“I’ve had it,” I tell myself. “I’m tired of putting myself last.”
Like countless other mothers, and out of love and responsibility, I take care of the other people in my family more often than myself. My brain is overloaded with information to indefinitely retain, seemingly insignificant details that keep our household running and happy (usually). These pieces of information could span from where the remote is hiding, to how much cash the tooth fairy should get. Such minutiae may seem superficial, but they are the foundations of routine, structure, and sanity in our house.
Yet they weigh heavy on those who must remember them.
Are their favorite snacks stocked? When are the library books due? Did the teacher send a worksheet home? Are the right size diapers in the diaper bag?
I look in the dresser, which is filled with decades-old, worn-out basics: socks developing holes, bras with underwires poking out, underwear beginning to fray.
I also find leggings that used to fit this mom-bod three kids ago as well as tank tops stained with sweat from toy purge sessions and chasing toddlers on the playground.
These well-loved clothes make me feel . . . well . . . less than well-loved.
You know the sensation of truly holey socks? The kind where the heel is worn so thin you feel every Cheerio crumb as you walk across the kitchen floor? Or the ones where your toe pops through, awkwardly making its appearance to the world pre-pedicure?
As I slip one of those socks on, rage bubbles up inside me. I decide—finally—to take care of myself first.
I am giddy with excitement, a level of which can only be matched by a 4-year-old on Christmas morning. I decide on a shopping trip to Target —alone—without kids or a grocery list.
But somehow the anticipation and thrill are overcast with guilt. You took a vacation day to go shopping? How ridiculous. You’re not getting anything for your family’s needs? So selfish. You don’t need any of this. What a waste of money.
The frugality I had been taught early on in young adulthood runs hot through my veins, almost convincing me to turn around and walk out.
I approach the Starbucks conveniently located at the front of the store, which for once has no line of customers. No ragged parents desperate for a portable cup of energy. No littles (mine included) hanging off the bottom of the cart. I order a super sugary iced coffee, a recipe I uncovered on TikTok. My voice is hushed, hoping to not be found out that I’m one of the 30-something moms infiltrating the land of TikTok. I avert my eyes from the tiny screen displaying my ridiculous total and walk to the counter for pickup.
“This is too indulgent,” I think to myself. But that’s another whisper I must brush off, letting the first sip of sweet cream cold foam hit.
Ignoring the magnetic pull toward my normal aisles for kid-approved snacks, laundry detergent, and air fresheners, I take my coffee and head to the women’s section. On my list: socks, underwear, bras, leggings, tanks. The next two hours are spent weaving through aisles I haven’t walked in years.
Motherhood is paved with insurmountable standards. We are expected to maintain a social life, a career, a fitness routine, a happy marriage, a clean house, a healthy kitchen, and well-behaved kids . . . oh, and our mental health.
It’s no surprise that we need to consider self-care.
When we do admit defeat, we’re often met with clichéd phrases of encouragement like, “If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of others!” or “You can’t run on empty.”
But how do we then balance the aforementioned expectations with this so-called self-care?
How do we selflessly prioritize ourselves when there is fear of being labeled lazy, disengaged, or entitled? And how do we do it when money is tight? When time has run out?
Maybe it’s not only the standards that need reevaluating but the box that self-care has been placed into. Caring for yourself doesn’t—and shouldn’t—look the same for any two people. The scale can tip to each extreme—yes, from a day at the spa to having five minutes alone to pee. But it’s that middle ground each mother needs time to explore.
Caring for yourself means leveling the playing field.
It means noticing, valuing, and fulfilling your needs, basic or extravagant.
It means fresh sheets and farmer’s market bouquets. It means a cocktail on the back patio or a fancy brunch out. It means pure silence or blasting a new record and dancing. It means happiness.
As I arrive home from my shopping adventure, I hang my new treasures in the closet and smile to myself. And the next day, when I get dressed without an eruption of frustration, I smile again.
These new socks feel holy indeed.