I will never forget the day I told my mother that “first and foremost, my job is to be a good mom.” I was running on fumes as I adjusted to life as a mother to two, and had the dark circles under my eyes and jittery exhaustion to prove it. I was putting everything else aside and, in that moment, was attempting to make some logical sense of the chaos around me, as if asserting that my only job was to care for my children might absolve me of the areas in my life slouching in disarray. She interrupted with: “No, first and foremost your job is to take good care of yourself.” The assertion shook me. I looked upon myself differently from that day onward. I can’t say I always made the right decisions in support of that newborn awareness — I still forewent naps in order to tidy the house, hosted too many guests, signed up for too many activities, and routinely stayed up too late. But it was as though a parenthetical had been made an independent clause. I drew myself out from the brackets and reminded myself that I was a core and substantive clause in our family grammar, not to be sublimated.
But it can be hard, on a logistical level, to take good care of yourself when you have others clinging to your skirts, and it can be hard, on an emotional level, to accommodate self-care as anything but a luxury. In spite of my mother’s insistence two years ago, I still grapple with guilt on this point. Most Thursdays, I go out for a manicure after work ends. It feels painfully selfish. My husband is exhausted from a full day of work, and I jingle my keys and dash out the door, leaving him with two tired and hungry children clamoring for our attention. Sometimes, micro is hot on my heels, and I can see his little round face pressed against the window watching me back out of the driveway, his mouth a tiny inverted “u” shape. I routinely think to myself: “I really shouldn’t do this.” I feel badly missing out on the hour with my children since I am away from them most of the day, and I also know how tough that hour can be as a parent, and so I feel badly abandoning Mr. Magpie at that particular time. And what kind of actual peace or self-care does a manicure bring anyhow? It is not as though I’m leaving to meditate or practice yoga. I feel less guilty leaving to run, since exercise feels more clearly medicinal, or prophylactic, or related to mental wellness. A manicure just feels…frivolous.
It is an hour of aloneness. Of doing something that brings me joy, and makes me feel more pulled-together, and affords me the “background processing time” to unpack my day and steady myself. I can’t be tempted to do anything or multi-task while driving to the salon and having my nails painted. Sometimes, I do try to read, but I’ve never quite gotten the hang of it as I always feel I’m frustrating the technician by withdrawing my hand to flip the page. So most of the time, I am sitting there in a kind of blank and neutral state and I come to all kinds of interesting thoughts and conclusions. Even though I always (literally, always) sprint back to my car and hurry home when my nails have dried, I feel as though that hour of solitude, doing something girly for myself, re-centers me. I swear I walk back in that house a changed woman.
There is an interesting, rather provocative essay by Elizabeth Gilbert tangentially related to this subject in which she answers the question: “Is it selfish to go on a spiritual journey?” Of course, I am not equating manicures with spiritual journeys, but there is a common thread there in that Gilbert (who wrote Eat Pray Love) combatted her fair share of criticism about the self-centeredness of her book’s narrative and the seeming implication that self-knowledge can or should be attained by lavishly traveling the world (to hell with jobs and responsibilities!). At the end of her essay, she writes: “I was once told that in Mandarin there are two words that both translate into “SELFISH” in English. One means “Doing something that benefits you.” The other means, “Doing something that benefits you at the expense of others.” In English, we don’t have this distinction. But there is a recognition in Chinese that these are two different notions — that it is not necessarily true that anything you do for yourself harms others. Sometimes you can do wonderful and important things for yourself without taking a thing away from another human being. This is the difference between self-care and greed.”
I found the distinction intriguing and possibly helpful to this conversation.
What about you? Have you grappled with the same emotions? How have you come to peace with self-care as a mother?
+On the notion of self-improvement as chiseling away what isn’t.
+On creating a buffer between “work Jen” and “Mom Jen.”
+Is people pleasing a way of controlling other people?
+Love the smocked cuffs on this versatile black blouse.
+These earrings are fab for fall — come in such great fall colors, but I especially love the navy or gold.
+Emerson Fry vibes for under $50.
+This $50 sweater comes in such fab colors. Love the mockneck!
+Fabulous striped cardigan on sale!
+$60 for four beautiful ruffle-edged plates. Love.
+Into this puffer vest in the neutral hue.
+Another gorgeous fall dress from The Great. Would work with a bump!
+This reasonably priced fall/winter wreath is fab! Don’t have to worry about it drying out and looking ugly!
+This is the kind of top I never feel like buying but always reach for in my closet. Perfect beneath a statement cardigan, paired with a skirt, etc.
+Word has it this $25 hair dryer is excellent in case you’re in the market.
+These oversized floral earrings are SO fun.
+Adore this wool coat in the ivory.
+These tumblers are so chic! I love drinking wine out of short glasses like these.
+CHIC accent pillow.
+$10 fleece for a little one in great colors.
+This windbreaker is a major head-turner.