Beyond Manicures & Massages: What Self-Care REALLY Means For Moms

Self-care. It’s a term that’s become part of the mommy zeitgeist to the point where we can’t open our Instagram feeds without being bombarded by memes touting, “Caring for yourself is mandatory” or “Put your oxygen mask on first.” Between us mamas, it’s getting kind of annoying.

The first issue is, the current conversation about what self-care means is shallow.

It goes something like this: “Go get a manicure or a quick massage and you’ll come back refreshed and ready to handle motherhood again.” That’s what we’re told. Here’s what we hear: Self-care is as easy as painting my nails and will make me a better mom.

Wait, so, a new coat of nail polish is a mommy miracle that will make us happier about our child having a tantrum in Target? Not buying it.

Issue #2: Making superficial self-care the de-facto norm assumes all moms have access to both the childcare and the cash to spend on it.

They don’t. And now we’ve not only made them feel like they’re bad moms because they don’t do it but we’ve shamed them because they can’t afford it. Not nice.

Third, doing something as superficial as getting her nails done will in no way make a mother suffering from issues like postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression feel better.

It just won’t. Because that kind of self-care doesn’t address or help these moms’ deep emotional needs. In fact, asking some of these mothers to leave their children (or just leave the house in general) in the care of another person, particularly the moms suffering from PPA, can have the opposite effect of self-care; it can actually make their lives worse, not better. No bueno.

Crappy situation all around, right? Pretty much.

Can we make the concept of self-care for moms more personalized and attainable?

We’re not entirely sure but we have some ideas.

For starters, we can stop assuming all moms can use grooming, spa services or gym time as a self-care method. Don’t get us wrong, it’s nice. Doing some cardio or having our feet rubbed feels great and might boost our dopamine levels for a bit. But it isn’t going to solve our bigger issues of maintaining our composure during whining, sibling fighting and making six different meals because none of them are satisfactory to our little food critics. In short, it’s a temporary high.

We need to make self-care more about caring for our souls and less about caring for our appearance.

That means promoting things like venting, empathy and surrounding ourselves with supportive friends, things that will fill up our emotional tanks. We need to position self-care as an internal thing, not just an external thing. And the best news is, we’re primed to do this! Moms were literally MADE for this kind of self-care.

Turns out women are genetically wired to crave community, and we function best when surrounded by those who “get us.” We need a mom tribe to thrive. Encouraging moms to seek other like-minded mamas, either virtually or locally, gives them soul-satisfying, long lasting self-care.

And bonus. It’s free!

Lastly, we have to do a better job helping moms identify dangerous mental health issues and provide them with the resources to get better. Self-care for these mamas means getting help, both medically and psychologically, so they can adequately care for their children and not kill themselves. Literally. We know. We’ve actually been there.

Look, we’re not trying to be too critical of today’s self-care narrative. We’re just saying it could use some tweaking.

At its core, self-care is a mommy time out for our insides as much as for our outsides.

We happen to think the former is more effective than the latter. The bottom line is moms today have it rough. And sometimes sloughing off our callouses during a pedicure helps. But for most of us, it’s not really enough.

You feel us? Good. Because we gotta go FaceTime our BFF about our kid smearing poop on his wall. She’ll totally get it.

Written by Brooke Christian and Jen Schwartz for Today’s Parenting Team.

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