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The Dangerous Lies of Self-Care: When Self-Care is Destructive

Raise your hand if you have ever heard the advice about putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting someone else.

I’m guessing we all have our hands raised.

It’s used all the time, and it goes something like this: “If you are on a plane that loses pressure and the oxygen masks falls out of the cabin, you should always place your mask on first before assisting anyone else to put theirs on”. This advice is solid- you need to have oxygen yourself to be of any help to anyone else. If you help someone else, but pass out yourself, you will not be of much assistance.

Many, many people have taken this advice and applied it to our lives as mothers:

If we don’t care for ourselves first, we can’t care for our children.

And while I completely agree with the sentiment, I think that we have taken it a little bit too far. In fact, we as a culture have begun to slip into dangerous territory when we continuously tell ourselves this lie. We have began to confuse self- care with a lack of self-discipline.

Now, before you get angry or offended, hear me out.

Self-care for mothers is vital. It’s so, so important. We truly can’t take care of our kids if we aren’t taking care of ourselves.

But we have to be very, very careful.

Because sometimes, in my life, I have noticed that I use self-care as an excuse. An excuse to not wake up in the morning, an excuse to let my kids watch just one more episode, an excuse to spend money on things- often money that we don’t have. 

You see…I was appalled to realize that I was using “self-care” as an excuse for a lack of self-discipline.

I would declare that I just needed a break…so I would turn on a show for my kids, and sit and scroll Instagram for an hour. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel very rested afterward.

I would see other people’s version of self-care, and decide that I, too needed a spa day complete with massage, facial, pedicure, and manicure. What a shock when I realized our bank account couldn’t afford that type of self-care.

I would assume an attitude of entitlement and every single time my kids reached a level of need that I thought I couldn’t stand, I would declare that I just needed a break! It is true…I do need breaks, and my children need to understand this. But daily breaks? Multiple times a day? Every time I feel exasperated? This sent a message to my children- that I didn’t want to be around them and that they are annoying by nature. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my children to feel this way based on how I am acting.  

I would take my needs and put them far above the needs of my children. After telling them to have self-control and not let their feelings control them, I would turn around and throw up my hands in the complete surrender of my own feelings. Instead of self-discipline like I encourage my children to have, I would turn to an elusive thing called “self-care”. 

After coming to the realization of how damaging this could become to my family, I decided to approach self-care in a new way. Is it vital in my life as a mother? Absolutely. Can it be done completely wrong so that it does more harm than good? Absolutely. But how can I walk this delicate balance between the truth of caring for myself and the lie of excuses to “take just one more break”?

As I started thinking more about this, I realized that I needed to set myself some guidelines.

  1. Be intentional about taking time to take care of myself. MAKE it happen. This means planning ahead, being intentional about saving money and arranging for a “village” to help me. 
  2. Make a list of the things that don’t take care of myself (scrolling social media, spending more money than we have) and things that actually will be taking care of myself (an afternoon out with friends, a bubble bath after bedtime). Double check this list when I am taking time to care for myself.
  3. Be careful to not whine and complain around my children that I need a break from them. Yes, they need to know that Mom (and Dad!) need breaks, and that parenting is hard work, but it shouldn’t be a constant reminder to them that they are burdensome.
  4. Don’t use the lies of self-care as an excuse to lack self-discipline. Some days I do need a break. But some days I need to just stop complaining and exercise perseverance, patience, and self-control. 
  5. So much of self-care is attitude. I can’t always choose or change my circumstances, but I can always choose and change my attitude. Sometimes “alone time” and “self-care” are not always possible, but my attitude towards my children and responsibilities can be changed.  

What about you? Do you feel like you have mastered the art of self-care, or do you sometimes lost sight of how to care for yourself effectively? What else would you add to this list?

4 Responses to The Dangerous Lies of Self-Care: When Self-Care is Destructive

  1. Jenny October 24, 2017 at 10:32 am #

    Love the wisdom here, Suz.

  2. joella October 25, 2017 at 8:08 pm #

    Wow, this speaks to my heart so much! I do that way too often… get frustrated so i go on instagram cause i ‘need a break’ but its not really a break. it’s not refreshing. it just creates more mom guilt. God is slowly getting through to me i think. 🙂 great post Suzanne!

  3. Reekah October 30, 2017 at 4:40 pm #

    I love this so much, Suzanne!! It can be so easy to fall into this trap of mom first than family, and I have totally seen myself doing this at times. Like the tips that you mentioned, I find that if I am more intentional about self-care than it is easier to stay away from the fine line that is easy to cross. Self care is good, but we also have to keep our priorities in order. Recently our church has been studying Philliipians and talking about JOY- Jesus, Others, Yourself. This can totally be applied to motherhood…as long as we don’t push self to far down the list. 🙂

  4. Naomi October 30, 2017 at 8:05 pm #

    Absolutely love your wisdom on this subject! I, too, have used self care as an excuse to act selfishly — especially during times of overwhelm! Recently, I’ve shied away from it at all, which has been unhealthy. Thank you for this timely post on balance and attitude!!!

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