Recently, a woman on my Psychowith6 Facebook page, made a comment on the self-care movement. I wasn’t aware that self-care was a movement, but she got me thinking. Previously, I wrote How to Be Happy and Homeschool, Too in which I discussed the importance of what could be called self-care. In fact, I frequently talk about the importance of it during my sessions at Great Homeschool Conventions. I suddenly found myself wondering if I had been teaching wrong things. So I wanted to address the topic in today’s episode. Is self-care a snare? I am tempted to tell you the right way to think about this issue. But instead, I am going to give you some considerations for you to take to the Lord.
How should we define self-care?
First, I want to take time to define self-care. We can’t have a fruitful discussion if we haven’t defined our terms.
Time away from family
A couple of years ago I asked on my Psychowith6 Facebook page how long it had been since moms had been out on a date. One response that I got surprised me. The mom said that she not only hadn’t been out on a date, but she thought that staying home with her family was the whole point of homeschooling. I’m not going to take issue with her statement now. But I am going to take from her statement one potential definition of self-care: time away from your family.
This definition of self-care can certainly elicit strong opinions. I have taken time away from my family over the years, whether I was off to scrapbook with my friends while my husband watched the kids, whether I had time to run errands while my niece watched my young children, or whether I accompanied my husband on a business trip out of town while family or friends watched my kids.
I believe that I have benefited greatly from that time away. And while that has been my experience, I would not insist that every homeschooling mom needs that time away from her family. I think that that is again something that you will want to take to the Lord.
Justification for destructive behavior
Another definition of self-care surprised me. I was talking with a formerly homeschooled young man who is now a college graduate. He asked me what I thought of the self-care movement. Again with the movement. I had no idea that this was such a popular thing. And I asked him why he was asking my opinion and furthermore what his definition of self-care was. He began to tell me that people his age were using self-care to describe their destructive habits. For example, friends might say they had spent the night drinking because of self-care. Or they might say that they had been binge eating or watching Netflix all day when they should be working or studying. This they described as self-care.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that this is not my definition of self-care. I can see taking a day off to relax and even to indulge in more treats than normal. But anything that harms us or dishonors God or others is not how I would define self-care, nor is it anything I would recommend.
Caring for our body, mind, and spirit in a way that allows us to continue caring for other people
Physical self-care is important. If I do not pay attention to signs of illness that require medical care and I let it go too long in a way that results in my inability to teach my kids and care for my family, I am not loving myself, my family, or God.
Mental self-care is important. If I am not having a mental and emotional time of refreshment and quiet where I can think and relax, my very sanity may be at risk. You might think I am exaggerating, but our mental self-care or lack there of can lead to crippling depression, anxiety, and even psychosis.
Finally, spiritual self-care is important. The less connected I am to the Lord, the more likely I am to have physical and mental problems. Time for worship in a way that builds that connection allows me to fill up on God’s love that I can then share with others.
Is Self-Care Selfish?
The next issue I’d like to address is whether or not self-care is selfish. That whole issue will turn on your definition of self-care. If you believe that time away from your family is harmful to you or your family, then by that definition self-care could be selfish. If your definition is like my young friend’s, then behaving in a destructive way can absolutely be selfish. You are likely not concerning yourself with other people’s needs and you are putting your body and mind at risk. But if you are taking time to care for your body, mind, and spirit in a way that enables you to care more for other people, I do not think that self-care is selfish.
So given that you can already sense my answer to the question on selfishness, let’s talk about what unselfish self-care might look like. Let’s start by discussing care of the body. I was very surprised to hear other homeschooling moms I know talk about exercising as selfish. This is one of the reasons they didn’t engage in it. I suspect that that has to do with the time away from family definition. So if you are leaving the kids at home while you go and get exercise, or you are leaving your kids in a gym daycare, and that feels selfish to you, I am not going to try to convince you that time away from your family isn’t selfish. I likely couldn’t do it if that is your fundamental belief. Instead, I’m going to say that exercise is one of the most powerful treatments and preventatives we have for dozens of diseases. The Bible says that physical training is of some value.So it isn’t that exercise is evil and staying at home and praying and serving your family is the only unselfish thing. No, exercise helps to keep you healthy and strong and energetic and even mentally equipped to keep teaching and serving your family.
If being away from your family is an issue for you, know that there are many ways you can get exercise as a family. Walk, play a sport together, do an exercise video together. You can even use your baby as part of your exercise routine, whether that’s walking with your baby in a stroller or doing chest presses or squats with your baby in your arms.
The next unselfish way to care for your body is to get enough sleep. You are more likely to be ill or irritable if you aren’t getting enough sleep. I recently watched a video of a mom talking about falling asleep while driving with her kids in the car. Two of her children were killed in the car accident she had. Do whatever you have to do to get enough sleep. Sleep while your kids nap or watch videos, ask your husband to watch the kids while you get to bed early, or hire a mother’s helper to get yourself some extra sleep. Jesus slept when He was tired, even in the midst of a storm. His disciples wouldn’t dare have called him selfish!
Body self-care isn’t selfish because your family wants you to take care of yourself. Your family does not want you to be too overweight to play with them and engage with them. They don’t want you to be too tired or too sick to teach them and enjoy spending time with them. Your husband doesn’t want you to be too exhausted to have intimacy with him. Self-care of our bodies is one of the most unselfish things that we can do.
Self-care of our minds and spirits can also be unselfish. I scrapbook once a week at a friend’s house if my schedule allows it. While I am gone, I relive wonderful memories of times with my family and friends. I talk with my friend about what’s been going on in our lives. By the time I return home, I am usually in a fantastic mood. I’ve not only relived great memories, but I have had a refreshing time of talking. The added bonus is I often have finished scrapbooking pages to show my family. My husband and my kids love my scrapbooking. Sometimes I include my daughter in our scrapbooking sessions and it becomes a special time for her, my friend, and I. Could scrapbooking become something that is selfish? It certainly could. It hasn’t in my life, but I believe that anything that we truly enjoy can be used in a self-serving manner.
Spiritual self-care can be reading Scripture, praying, reading Christian books, listening to sermons or Christian podcasts, attending worship, singing, or playing a musical instrument, and attending a retreat for starters. Whatever leads us closer to God and isn’t harming us or our family is not selfish but a loving thing to do.
Is self-care a slippery slope?
Aside from selfishness, the issue some have with self-care is that it’s a slippery slope. And it can be. I was reading a Christian novel on our group family vacation and while I enjoyed the mental and spiritual break it provided, I found myself wanting to keep reading instead of interacting with friends and family.
If your self-care is resulting in more and more time away or more and more childcare, or if you’re spending more money that your family doesn’t have, you should be cautious. We should ask ourselves if our self-care is leading us closer to Christ and to more love for others, and if not, we should reevaluate.
The snare of guilt
Even though it can be a slippery slope, self-care doesn’t have to be a snare. Guilt and pride are more likely to trip us up. If we feel guilty every time we go to the gym, the enemy can use it. He can convince us that we are terrible mothers, that something awful will happen if we aren’t home, and even that God isn’t pleased with us. The Holy Spirit can use guilt to check sin, but persistent guilt where there is no sin is not from the Lord. In this case, guilt is the real snare. Take your guilt to the Lord and ask Him how to respond.
The snare of pride
The next real snare is pride. We may be tempted to judge others’ self-care. If you’re an introvert, your self-care will likely not be getting out with friends. Yours may be staying home to have some quiet time. That’s still self-care, no better and no worse than the mom who is physically, emotionally, and spiritually built up by being with others outside her home.
So, is self-care a snare? Think about what you do to care for your body, mind, and spirit. Is it destructive, excessive, or expensive? Does it draw you closer to God and your family? Ask the Lord about your self-care or lack thereof and trust His answer.