The Self Care Deception

Stay at home mothers are increasingly advised to develop habits of self care. In the most basic sense, self care includes things like taking a shower and remembering to eat. Of course, we moms—as well as all people—have to take care of ourselves. It would be ridiculous to claim that it’s all well and good for other women to take time to care for their own person, but I can’t possibly. Self care is a genuine necessity.

However, not all definitions of self care are helpful. Many use the term to mean child-free happy hours and extended time away from home duties. In particular, binge watching television is presented as a magical cure-all for tired moms. None of these activities is bad on its own, but feminism says these things are necessary for stay at home mothers to survive parenthood’s exhausting, mindless demands. If a mother goes more than a few days without the rewards of binging (preferably on wine or television), she is seen as a pitiable domestic slave. I don’t want to challenge television or alcohol. Instead, I want to challenge the perception that motherhood, absent such pleasures, is oppressive.

A few months ago, I heard a young mom ask a friend for advice. She couldn’t have asked a better person. This woman had worked various jobs from home while her children were little. The question was sincere:

“My husband works so hard, but our budget is still tight. I’d like to start a small photography business from home to help out. The problem is, at the end of the day, I’m so exhausted from watching my two kids! How do I find the energy to work on my website and promote my business?”

I expected to hear some practical advice or an offer to help. Instead, I was surprised to hear the response:

“Days with little ones are long and exhausting—you need a break. You completely deserve to crash at the end of the day, and watch some TV. And don’t feel guilty about it!”

Really?

At the root of this self care deception lies a twisted view of motherhood. Even among Christian communities, the idea of self care is distorted. The Psalmist wrote, “Children are a blessing.” Yet feminists (religious and nonreligious alike) see children as a blessing only if the hard days of mothering don’t outnumber the hours of escape.

Motherhood requires sacrifice and constant service. Of course this is tiring! Escape is appealing, but mindless pleasures don’t refresh the weary mom. What if we redefine self care as those things which enrich and provide rest? Perhaps it’s a glass of wine after bedtime (there, I’m not disparaging alcohol!), Mozart’s Divertimenti while preparing dinner, knitting a bonnet for baby, or reading Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.

Although feminism says moms must escape their home and children, motherhood is good and beautiful. Self care should be shaped by a desire to better fill this role, not avoid it. Moments of rest strengthen us to embrace the beautiful demands of motherhood.

Ditch the Gilmore Girls marathon; enjoy real rest.

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