I'm Tired Of Basic Human Needs Being Seen As "Self-Care"

Photo: Natalia Bostan / Shutterstock
woman drinking coffee

It seems the idea of self-care is a popular one. You can browse Pinterest, any website, or magazine that targets women, and I guarantee you that you will find an article on the importance of self-care.

Taking time for yourself and making yourself a priority is always being marketed to women.

It’s especially true in the new year as we are bombarded with the latest secrets to happiness, fulfillment, and making this year the best one yet!

I'm all for bettering ourselves.

I’m a big fan of self-care, too. Five out of five stars. In fact, it took me many years and a little bit (OK — a lot) of therapy to realize that self-care is essential to your emotional well-being. No one can pour from an empty cup, right?

When I was a new mom, my own self-care was non-existent. I was a nursing machine, consumed with this new squirmy, squishy being that needed my constant attention, and I was convinced my husband could do nothing right.

Yes. I was one of those new moms.

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It wasn’t until I matured, had a couple of more kids under my roof, and realized my husband was not only capable but was actually the father of my children and therefore the kids were his responsibility too that I started to explore what I needed as a person to feel whole.

It turns out self-care wasn't just important; it was crucial to my survival.

With depression and anxiety in my DNA, I had to learn how to balance new motherhood with my mental illness, and a key factor in finding that balance was realizing I wasn’t just pouring from an empty cup, I was pouring from an empty cup in the Sahara desert. There was no water in sight and I was still somehow drowning.

Fast forward a few years, and I’ve learned to ask for what I need. I’ve learned that I need more time away from my children than I thought.

I’ve learned that I need quiet hours (yes hours) alone in order to revive my introverted little heart and soul. It turns out that without self-care, I became angry and resentful, not to mention depressed and anxious, lashing out at everyone around me.

In short, without self-care, I was a shell of a human being.

However, it seems like there is a subtle message popping up on pretty Instagram accounts, and in Facebook mom groups about self-care that is misleading and downright damaging. The message? That basic human needs are self-care.

We have seen the funny memes and captions lamenting how long our husbands spend in the bathroom doing their business, and yet a mom will post that her time in the bathroom is a mini-vacation from her kids.

Or, how about the message that a trip alone to Target is self-care?

I’m sorry, but a trip alone to Target is nice (and sometimes quite enjoyable) but it’s also usually still filled with my mental checklist of things my family needs.

My husband is out of deodorant.

Does my daughter need new socks? Didn’t she ask for white?

Do we have eggs at home for dinner later? Are we out of dog food?

It’s fine if you really, really love going to Target alone and that is your form of self-care, but let’s not disguise it as such to hand out accolades to those around us for giving us a little bit of freaking free time.

I'm so tired of basic human needs being touted by women as their favorite form of self-care.

Eating a meal, or having a cup of hot coffee should not be a form of self-care.

Having a hot shower is not self-care.

Going to the bathroom is not self-care.

Chasing after a toddler at the park is not exercise you can call self-care.

Taking five, ten, or even thirty minutes alone to think or have a quiet moment to gather your thoughts is not self-care.

Taking a sick day when you’re sick is not self-care.

I could go on, but these are some of the many things that I hear women say they are doing for self-care. These are not self-care, they are basic human rights that we all deserve.

And frankly, self-care needs a little more thought and effort put into it than folding laundry with AirPods in your ears listening to a book on tape.

That’s not self-care, that’s multi-tasking.

So often as women, our load is so great that we expect that taking any time for ourselves at all is the equivalent of self-care.

However, that’s not always the case. Psych Central defines self-care this way,

“Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.”

But, what I found even more fascinating is what they say self-care is NOT:

“It is not something that we force ourselves to do or something we don’t enjoy doing. As Agnes Wainman explained, self-care is ‘something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.’”

Does going to the bathroom alone refuel you? How about shopping alone for your family? How about going into your room to take a 15-minute power nap after being up all night with a colicky child?

If you’re anything like me, my guess is the answer is a big fat no.

Women need to stop calling activities self-care that don't bring joy or actually refuel.

In general, I think men are better at recognizing their own needs for self-care.

My husband knows that mowing the yard alone isn’t his self-care. Yes, maybe it feels a little nicer than being inside with three whiney kids, but it’s still not self-care.

Instead, he recognizes that his self-care is deliberately planning time for himself to do something physical like climbing mountains or going on a bike ride. It’s intentional and planned out. It serves only him. And he’s not multi-tasking in his mind 23 other things in the process.

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It’s time that women ask themselves what they are actively doing to care for themselves—something that has nothing to do with the rest of the people in their lives that they serve at home or at work.

Women should ask themselves daily: What am I doing that is intentional, planned out, and solely for me to refuel my mind, body, and soul?

Let’s stop pretending we get self-care when we don’t. Not only is it damaging to our own mental and physical well-being, but it’s sending the wrong message to those around us. Including our kids.

Your kids need to know what real self-care looks like.

If you ask your partner for a trip alone to the grocery store and YOU call it self-care, he’s going to always think that’s all you need to refuel and recharge and survive.

Women: stop doing this to yourselves. Stop convincing yourself that a cup of coffee in the morning is enough self-care to get you through the day.

Stop implying that if you get a moment to yourself in your bathroom with the door shut and locked that it is bringing you some peace and happiness.

Basic human rights are not self-care.

So, when you’re making your resolutions this year, or you’re doing your bullet journaling, or filling out your planner make sure that when you pencil in self-care, it’s really that—caring for yourself.

No amount of trips to the grocery store alone are ever going to fulfill you or rejuvenate you long term.

More likely than not, they will just get you through the next five hours, and you’ll still be wandering through the desert of life with an empty cup

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Meredith Ethington is an award-winning writer, author of the book, Mom Life: Perfection Pending. She has been published on many sites including Scary Mommy, The Huffington Post, Momtastic, CafeMom, and has been published in Parents Magazine. 

This article was originally published at Perfection Pending. Reprinted with permission from the author.