When Self-Care is a “Relaxing” Bath Next to a Bowl Full of Pee

Give a burned-out mother five minutes and a Google search bar and she’ll be told no fewer than a dozen times that she needs to practice some self-care. Self-care is seen as this magical cure-all for anxiety, stress, and all that bothers you in life. I’m pretty sure it cures athlete’s foot and eczema, too.

It’s the magical cure for everything.

I applaud the reminders. I’ve written about the need for self-care many times! I fucking love to put on my oxygen mask first, so that I can be a better wife, mother, friend, employee, human.

But sometimes it’s just. not. that. easy.

There is this assumption that people, especially women, extra-especially mothers, will toil until they go all Scarlett O’Hara in the burning fields, screaming declarations at the sky, and ripping curtains off the wall.

The reality is that the balance is a hard one to strike. Self-care sounds like a blissful answer to every problem, but the truth is that it takes money and time, which are two places where many mothers with young children find themselves coming up woefully short.

In my dream world, I would get a weekly massage. Or at least a monthly massage. Right now I’m lucky if the stars line up to make it happen yearly. I would find time to go sit my seasonally affected ass down somewhere warm and sunny, preferably with fruity drinks, a book, and the ocean waves.

The winter after Lorelei was born I set up both of my full spectrum light boxes and our bathroom heater in her room. I turned the heat in our house way up. We both got into our bathing suits and sat around on a blanket. Maybe not what I had in mind. Our first annual indoor beach party has thus far been our last.

indoor beach party
It just wasn’t the same
Self-care has come to mean simple self-preservation

It is not the picture painted by parenting magazines. It’s not glamorous. There are no pristine bathtubs with mountains of rose-scented bubbles. There’s no crystal wine glass full of expensive red wine. Instead, there is a questionable stain on the tile, a pile of slowly mildewing bath toys, and some Elmo bath color tablets to make the water a refreshing mini-golf turquoise. One time there was a bowl of yellow water sitting next to my head. I assumed it was a bath color tablet. It was pee. Hello from the mother side.

Last week, I caught Rowan’s cold. There is not a lot of rest when you’re sick with children around. One not-insubstantial perk of being a full-time work out of the home mother at a large company is that I get sick time. Now, most of my sick time has been used to care for Rowan, but today I took a few hours for myself.

This is the picture of reality. The image of self-care. It is a sleep-deprived mother, coughing up grossness from her lungs, coming home to her messy house and taking a fucking nap.

Two hours. I slept for two hours. Then I played on my phone in blissful silence for another two hours. Then I went and picked up my kids and life as we know it moved forward.

No beach. No massage. Just lots of used tissues and sheets that should have been changed a week ago. But I was in those sheets by myself. No toes digging into my stomach or hands flopping across my face. Just me.

This is bottom of the barrel self-care. Nobody is going to post pictures of it in a magazine or write a how-to guide for stressed-out mothers based on my experience.

But sometimes it’s what we’ve got. And we have to steal those moments when we are able, to keep ourselves just barely afloat until the next time we manage to toss ourselves a life raft.

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