A Maternal Theory of Self Care: 20 acts of self-care for when consumer capitalism isn’t enough

“Self-care” has become a popular term in the last few years, and with good reason. The Audre Lorde quote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” resonates with many who have popularized the doctrine of self-care. Femininity and femaleness bear care-giving and nurturing associations, which often become expectations (both internal and external) and demands.  “Self-care” is a reminder to prioritize our own well-being amongst the other emotional labour we do, whether that is parenting, being a good partner and friend, working in a profession such as teaching or counseling, or social activism. Self-care reminds us to set emotional boundaries, and boundaries on our time and outward productivity. Time spent nurturing our own well-being is just as legitimate as time spent at work or on other “productive” tasks, but we often feel anxious or guilty for taking that time.

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The problem with the popularity of “self-care”, is that it risks being conflated with the Parks and Recreation-coined phrase “treat yo self.” Now, I am not here to condemn “treat yo self”! Far be it for me and my thirty-six lipsticks to judge anyone for enjoying some retail therapy… or Netflix binges, or dessert for no reason, or sleeping until noon…. But, reducing self-care to various acts of consumption removes the nurturing, and radical core, of the concept.  A holistic understanding of self-care ultimately has to focus on the care portion – instead of being a moment to stop caring because you’re overburdened, it should be a moment to turn your caring and nurturing energy inward to rebuild.

To help me maintain a good balance of tough (self)love and more gentle nurturing, I use what I call the Maternal Theory of Self-Care, which is that sometimes you have to be your own mom and sometimes you have to be your own grandma.* Being your own mom entails things like making yourself do your chores when you don’t feel like it, making sure you’re eating balanced meals and going outside to play enough, sitting yourself down and having an honest talk about “what’s bothering you?”, and sometimes even putting yourself in a time out when you’re not playing well with others. The strict, but caring “for your own good” stuff, in other words. Being your own grandma, on the other hand, involves treats and sympathy.

*Speaking archetypally, of course. You may not want to model your self-care after your own particular mother or grandmother, or may have other figures who fill these roles better.

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 10 ways to be your own mom

  • Clean your space. It’s a pigsty. Do the laundry while you’re at it.
  • Cook a proper meal with all the food groups. Maybe even cook something that isn’t cooked all in one pan! Or even go full mom and write a meal plan for the week.
  • Go for a walk/run/work out. Play outside.
  • Wash your face every day (and don’t pick at that pimple). Take your make up off before bed, too.
  • Make that appointment; doctor, therapist, hairdresser, whatever. And then go.
  • Don’t skip that party. You know you’ll have fun once you’re there!!
  • Take your meds, if you have them.
  • Do the damn dishes and clean the kitchen counters. How do you think you’ll feel coming home from a long day at work to that, hm?
  • Purge your closet. Are you really going to wear that again? It’s just taking up space…
  • Why don’t you ever use that musical instrument/bicycle/art supplies/etc? You paid for that and used to love using it…. (in other words, make/do something fun! Return to an old hobby or start a new one.)

 10 ways to be your own grandma

  • Make (order) your favourite meal. Have seconds!
  • And save room for dessert….
  • Take the day off and go on a nice outing.
  • Or stay in and spend quality time with yourself.
  • Cozy up and have a nap.
  • You don’t have to go to that party. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, dear!
  • Make yourself some tea.
  • Tell yourself you look beautiful.
  • Let yourself get away with being fussy, angry, and sad. Be sympathetic to yourself and validate your feelings, even if you know you’re being a bit of a baby.
  • And, of course, buy yourself a present for no reason.

lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta.

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