Is “#selfcare” holding us back?

Three women joyfully embrace each other in front of a bright yellow background

Chances are you’ve read your fair share of self-care articles in the past 12 months. But if you’re anything like me, a lot of those self-care articles really aren’t doing it for you. The whole point of self-care is to rejuvenate us so we can interact with people and situations in a healthier way. And to be honest, a lot of “self-care” tips these days just feel like an excuse to be lazy. I mean seriously — who needs that?

Self-care in many ways has been hijacked and made into a catch-all exemption for not watching our budgets, not sticking it out through conflict, or not doing the things a responsible adult should do. Self-care is important, but the self-care we’re being sold — the kind that lets us off the hook — isn’t really self-care. We’re strong, capable women with a lot to offer the world, and another Instagram post on sipping day wine while soaking in the foaming scent of a Lush bath bomb really isn’t cutting it. (Although that does sound pretty relaxing.)

A term I’ve recently been introduced to in the context of self-care offered me a helpful perspective for doing better at taking care of myself. I hope that it will help you too:

Mothering Yourself: A Better Approach to Self-care

Despite the fact that we all have vastly different experiences with our own mothers, there seems to exist a general understanding of what it means to “mother” a person. Words like caring, comforting, and nurturing may come to mind. I know, so far, this sounds like your typical vanilla self-care — I’m picturing bubble baths, warm blankets, chamomile tea — but stick with me.

Mothering is more than just being sweet and gentle. It is disciplining a child and helping them grow into a responsible and compassionate adult. Ask any mother you know: it’s hard work. A child thrives with parents who are gentle, encouraging, loving AND who offer clear boundaries, correction and a path for growth. A child needs both, and so do we.

As I pondered this new concept of “mothering” self-care, I began to explore how we can reclaim modern self-care. So let’s get real about “mothering”-self-care, because my guess is, you want the kind of self-care that’s gonna help you grow towards your goals, not lull you to sleep with lavender-scented everything.

So, how do you mother yourself in order to grow?

1.  Give yourself grace, and don’t get stuck.

Mothers let kids be kids, and help them grow into responsible adults.

You do not have to be perfect. We are imperfect people living life imperfectly, and that’s 100% okay. We all have limited capacity. Give yourself grace to fail, to slow down, and to say “no”.

A mother is gentle with her kids: taking into account their current capacity and emotions, while at the same time encouraging them to live up to their current and future potential.

Mothering self-care does the same for us. In our failures, grace allows us to remove the paralysis of shame so we can calmly assess what we’ve learned. As we slow down, it allows us to savor this moment in time and realize what is truly important to us (this helps us set goals that better align with our hearts). Finally, when we say “no,” it allows us to be more effective with our “yes”, because we have greater capacity to fully embrace it.

2. Don’t lose sight of your needs or goals, but make room for helping others.

Mothers teach their children to see the needs of others.

Your needs and goals matter, and needing “me-time” is totally legitimate. And it’s true, there are times you may have to say “no” to people in order to invest in your own health or goals. But if we consistently prioritize ourselves to the detriment of our relationships, we have drastically missed the point. As human beings our best life is realized as we engage in healthy relationships.

Often a mother has to drag her child to their sibling’s athletic event or artistic production even though they’d rather be at home. But she is teaching them a valuable lesson: sometimes supporting the people we care about is the most important thing we can do for them and for ourselves.

Mothering self-care increases our capacity to serve other people, and there may be seasons of life (or let’s face it — moments every day) when we should adjust our timelines or expectations to make room for the people that matter to us.

3.  Cut out toxic people & things, but don’t run away from conflict.

Mothers help their children navigate hard relationships and situations.

Sometimes, we need to walk away from situations that are harming our health. Toxic people exist, and they need to learn that they can’t trample those around them without consequence.

Unfortunately though, we can’t “Marie Kondo” our entire lives, cutting out everything that doesn’t “bring us joy.” If we did that, we’d miss out on people and experiences that make us better people. Even though conflict can be uncomfortable, awkward and painful, it helps us grow. Difficult people help us grow. Temporary, complicated or taxing situations help us grow.

Perhaps a more trivial example is the mother that makes her child stick it out through the year of piano lessons they hated in order to teach them commitment and discipline.

Mothering self-care enables us to walk away from situations that are truly holding us back and engage in situations (even the hard ones) that help us move forward.

4.  Make decisions that go beyond the present moment.

Mothers help their kids gain a long-term perspective.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve binge-watched a lot of streaming content in the name of self-care. It comes as no surprise that I’ve almost never felt better afterward. Self-care means caring for yourself — present AND future.

In any given moment, especially when you’re tired, watching TV or even reading a book or taking a bath might feel like the best thing you can do for yourself. And it very well may be! But so might making a salad, doing some yoga, cleaning the house, or finishing that project so you can really enjoy the time you’ll spend relaxing with your favorite people this weekend because there is nothing else you have to do. A mother making her child get their lunch and backpack ready the night before so that the morning is more restful is a perfect example of long-term perspective self-care.

Mothering self-care asks the question: “What will make tomorrow-morning-me feel rejuvenated?”

5.  Treat yourself — responsibly.

Mothers discern when a treat or a “no” is best for their kids.

If I listened to every self-care article or Instagram post telling me to buy the $6 latte or the $40 beauty product, because #selfcare, I’d go broke. Buying expensive things when your budget is tight is not self-care. Buying expensive things when you’re trying to save for a different expensive thing is not self-care. It’s a recipe for financially-induced anxiety.

Self-care isn’t always what you want. Mothering self-care knows when not allowing yourself to have or do something you want is better for your physical, mental, and emotional health. But when what you want also supports your health — that’s the best kind of self-care!

A mother cares for her child in a way that helps them grow. Her goal is for them to grow into their truest potential as healthy and compassionate adults. As we seek the best way to care for ourselves, perhaps it’s helpful to simply ask the question: “How can I care for myself in a way that helps me reach my full potential?”