleaned. I spend hours washing and folding laundry that isn’t mine, putting it away in space that isn’t mine, then live out of a laundry basket of clean clothes because I’ve run out of time. I shop for groceries that aren’t to my personal liking, fuel up my car to drive places I have no interest in visiting, cut grass that I don’t play on, plant vegetables with kids so the kids will eat them.
I am a significant partner to another. I run decisions by a person that has nothing to do with the decision itself so he feels involved, because it’s the right thing to do. I share all parts of my life with someone else, even the parts I want to keep private. Especially the parts I want to keep private. I share private PARTS, all of my body, even though sometimes I’d rather not. I lay exhausted yet sleepless because of loud snoring, because sharing a bed is important, wash and clean and scrub and tend and upgrade a home that isn’t even legally mine.
Up until very recently, 100% of my life was lived for other people, because in every aspect of my life, in every area of my existence, I had positioned myself LAST.
Go last. Come last. (if your mind is in the gutter with mine, “or not at all.”) Eat last. Leave last. Get mine, LAST.
As to the question put before me, “What do you want,” I couldn’t answer the question because I had never even considered the question.
I hadn’t ever made TIME to consider the question.
…to be honest, it never seemed important to consider the question.
The timer travelled around the room at warp speed. Two minutes a pop, one at a time, every woman before me was able to answer the question, and quickly.
I was seated in the back of the room, thank God. I needed the time.
While I waited, I considered for (I’m pretty sure) the first time in my whole life the question at hand.
“What is one thing I want for myself?”
I thought about my life. My kids. Their schedule. My schedule. Work. School. Shuttling people back and forth to activities, maintaining balance, and all of the one million tiny things required in order to keep life from tipping over into absolute chaos.
In those few minutes as I waited for my turn to speak, I realized something.
“Wow. I am horrible at self-care.”
I had no idea how to do it.
Self-care has become somewhat of a buzz word. I read that word every day on Facebook, I hear it all the time at my kids’ elementary school, and I tell my clients to do it once a day. I know technically what it is, but I had no idea how to do it.
I am not a fancy person. I don’t get my nails done. I’m not self-indulgent, nor am I rich enough in spare time or money to justify (or enjoy) a massage, pedicure, restaurant meal, vacation, or salon visit. I don’t shop for clothes or handbags or shoes, I don’t wear makeup most of the time. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke.
I am practical. I am efficient.
Me (sitting there, in my head): “I can’t waste time or money on stupid self-care, it’s all so dumb. Everything must serve a purpose.”
With that last thought, a lightbulb went off in my brain.
“HOLY EFF, self-care is about SELF, and this self likes practicality.”
Just then, the woman next to me passed along the timer, and it was my turn to speak.
(I felt a little bad, I had barely heard anyone speaking. I was lost in my own head.)
I stood up. I greeted the group. I described my business and professional goals, then I told them what I wanted for myself.
“My name is Erin, and I want a 9” frying pan.”
The group laughed.
Most of the women before me, I found out later (since I was doing a horrible job listening), had said things like “I want a manicure. I want a foot massage. I want my partner to understand, I want a date night, I want flowers, letters, vacation, a nap.” Most of the women wanted what I thought I was supposed to want, based on all the stereotypes of self-care.
As far as I’m concerned, I’d give up all of those things every day forever to shave five minutes off my morning routine.
Later that week, I was in the grocery store. I was walking from the beauty section toward the milk cooler, and I passed through the cooking aisle.
There, hanging just at eye level, was a 9” frying pan.
I paused. I looked at it. I thought about my meeting, and what self-care meant to me.
Me, to myself: “There it is. It would be nice to have one of those someday, it really would make my life easier.”
I continued walking, took four steps, then stopped.
Me, to myself but firmly: “ERIN. Why not now?”
Me, out loud: “Huh. Why NOT now?”
I paced backwards and checked the price tag.
EIGHT DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS. To shave five to ten minutes off my morning, every morning.
An act of self-care, for less than $10.
Me, out loud: “YEAH YA DID,” and I put the pan in my cart.
Later, as I thought through the experience as a whole, I kept coming back to one question.
Why in the hell did I hesitate?
Why DO we hesitate?
Why do you hesitate?
Is it because you don’t KNOW what you want? Is it because you’re so used to taking the shit end of the stick, even if you do know what you want, you have a hard time taking it?
Is it because you haven’t ever done it before, and it seems like a foreign concept, or is self-care a rough road you’ve never paved with intentional thought?
For myself, I hesitated because it was habit.
Putting myself last had become a habit, and I was really, really good at it.
Just like taking a pill at the same time every night, biting your fingernails, exercising, eating a healthy breakfast, or any other mindset or behavior you perform regularly, at some point the process becomes a habit. It becomes reflex. It becomes something you do without thinking, without considering the alternative.
Putting others first and ourselves last becomes auto-pilot, and we breeze past opportunities every day to self-care without even recognizing them for what they are.
Self-care is a habit. It’s a MENTAL habit, first, then a physical one of action. We carve a path in our minds that we’re going to consider what we want (a frying pan), then we travel down the pre-carved path by taking action (putting the pan in our cart).
To love yourself, to find YOUR version of self-care, try these super simple five things.
1. Know Thyself. It might be one of the oldest known sayings, but there’s a reason it’s still around. There’s truth to it. You cannot self-care if you do not consider “SELF.” Care for yourself in the way you must be cared for. If the idea of someone greasing you up and rubbing you down freaks you out, don’t get a massage. If your idea of a timeout is a cup of tea in the back of the hall closet, listening to your favorite book on tape at a headphone volume that drowns out the hub’s football game and arguing kids, DO IT.
KNOW YOURSELF, then care for that self in the best way possible.
2. Think Small. Self-care does not have to be a six week vacation to Mexico complete with personal cabana boy. It can be a cup of coffee that you didn’t make yourself, peeing with the door shut, or (my favorite) four minutes of meditation and reflection before I put my feet on the floor every morning.
The smaller the self-care opportunity you’re able to identify, the easier it will be for you to squeeze in to your busy day. In my case it was a “use it every freaking morning to make eggs for the Mr” frying pan, and it was glorious.
3. Think Practically. …I know, I know. “Self-care isn’t about being practical.” I AGREE. I understand. For some, practical is an obligation and self-care should be wickedly indulgent. That’s okay.
For me, and for most of us women with super full schedules, taking two hours in the middle of a work day to disappear from the world isn’t practical. It’s not responsible. It would be self-care, for sure, and I could mentally prepare myself to enjoy the experience, but at some point I would have to jump back into the big picture. At some point, the time I took off would come back and bite me in the ass, making the time less-than-totally-worth-it.
If I think practically as I carve a path in my head toward self-care, I find ways to care for myself that will ALSO serve a purpose. I bought the small frying pan to make mornings easier. I buy dishes that stack smaller in my too-small cabinet, so I can own enough to not have to do dishes after every meal. I bought an awesome laundry sorter so the kids can sort their own laundry, and stacking laundry baskets so when I do have to live out of laundry baskets the clothes are less wrinkled. I bought a knife sharpener to keep my kitchen utensils sharp, a new garden hose to make it easier to water the lawn, and a tiny spade shovel for my flower bed.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, big, or extravagant. Self-care can be practical, too.
4. TAKE ACTION. Most, most important, you must take action. “Self-care” in our culture has become a thing. A noun. It’s an idea and a way of thinking, a state of mind to live within.
In reality, “self-care” is a verb. It has to be, or it is never applied. Unless you’re VERBING it, it’s as imaginary as unicorns.
- to be concerned, have a special preference, have thought or regard
- to have an inclination, liking, fondness, or affection for
- to make provision or look out for
In my case, I wanted a frying pan for years and years, but until I picked it up, put it in my cart, paid for it, and brought it home, it didn’t count. WANTING for myself is not the same as CARING for myself. To care for yourself, you must put all of your fantastic dreams and ideas and desires into tangible action.
5. Do It Again. And again, and again, and again. Make caring for yourself a habit, just as you’ve made it a habit to put yourself last. Think small and practically, put your desires into action, then do it again.
If you can learn to put yourself last in your life and never notice or question why you’re doing it, you can learn to consider yourself as equally important as those around you, every time. It just takes practice.
That first frying pan I purchased for myself was one of the toughest purchases I’ve ever made. It was selfish. It was self-serving. It quite literally helped no one in my house except for me.
It was also new, and weird, and my first intentional, purposeful, powerful act of self-care, and every single act of loving myself after that has been easier.
Find yourself, then teach yourself your worth, one act of care at a time.
You can. Start now.
You’re worth it, even before you start.
Find yourself. Embrace your truth. Change your world.