I feel like “self-care” is almost a taboo word in some circles, though with more recent articles and movements it’s becoming more socially acceptable and less “selfish”. I find that I can be good at self-care with the small things in life, which keep me afloat, but I struggle with the bigger things that ultimately sustain me. The saying no to larger commitments or relationships so that I have more time and energy for my immediate circle. It’s further complicated by the fact that a “no” isn’t a forever no. Seasons come and go and change, and so does the inner circle and capacity to expand that circle. Having to constantly assess priorities makes this whole self-care aspect that much harder.
Recently I sat down and made a list of everything I felt like I was excelling at and a corresponding list of everything I felt like I was “failing” at. Then I marked with a star each item on each list that would matter 50 years from now. It was eye opening to see how many things I was excelling at that didn’t really matter, and how many things I was “failing” at that did. But trying to convince myself to swap items on the lists (because there really are only so many hours in a day) was a huge mental battle and something that I’m still working on. Why do we think the things that don’t matter are so important and the things that do, we assume they will be there to be tackled another day?
Self care can sometimes be wonderful and almost guiltily decadent. It can be bubble baths, a glass of wine, a pedicure, or whatever you love to do to treat yourself. But it can also be really, really hard. I’m pretty good at convincing myself I should go have that Starbucks non-fat latte. I often tell my husband I need some “me time”, which means please go play video games and let me take up our entire bed with mind-wasting Netflix and unshared snacks. These little things are becoming more and more second nature to me as I practice them. But the saying no to things I LOVE – to GOOD things, WHOLESOME things, and yes, even GODLY things – because it is possible to have so many good things that you don’t have room for the best things, that’s hard. That, quite frankly, sucks.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I stepped down from the worship team at church which I LOVED being a part of. I was doing some pretty intense counselling at the time, still working two part-time jobs, and had a new baby. While I could physically juggle the one extra thing – you know, that godly, volunteering thing – it was taking time and energy from me during a season that I was at the risk of burning out. (I also stopped working at my full-time office job but that was always the plan when babies came along.)
When I was pregnant with my second child, I gave up my career that I LOVED. Well, one of them, as I’m obviously still a photographer. I had taught piano for 14 years at that point. I LOVED to teach. I loved my students. I had even a couple very promising students that could go far who I suspected might quit if I did. I had to tell myself I wasn’t responsible for their decisions and let them go. Could I have still swung it? Sure, I could have moved lessons later, had Nick put the kids to bed at night, given up my evenings, and kept doing something that I loved. But instead I chose to get to be fully and wholly present during “witching hour” every night with my kids instead. Parents, you know what “hour” (why isn’t it plural?) that I’m talking about. Income is a good thing – especially living on the Coast! Music is a wonderful thing that I had been passionate about since I was a teenager. Teaching was my dream. But for this season, I felt I had too much on my plate and something had to give. So I cut out a really, really good thing because having that breathing room and space with my family in the evenings was the better thing. I’m not saying this is the right choice for every family in every season or every circumstance, but it was for us. And it was HARD. This is self-care. People would say, “How are you,” and my answer 99.9% of the time was “busy”. My answer the other 0.1% of the time was “tired”. Something had to change.
When I was pregnant with my third child (are you sensing a pattern here on how kids change your life and priorities, lol!), I was diagnosed with a few different mental health issues. I knew I needed space to heal, but I looked at what I had left. I had already given up volunteering. I had already quit two careers – one willingly and one begrudgingly. What did I have left? I had my faith, my family, my close friends, a very much reduced photography business and my church community. Seriously, people, which of those things are you going to cut out of your life? Those GOOD, WHOLESOME, GODLY, NEEDED things. Especially when I could make it work on a calendar but it was exhausting my heart to even just exist let alone function like a normal human being. If you guessed photography the answer is actually no for a few reasons though it was put up on the table for consideration. I have made the decision for the next year at least to severely cut back on the number of client sessions I will be doing. But at the end of the day, photography is my glass of wine, my pedicure, my non-fat latte. It is something that fills me and gives me an identity outside of solely motherhood and it needs to stay in some capacity. Plus, it affords us some savings which we would have almost none of without. So we trimmed it back but we also trimmed back community. TRIMMED back – not disregarded entirely because community is life. I have my tribe still. I have my mamas in the trenches with me. I have me friends that ask me how I am REALLY doing. But I took away the “obligations”. We stepped down from leading a community group and passed the reigns to another couple. I am not a part of anything that has a “regular” meet-up schedule. I have my people who carry my heart, and I attend things as they come up and I gauge whether it would be good for my soul or drain me. But while I believe there is something important to be said about commitment, I am currently in a season where I need little to none. I need to be able to literally take each day as it comes and decide whether or not it’s going to be a functioning day or a pj and t.v. day. (Spoiler – it’s usually some weird hybrid of the two and while I have it very much together in some daily areas the rest are laughable at best. Don’t believe me? Ask me about my relationship with Fabreeze and how many meals can be “peanut butter toast and fruit” on a given DAY let alone a given week.)
So I’ll continue with the little things that fill me up – the daily photos of my kids, the taking a bit of time to throw on some mascara every morning or make a latte to feel human. I’ll learn to navigate through the HARD parts of self-care like stepping back from certain relationships, passions, and GOOD things. And I’ll even still work on the things that you might not associate with self-care like strict bedtimes with the kids so that we always have our evenings, the fact that we are CIO (cry it out) parents and have stopped feeling guilty about it and just embraced that it’s what works for us and our boys. Supplementing with formula when needed. Unexpected “quiet times” with books when the kids are on my last nerve and it’s either that or I’m going to snap. (That last one is less glamorous than it sounds. It’s basically me putting my boys in their respective rooms as gently as I can under the circumstances, handing them books, and telling them mommy will be back in a few minutes). Self-care comes in so many shapes and sizes and ranges from fun and indulgent treats to excruciatingly painful but necessary changes. I should state that I’m not an expert by ANY means on ANY of this stuff, but it’s what we’re slugging through over here. So while I share photos of the last month of our family, I also share the struggles behind the scenes. We’re figuring it out and it’s hard and unglamorous and necessary work. But it is the season we are in.