Self-Care and Mom Guilt


Yesterday afternoon, I was texting with a mom friend who was feeling lonely and overwhelmed at home with her two little ones. I asked her if she could get a break today. She replied that it didn’t look possible; that she’d been to the gym a few days earlier so she shouldn’t be complaining, anyway.

Shortly after that, I saw an opportunity to go out for a run and I took it. And the day before, I’d been to a yoga class. And the day before that, I’d been for a run, too. I didn’t tell my mom friend that I was going for a run the day after I’d been to a yoga class, though. Instead, I texted a vague “gotta go, love you!”, threw on my sneakers and dashed out the door. As I ran, I thought about self-care and the seemingly endless guilt we mothers feel about it.

I know exactly how my friend was feeling: like we only deserve so much. Like asking for more, even a significant break on a daily basis, is selfish, is asking too much. So many times in my journey to better self-care, I’ve told myself I’ve already had enough for that day or that week. That asking for this one more thing is just too much. I wonder, do fathers struggle with this? When they decide to go to the gym or a drive or have a night out with friends, do they carefully weigh how many hours they’ve already had to themselves this week? Why do we, as mothers and, let’s face it, primary caregivers, feel like there is a limit to how much time we can give ourselves in a day or a week?

Guilt waits at every turn for me. I feel like we’re nearing a decision on whether or not to send Aedan to kindergarten. It’s something I began to write about here a few months ago, in a post about homeschooling as a writer. I am leaning heavily towards sending him to kindergarten, and his brother and sister after him, but oh my, is it wracked with extreme feelings of guilt and failure. This morning, I reached out to the doula I had when Aedan was born: I recalled her talking about homeschooling, five years ago, and I also remembered that recently she’d announced on Facebook that she was getting ready to self-publish a book. I wondered if she’d homeschooled and found a way to balance that with her writing. She wrote back that in the end, she sent them to school. She reminded me that in tribal cultures, there are 4 adults to each 1 child. She told me that school is a part of her tribe that helps her to raise her kids. I had never thought of school in those terms before, but those words felt so right, so affirming to me. They felt like permission to drop my guilt.

We are not meant to parent alone, but we do, so much of the time. It’s so lovely to think of our “tribe” as being made up of aunts and uncles, grandparents, older siblings and cousins, friends and elders who can all play a part in raising our kids, in caring for each other, in household work. But it’s just not our reality. Our tribe can also be made up of teachers, daycare workers, free childcare at the gym, or the teen down the street who hangs out with your kids for an hour on the weekend so you can go out alone. There should be no shame in pulling together the resources we have available so that we can fill ourselves to overflowing and be more present for ourselves and our families.

I’m going to try and stop keeping track of how much time I’ve spent on self-care. I’m going to try and stop thinking of it as too much, and instead think of it as always just enough of what I need to function. In these intensive years of parenting little ones, we do need breaks every day. And I realize it’s not possible a lot of the time. But we shouldn’t feel guilty for the wanting. We shouldn’t feel like we’re complaining or like we’re not enough because we’re struggling to do something we were never meant to do alone in the first place.