Last week I overheard some comments that made my heart hurt. They included:
“I can’t believe that mom gets a babysitter so she can go to the gym. Those poor children.”
“I know a mom who took an entire weekend away from her family so she could ‘rest.’ So selfish.”
“I can’t believe how many moms these days put themselves before their kids. It’s like, do you even love them???”
Here’s how I interpreted those comments: Self care = Bad. Moms who engage in self care = Bad moms.
Although the comments were not explicitly directed at me, they still stung personally. They came at a time when I’m working hard to prioritize my physical, mental, and emotional health—for my own sake and that of my children and family—and I walked away feeling I’d been branded a terrible person for DARING to take care of myself. Naturally, then, my internal reaction was one of anger and defensiveness.
As I stewed over what I’d heard, I realized something important. The comments all had one critical thing in common: They were uttered not by moms of my generation, but by moms of the previous one.
When it comes to the topic of self-care, there is definitely a generational divide.
The next day I was still upset about what I’d overheard, so I went for a walk to let off some steam and try to process it all (while my husband played with the kids in the backyard—gasp!). When I left, I was mentally plotting the snarky emails I would send those baby boomer moms to give them major guilt trips about their relentless judginess. Oh, the words I wanted to type!
But by the time I returned, my anger had been transformed into something else: understanding.
Now, instead of the snarky email, I want to say this:
Moms who preceded me, of course you’re critical of the way we millennials prioritize self care. Of course you react with eye-rolls and just-barely-audible shaming. Because self care is foreign to you. It’s just not something you ever did.
You sacrificed yourself for your family—often entirely, to the point that there was no “you” anymore—so it’s perfectly understandable that you look at us and interpret our behavior as selfish. So many of us are taking a markedly different path than you did, and naturally our choices leave you feeling a bit judged yourself.
But, my dear moms who came before me, it’s just not what you think.
Here’s the vital key that we millennial moms have finally figured out: Self care does not equal selfish. Self care equals self preservation.
And just as importantly, it equals family preservation. Because they’re kind of the same thing.
Case in point:
When we get a babysitter so we can get some exercise, we aren’t harming our kids; we’re caring for them by giving them a strong and healthy mama.
When we take some time away to rest and recharge, we aren’t neglecting our families; we’re reenergizing them by giving them our own renewed energy.
When we prioritize our own physical or emotional health, we aren’t ignoring the needs of our children; we’re filling ourselves up so we have MORE to give them.
Because when you give and give and give until you’re practically depleted, everything you give after that is, by definition, half-assed. Or quarter-assed. Or one teeny tiny-tenth of yourself-assed.
What millennial moms have realized is that the quantity of time spent with our children is nowhere near as important as the quality of that time. (And there’s solid research to prove it!)
We’ve realized that giving our children and families the BEST of ourselves—the selves we are when we’re rested and exercising regularly and nourishing our bodies and brains the way they deserve—is way better than giving our children and families our exhausted, haggard, always-about-to-snap selves.
As Abundant Mama Shawn Fink so eloquently puts it:
When we love ourselves enough to nourish ourselves in a way that leaves us feeling more relaxed, we can be more kind, more loving, more playful and more healthy. It means we are doing exactly what we should be doing to help our family and raise thriving children. I can’t think of anything better than to model self-love—rather than self-neglect—to our children through their own childhoods with the hopes that they, too, will love themselves enough to take care of themselves.
So moms of the previous generation, I ask you to reconsider the sorts of shaming comments I overheard last week, and instead consider this:
We millennial moms believe, with all of our hearts, that you did your best by your children.
You took what you knew, what you had been taught, what the research of the time said, what the culture of the time was—you took all of that and used it to be the best moms you could.
And we are doing the same.
We do not love our children an iota less, we simply have a different understanding of how best to love them with our whole hearts.
We are not disengaging from our children, we’re just carving out our engagement time in a way that feels more meaningful to us (and them).
We don’t care about ourselves more than we do our children, we just truly believe that caring for ourselves often IS caring for our children.
But when we overhear your shaming remarks, it makes us question every parenting move we make even more than we already are. It makes us feel angry and defensive, yes, but even more than that it makes us feel isolated.
For most of us millennial moms, self care is a daily struggle.
It’s something we understand and strive for, but not always something we successfully practice. And part of the reason why is because we feel the heat of your judgment when we do.
So on behalf of millennial moms everywhere, I am asking you to reconsider your critical comments, your shaking heads, and your clucks of disapproval, and instead look at our parenting with open minds and open hearts.
Then I believe you will see what I have: that you did your best and we’re doing our best. Your best and our best are going to look different, but they are both still the best.
Psst…Do you know you need to take better care of yourself but don’t know where to begin?
- Erica from Let Why Lead offers these 24 self care practices for mothers.
- Here are 100 self care ideas that will fit easily in your busy schedule.
- Check out the book suggestions below!