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Dear Mom, About That 'Self-Care' Everyone Says You Need

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Self-care looks different for every mom, yet sometimes we try to impose our definitions of self-care onto our mom friends or acquaintances.

I have admittedly not been good with self-care. No one would run through a list of my qualities and be like, “I really admire how well she balances taking care of her family with taking care of her own mental health.”

Do I see the value in self-care? Absolutely! However, I believe every mom goes through different seasons, where something her child or family is going through asks more of her, and she needs to do whatever she feels is best in those seasons of life, whether it means some days she needs more time for herself or some days she gets none.

You also hear about mom shaming, because of a mother taking care of herself or time out for herself, but I have lived the very opposite, and it’s difficult as well.

I didn’t expect to have an out of the ordinary first time parenting experience, but when my daughter was born with a cleft palate, hearing loss, feeding difficulties, severe apnea, required oxygen and later was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and autism… I felt like what she needed from me in that time in our lives far outweighed anything I would need or want to do for myself.

My life became about therapy around the clock, surgeries, specialists, always watching her breathe and praying she wouldn’t stop.

I was an Army wife. My husband was in Afghanistan. I had no family and hardly any friends in our duty station and yet everyone I knew kept telling me I needed to go out. I needed a bath. I needed a nap. I needed to get my nails done. I needed to go to a spa.

They meant well. I know they did. They were worried about me. They felt bad for the stress I was under and felt all their suggestions were helpful to me. However, it tended to make me feel even worse. For starters, I literally did not have a single soul who could help me with my daughter, so I couldn’t do any of those things.

I was doing the best I could alone, to keep my head above water most days. It also felt like no one understood how much the sacrifice was my choice. I wanted to help my daughter get healthier. I wanted to be the one sleeping next to her on the hospital floor. I wanted to be the first face she saw when she woke up from surgeries, scared and in pain. I wanted to learn how to do all her therapies with her, so I could give her the best shot at a good future. I wanted it to be me, as draining and soul sucking as it was sometimes.

Tabitha caring for her child at hospital

My husband — he understood this about me. He understood that she came first to me. He knew that no matter how many times he would encourage me to get out or take a bath, that I would choose her every time. Both he and I knew this wouldn’t last forever and that her needs outweighed ours and we lovingly did what she needed us to do in that season of her life.

Fast forward eight years and add two more kids. I just graduated from a 40-hour self-defense course. I go get the occasional pedicure. I treat myself to daily Dutch Bro’s. My husband puts the kids down for bed, so I can sit at Starbucks and write or go for a drive without being asked 5,000 questions and listening to a Blippi soundtrack.

Close up of Tabitha Yates

I take care of myself better than I ever have, but it was on my terms, in the way I felt good about it.

Listen Mamas, the only person who truly knows your heart is the Good Lord and you! You are the only one who needs to approve of how you parent and how you take care of yourself. It is alright if that looks differently than other people tell you it should.

It’s OK if it’s all too much sometimes and it’s OK to push through the tears and exhaustion. It’s OK to take a day at the spa and it’s OK if taking a shower every two to three days feels like a victory. It’s OK to want a night out in clothes that aren’t covered in mac n’ cheese and ketchup and it’s OK to feel like there’s no place in the world you’d rather be than curled up with your babies, listening to them breathing.

Self-care looks different to each and every one of us at different times in our lives. At the end of the day, when you climb into bed and your soul is weary, you are the only one who has to feel content with what you gave to the day and what you gave to yourself. It was your best, and it was enough.

Originally published: August 10, 2019
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