The other day was a good one for me. I was able to take a shower alone, without any interruptions. I then escaped to the grocery store without my kids and stayed under budget, while also managing to sneak in a trip to TJ Maxx and HomeGoods. And as if that wasn't enough, when I returned, my husband — completely unprompted — encouraged me to indulge in a dinner date by myself at my favorite winery, Old York Cellars.
And yet I fought him on it. I cited the errands I still had to run, the kitchen that still needed to be cleaned, and the kids that still needed to be bathed. And of course, I told him I was fine because of the amazing shower I had earlier. But he insisted on taking care of the kids, and dropped me off at the winery himself, knowing that if it were up to me, I wouldn’t have gone.
Because my husband knew what I, apparently, had forgotten: That a shower is not enough. Contrary to what all those memes tell us, a shower is not self care. It's personal hygiene. It's not a substitute for alone time, it's a basic necessity that, especially now, moms are often unable to enjoy alone, or even find the time for.
Like most women, I have been everything to everybody during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Us moms have been de facto chefs, chauffeurs, personal stylists, secretaries, therapists, event coordinators, and teachers to our families, and we’ve been doing it for so long with little-to-no breaks that we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s "normal" to do it all while running on empty.
The pandemic, combined with the preexisting inequities that existed in and outside the home, has made it nearly impossible for moms in this country to feel as though they can come up for air. For example, the United States is the only industrialized nation without mandatory federal paid parental leave, even though 72 percent of moms work either part-time or full-time while still handling most household and childcare responsibilities.
And according to a 2019 survey by Motherly, 85 percent of moms felt as though society does not support them or understand their needs — and that was before the pandemic (this year's survey revealed 92 percent of moms now feel unsupported).
As a result, moms are often described as superheroes carrying the weight of the world on their backs. Instead of being viewed as human beings with needs and wants all their own, they're seen as superhuman entities made to live a life of selflessness and sacrifice. This is even more true for Black, brown, and indigenous moms, who in addition to gender-based stereotypes, face prejudices and injustices based on race as well. And the problem with being seen as a superhero is people forget you’re actually a human who needs a break and a chance to remove the cape.
Meanwhile, us moms are made to feel like we should happily settle for a shower — a small slice of bliss to recharge. But a shower is not enough, even if other people — including ourselves — have convinced us that it is. The same goes for grocery shopping, errand running, or any other so-called act of "self care" that's really just moms scratching another thing off her to-do list.
Yes, my shopping day the other week went smoothly and that shower was the icing on top of the cake, but in hindsight it’s not everything I needed — and it never will be. While a shower can be a much-needed escape from the world, it’s not enough for a woman to feel whole, cherished, and relieved of life’s burdens. And the bottom line is, I shouldn’t have needed to "escape." In those moments when a shower is my temporary reprieve, what I really need is support, forgiveness, and permission to buckle my knees under the weight of the pressure and know that it’s okay if I don’t live up to those prevailing and entirely unhealthy and unrealistic superhero ideals.
Most importantly, we need support systems that show up for me and moms like me, instead of leaving us all to rely on something as simple as a shower to feel human and worthy of help and reprieve. When an escape is so badly needed, a shower is only a temporary fix to the issues around why so many women neglect self-care. But when you’re so used to running on empty, a shower can feel like more than enough — in fact, it can feel like the ultimate getaway.
The solo dinner that followed that blissful shower helped me realize that not only do I deserve a rejuvenating shower, I deserve any moment of luxury, reprieve, or enjoyment in my life without having to feel judged, guilty, or lacking as a mother. For me, that might mean treating myself to the satin pajamas even though the cotton ones are more practical, or subscribing to a meal planning kit that makes cooking weeknight dinners that much easier. And I can do all this while simultaneously receiving a helping hand from my spouse, friends, and family members because running a household and building a life should never be a one-woman show. If it will make life a little easier and a tad more enjoyable, have at it. Allowing myself to indulge in these things doesn’t make me lazy, selfish, or difficult.
When so many women are still wearing the same nursing bras long after their kids are in middle school, we can all use a reminder that luxury and self-indulgence can — and should — extend far past a shower.
I can only hope that more women begin to feel free to take that uninterrupted shower and treat themselves to the fanciest solo dinner they can afford as they see fit, without guilt and name calling. And while they’re at it, sprinkle that meal with some boundary setting, asking for help, saying no, forgiving themselves, and spending time alone, because self care is all of that and more.
Most importantly, I hope those who love moms support this for us, so that self-care doesn't become just another thing on our to-do list, but something that truly makes us feel human and whole again.
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