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!