Before we had children, I dedicated hours every Sunday to recharge. My wife and I took the #SelfCareSunday movement very seriously. We’d begin the day together by ordering breakfast at our favorite neighborhood mom & pop diner followed by a long walk with our dog. Then, we’d break into a few hours of “me” time. I’d often fill my time with a long distance run, yin yoga routine, then a candlelit aromatherapy bath with a book of choice. Somewhere along the way laundry would get washed, lunches for the week would be prepped, and items would be gathered for the workweek. I could depend on the fact that no matter how hectic the week was, Sundays were always sacred.
I knew that things would change once our twins were born and I never minded that that would be the case. I was ready to dive completely into twin parenthood and all of the sacrifices that come along with it. Self-care seemed like a luxury that I could simply do without for some time. I thought of it like deactivating a Facebook account for some time so that I could focus on a new venture. I’ll have time for that when they’re older, I thought, now’s the time to get in the trenches and earn my stripes.
I have come to the recent realization that my mindset could not have been farther from the truth. Yes, now is the time to make any and all necessary sacrifices for the sake of our growing babies. And of course, time to myself is scarce. But self-care is something that no person—especially a parent–should go without.
The need for self-care is less like managing a Facebook account and more like investing in a healthy dietary regimen. I could deactivate my Facebook account to log back in once my children are grown; nothing substantial would change. However, if I decided that I’d go without vegetables indefinitely, I might indeed continue to live but my health would severely decline over time. Taking care of oneself is as essential as those nutrients.
Self-care is not a luxury, but a water source from which we may quench our souls.
Okay, so, I’ve discovered this truth but it doesn’t change my situation: I no longer have hours of time on Sunday (let alone any other day of the week) to do said soul quenching. This revelation brought me back to the drawing boards. My first step towards change was acknowledging another simple truth: if I cannot change my circumstance (external), I have to shift my perspective (internal).
This led me towards a series of questions…
- Why is self-care important to me?
- Does self-care have to fit a prescribed time window?
- Is spending one minute less valuable than one hour, if the alternative is no time at all?
- What are examples of acts of self-care?
- Where might I be overlooking everyday opportunities for self-care?
My process of answering these questions has taken time. Quite frankly, I am still developing the answers. But I think a huge part of this journey is understanding that my answers will inevitably change with life. A commitment to self-care is fluid albeit constant.
I’ve decided that when it comes to self-care, something is better than nothing at all. It was an exercise in futility to compare my relationship with self-care before children to life with children. I made a little menu for myself that emphasized small acts of self-care such as making a cup of tea, using an exfoliating face wash, and listening to a 5-minute guided meditation.
I then identified times in my day where I could build these acts into my daily routines: making tea and letting it steep while my students are at recess, then sipping it while they eat lunch; meditating in my car before picking up my daughters from daycare; keeping face wash in my desk at work to use during a rare moment of downtime instead of idly scrolling social media.
After several weeks of this practice, I feel a vast improvement. There are days where I barrel through my responsibilities and self-care is standing on the platform, waiting for a train that ain’t gonna come. And there are days where I seize multiple moments, yet still feel like I’m barely breaking even.
What matters to me is that I am trying. It makes me feel like a better person to myself, spouse to my wife, mother to my children, and teacher to my students and colleagues. Right now, our daughters are too young to be aware of all of this, but I hope that some day they will appreciate the value of the subtle art of self-care.