Why Isn't Self-Care Working for Me?

You indulge routinely on Netflix binges and you balance out your Month of Girl Scout Cookies with a Whole 30 (ish), but you still feel--uncared for. Maybe you need more than a morning at Target? Maybe you need a weekend off? A week? A year? 

Here's another idea: maybe self-care isn't working for you because you see it as indulgence, rather than rightfully deserved.

Self-care, for legions of women, is an exploration of value: do women have inherent value, outside of the explicit value they provide to family, society, and so forth? Things that are valuable should be taken care of. Things that do not have value should not be taken care of.

Underneath Treat yo Self

Self-care is repugnant to many because it forces us to face the fact that we have worth simply because we're human, and that as humans of worth, we are as deserving of tender, kind, gentle love as the children we care for. 

Let me kind of flesh out how it works in my own life: I used to see my stretched-out, stretch-mark riddled belly in the bathroom mirror and say, "gross, Sarah." I wouldn't actually say the words, but I would feel the words.

When my daughter turned three, she started watching me intently whenever I was doing bathroom things--washing my face, showering, putting on makeup. She would pat my tummy with her little hands and say things like "your tummy is soft, mommy!" 


Her small action made me pay attention to my mental script, and I could not let her hear my inner disgust for fear she'd feel the same disgust for her own body. I started making myself say "thank you God for this beautiful, strong belly" every time I saw it in the mirror. 

At first, the words were repulsive. They still are, sometimes, but I've found that now when my daughter says, "I love your tummy, mom," and pats it with her little hands, I can say, "me too."

Maybe you have different mental scripts that argue your worth. Maybe they sound like these:

  • good moms don't need self-care (self-care is so indulgent)
  • you feel ashamed of caring for yourself (I don't deserve self-care)
  • you don't like yourself (so why would you take care of yourself?)
  • you don't want to "put out" other people (I don't want them to be inconvenienced for my sake)

Swapping Mental Scripts

Let's name where those scripts come from, shall we? Hell. It's hell. Those scripts come from hell.

Here are some new, better mental scripts:

  • I am worthy of taking up space and being here.
  • I matter.
  • I am known, counted, and sung over.
  • I am beautiful.
  • I am loved.
  • I am worth being taken care of.
  • I have a purpose and a destiny.

I find that mental scripts are helpful, but what's more powerful (miraculously so) is finding God's words to use as a mental script. All of the above scripts can be found in these verses:

Psalm 139:13-16
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 

Isaiah 40:11
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. 

John 15:9 
I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. 

Zephaniah 3:17
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. 


When I became pregnant with my daughter I memorized the Psalm 139 passage from above. I say it to her at bedtime; it's "her" verse. She knows it by heart now, too.

If my daughter's generation is going to know their worth as women--as humans--it starts in my generation. On my watch. With me. 

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PS a love story you don't want to miss here and what you don't know about self-care here

hard truths about why self care may not be working for you #motherhood #encouragement #faith #selflove

What You Don't Know About Self-Care

What I didn't know about self-care might have killed me

I hit a wall after my third child was born. I had the beginnings of diastasis and an umbilical hernia and I couldn't lift my children--even the tiniest one--without hurting. Pushing a grocery cart with the goods to feed a family of five would leave me aching for the rest of the day. I would mentally measure the amount of pain a thirty-minute drive would cost; would I have the strength after to lift carriers out of the car, to not scream at my children when they fought the rest of the day?


We talk a lot about self-care as if it were a pint of icecream or a bubble bath. A moment alone. A visit to Target, alone.


The conversation about self-care, at its core, is an exploration of value. Do I have value as a woman, outside the value I have as my children's mother? Are my children's needs more important--more valuable--than mine? If all of me loves all of you, does that mean I sacrifice all of me for all of you?

Answers I Can't Find

Motherhood subcultures usually have some sort of formula that allows us to punch in the variables so that we get some kind of answer. Some say all children's needs are more valuable than the mother's and imply her nobility correlates to the amount of her sacrifice.


Some say the mother's needs are more valuable--if mom isn't happy and fulfilled, children can't be happy and fulfilled, and women must quest to achieve this happiness.


Both make compelling arguments, but as I straddle multiple sub-cultures (working mom, stay at home mom, Christian mom, homeschool mom, public school mom, mom of children in diapers, mom of elementary children) I struggle to reconcile the disparate formulas.


I wrestle empirically and I wrestle daily: my three-month-old's screaming need for food is surely more important than my need for a shower, but not my need for water or food. If I don't drink or eat, I don't produce milk.

Why do we wait till we're at our end to heal ourselves?

But are all my needs boiled down to serving myself so I can serve them? Can I lose myself so completely in service that it's not service anymore at all, but some kind of desperate sacrificial competition?


My physical pain, those three years ago when my third son was tiny, was so intense that I finally faced it. I made an appointment with my doctor. I researched. I walked, daily, hobbling around my block until my ten minutes of pain and subsequent ice down strengthened into a fast mile, easy. I created a bedtime routine to put myself to sleep, much the same way I helped my children sleep. I fed myself well.

The Shame of It 

Here’s what I’ve learned in these years of imposed self-care: self-care is a lightning rod for shame. And Christian women have shame in spades. Sometimes it’s so widespread that I think it might be woven into our very culture; to be a Christian woman is to be ashamed of our very existence.

Sometimes I think that’s all any of us are trying to prove: if I just stay home mom good enough or if I just working mom good enough I’ll prove I’m worth something.


My children aren't breastfeeding anymore or waking in the night anymore. I can breathe a little more, get on top of self-care a little more. But I still struggle to walk the block before I do a writing job that earns grocery money. My pain isn’t physical anymore but cosmetic--my bulging muscles don’t compel me to take action the way my inability to care for my children did.


What is different? I do things now, away from my children, for the sheer love of the things. I write. I live. I have friends. I am not ashamed. I hold my personhood, my womanhood, offered up as a beautiful! vibrant! stunning! fragrant! offering in one open hand, while with the other hand I give away my Savior-given crown so I’m unencumbered to serve.


If my sacrifice as a Christian isn’t swallowed up in unspeakable joy, I’m doing it wrong. If self-care doesn’t make me a better servant, I’m doing it wrong. If service means I forget my own humanity, I'm doing it wrong.


Maybe, today, I take a bath, and maybe I don’t. Maybe I walk the block, maybe I don’t. Maybe I adjust my crown, and then hand it to somebody else.


I'll be honest; when Emily over at Kindred Mom announced they'd be spending a whole month writing about self-care, I grimaced. A whole month?? Emily challenged me to dig deeper; she was so right, and I was so wrong. Thank you, Emily! 

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PS 31 things I've learned in 31 years here and what I learned from A Wrinkle in Time here

what you don't know about self-care