July 8, 2020

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

if you want to take care of others, you have to take care of yourself.

This essay is Day 34 of The 100 Day Project, where I’m creating #100daysofartandessays based on the Word of the Day.

Word of the Day (May 10, 2020)

materfamilias noun

[ mey-ter-fuhmil-ee-uhs ]

the mother of a family.


One of the unexpected things I’ve learned during this project is that dictionary.com chooses words related to current events. I’d assumed they chose random obscure words, but it turns out they’re relevant random obscure words.


Clearly this was the word selected for Mother’s Day.


I do not like Mother’s Day. I don’t even like the word “mother.” That word is not one I use in reference to myself or particularly want to hear. There are layers of complicated reasons for this I’m not interested in writing about.


What I’m saying is that I wasn’t thrilled about making art for “Materfamilias.”


It reminded me of an essay I wrote 4 years ago, when I found myself at a crossroads. I began to understand that in order to stay sane I was going to have to change the way I had been doing things. I was a workaholic trying to figure out what work-life balance looked like with a 2 year old, and I finally realized that you can’t balance something that doesn’t exist. The specific epiphany in that post was that client work can wait, which is rather specific to entrepreneurs. The larger epiphany is one I’m still learning:


self-care isn’t selfish.


Depending on who you are, that might be obvious, it might be shocking, or it might be something you’ve never considered. We live in a work-yourself-to-death culture. If you’re female, it’s somehow your job to take care of people. Now add a kid to the mix. It’s assumed you’ll gladly sacrifice yourself on the altar of motherhood, devote every waking moment to your kids, and be thrilled about all of it. The normalcy of this expectation frustrates me to no end.


I’m a wife, an artist, a writer, an entrepreneur, a musician, a friend, a teacher, and many other things. Those roles don’t cease to exist because another role has been added. Parenting might eclipse other roles, especially during certain seasons, but it does not replace them. The expectation that women can and should abandon all other roles when they have a kid is absolutely not ok, but it’s often what happens.


Four years ago I learned that having a kid forces you to confront your limitations. You no longer have the luxury of putting things off, or making space for yourself sometimessomewhere. You do or die. I used that dissonance to fuel art, writing, and reading in a way I hadn’t before. My answer to “what am I doing to stay sane?” became “practicing self-care.”

while painting and writing, you’re naturally focused and fully present. this flow state is why those practices are so restorative.

Having a kid is like throwing a boulder in the stream, if the boulder were a black hole. You’ll get sucked in. You could remain there, endlessly frustrated with a gravitational pull that warps time itself. Or you can use it as a catalyst. That distortion was the very thing that snapped me out of my complacency, driving me to create space intentionally, not haphazardly.

I’ve been speaking to parents because that’s where my reckoning happened, and I need to tie into this weird materfamilias word, but self-care applies to everyone. Learn to meditate when things are good; then you’ll have an established practice to fall back on when you wake up in 2020. Work on your cardio before the zombie apocalypse. Educate yourself, make time for a hobby, use your brain for fun before you’re forced to use it to make life-or-death decisions such as, “should I leave my house today?”

ok for reals though, just pick something:

Don’t use every free moment to clean, do laundry, paperwork, or any of that other crap. If you take care of yourself only after the house is clean you’ll never take care of yourself. That’s the point I really want to make here. There’s a lot of stress in the world right now, and the people around you feed off your energy. If you can’t manage your own stress, how will they manage theirs? If you want to take care of others, you have to take care of yourself.

It’s not always about sneaking off to the art studio alone either. Get your kids involved. My son paints with me all the time. We collaborate on art, and lately I’ve been borrowing from his unexpected color schemes. I’ve taught him to meditate. He knows if he walks in the room and I’m meditating he needs to turn around and walk back out (sometimes he does). He’s familiar with the terms personal time/personal space. As he gets older he’ll start to understand what they mean and what they look like for him.

When I talk to my son about self-care, he’ll understand it because he’s seen it. He’ll know me as a person, not as a title.

“What we teach is ourselves.” – Magda Gerber

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