This post is part of the Mental Health Monday series & is written by a guest blogger. Read all about this author at the end of this article.
Community is valuable for self-care in early motherhood.
When I became a mother nearly a decade ago, I had no idea how valuable community would be in caring for myself. Self-care was beginning its rise as a pop culture buzzword. The transition from working full-time to being a full-time stay-at-home-mom was jarring for me. Additionally, my husband traveled for work, so I was often home alone with my baby for two or three days a week.
The early days of motherhood could be draining, and I was eager to engage in this new-to-me idea of self-care. It seemed like a promise to cure what ailed me – fatigue, frustration, and irritability. In fact, the messaging seemed to say that I was struggling primarily because I wasn’t taking care of myself. If I could just steal some quiet moments for a bubble bath or to visit Starbucks, I’d feel better, right?
The trouble was that those little acts of “self-care” didn't ultimately change anything. They were mostly solitary moments where my goal was to escape the challenges of my life. They might have offered momentary relief, but they didn’t help me feel better in the long run.
The Problem with Self-Care is that most common self-care activities are solitary.
We often associate self-care with bubble baths, massages, and a secret stash of chocolate at the back of the pantry. While nothing is inherently wrong with any of those activities, I’d argue that they don’t encompass true self-care, but rather self-comfort. Each of those endeavors is also a generally solitary one.
And that’s the problem with so much of what our society labels “self-care”; much of it is self-focused, self-indulgent, and solitary. But a huge part of mental and emotional health is bound up in community and the quality of our relationships.
The problem with so much of what our society labels “self-care” [is that] much of it is self-focused, self-indulgent, and solitary. But a huge part of mental and emotional health is bound up in community and the quality of our relationships.Katie Pozzuoli | KatiePozzuoli.com
When I look back on the first year of motherhood, it isn’t lost sleep or my attempts at “self-care” that I remember. Rather, it's the camaraderie of sitting and talking with my closest friends while we nursed our babies. It was community that made the first year of motherhood – and the many years since – not just bearable, but joy-filled.
What is self-care, really?
My personal definition for self-care is “any activity that strengthens my body, soul, or spirit and equips me to live my actual life.”
Bubble baths and salon pedicures are great, but they aren’t sustainable practices that strengthen and equip me to face the reality of my circumstances.
I've been the happiest and most healthy when I was connected to community – at my church, in my neighborhood, even at the local YMCA. Being rooted in those communities has been integral to my overall well-being. I don’t want to imagine my life without my girlfriends. They are the ones I text when I’m struggling; they have walked through the mountains and valleys of life and relationships with me throughout adulthood and my mothering journey.
Self-Care within community is valuable and necessary.
If I want to be a healthy, happy, whole human being, it is vital that I include community and connection at the forefront of my self-care practice.
For me, that looks like a monthly Dinner Club, regular playdates for my kids where I get to visit with my mom friends, joining group classes instead of working out alone, and an annual girls’ weekend. It also looks like a standing weekly phone date with my sister and keeping in touch with friends both near and far through Voxer, a voice chat app.
By cultivating community, I have a network of (mostly) women whom I can reach out to when I need help. I have women who will empathize with me, while also holding me to a high standard of integrity. There is nothing quite like hearing a friend – who has been in the trenches with you – say, “You’re doing an amazing job.”
My perspective of self-care has shifted over the years. I no longer expect a bubble bath or a chocolate bar to fix my problems. I’m more likely to consider silence, going to bed early, paying off debt, or a morning routine as self-care. But I’ve also expanded my definition of self-care to include being deeply rooted in a supportive community. Giving and receiving care within that space has been truly life-giving for me.
Katie Pozzuoli is a writer who has spent most of her adult life figuring out – through a lot of trial and error – the practices that help her to thrive as a wife and mom of three. Online, she writes about how to build sustainable self-care habits, and she elevates women who are doing just that.
Katie makes her home in Southeastern Ohio with her family and their rescue pup.