Thursday, August 31, 2017

Exercise: Self Care vs. Self Indulgent

At some point this summer, a friend who was giving me a compliment in front of the group, mentioned that I was really good at making time for myself.  It was something she struggled with and she wanted me to share any tips or tricks I might have.

It's true, I am good at squeezing in a workout almost every day, and I call it my me-time.  I have made exercise time a priority in my schedule and have a personality that really NEEDS it in order to keep all the other areas of my life sane.  Besides, keeping our bodies healthy is actually what we are supposed to be doing in thanksgiving for God's creation.  I'm a better e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g when I've done some physical activity (just ask my husband who hands me my sneakers when I'm having a stressed out day).   

Yet still, the compliment stung just a bit.  Many moms I know make comments about putting themselves last, devoting all their time and energy to their husband and children, and therefore can't seem to find the time to exercise.  When I hear these things, I feel bad for them.  They think that not taking care of themselves is somehow the right thing to do as a wife/mother.  Is it being a better mother to get sick from an illness that could have been prevented with a regular exercise routine?  How would that benefit her family?  I recently had a coworker say that she could never understand the mothers who went to the gym right after work, because she was always rushing to go pick up the kids just so she could squeeze in more time with them.  These little jabs always make me question my priorities.  As a mom, am I supposed to be using any free time I have cooking in the kitchen, or playing with my children, or cleaning the house? I am called to serve my family, so is taking an hour out of the day to go for a run actually more self-indulgent than self-care?  Should I feel guilty for doing something good for my own health?  

I googled what self-indulgent means, and got this:

characterized by doing or tending to do exactly what one wants, especially when this involves pleasure or idleness.

On the other hand, Self-Care is defined as:

Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others.

It can get tricky, right?  I decided to replace "working out" (the activity I choose for my me-time) with "reading a book" (the activity others may choose for their free time).  Reading a book may be classified as self-care if you've poured yourself out all day to those around you and need a recharge.  It may be self-indulgent if you are ignoring your motherly duties in order to get one more chapter finished.  So it's not the action of reading a book that is right or wrong, it's how we fit it into our lives.  The same would hold true for exercise.  

There are plenty of days (like yesterday) that I am literally driving to drop off/pick up kids all afternoon and evening and I can't make time to exercise until late at night when I'm exhausted.  So it just didn't happen yesterday.  I did take the dog for a walk after the little kids went to bed, but it rained, so even that was short-lived.  But on most days, I can look at what needs to be done for the day, and figure out a time I can workout (and Phil too) that doesn't disrupt our day too much.  I run while I'm stuck at soccer practice with a kid, I head to the gym during naptime, I wake up early or stay up late to fit it in.  That's self-care, pure and simple.  Are there times I have decided to go for a run instead of spending an hour playing with my baby?  Yup, guilty.  And perhaps that run was more self-indulgent.  

But perhaps my hour of me-time doesn't always have to get squeezed into somebody else's schedule or made to wait until everybody's needs are met.  Every once in a while, a parent's self-care might come before the rest of the family.  It's always a good practice to be honest with ourselves and look at where and how we spend our time.  I check myself often because people comment on how they can not understand how I get time to exercise.  OK, look, we all probably have an hour each day to ourselves, so it's choosing how we spend it.  99% of the time I want to spend that hour working out if it hasn't already happened that day.  You might want to cook or clean or watch tv, or scroll social media.  It doesn't mean I'm better at taking time to myself, it just means I use my limited free time wisely for my needs.    

My friend, Kate, posted on Instagram last week the following gem:

Yesterday, I treated myself. To leftover pizza for dinner, served to everyone on paper towel. I treated myself to the kids watching Magic School Bus while I read my book after dinner. I treated myself to making peach blackberry crisp so that breakfast in the morning was easy. I treated myself to getting my tea pot set up and kitchen clean so this morning I could wake up to a peaceful scene. And finally, I treated myself to going to bed at 8:41, and luckily falling asleep pretty quick afterwards so I could treat myself to an 8.5 hr sleep. I woke up early, treating my early bird self to a cup of tea on the front steps, wrapped in a wool blanket, while all my children were still sleeping...... Does treating ourselves need to mean spending money and eating food not great for our body? Cause that seems to be the primary mainstream portrayal. That doesn’t seem like a long term sustainable practice to me. I can tell you 100% that this morning, I feel better than if I’d had an amazon shopping spree/eating giant bowls of ice cream/watching netflix/staying up late. #askmehowiknow So that to me defines what treat yo’self should really be about. Lets REALLY treat ourselves, ladies. Treat yourself like your body, mind and soul deserve to be treated.

Isn't that great?  Redefining treating ourselves as taking care of ourselves in the moment for the future.  I hope all moms and dads can  figure out a way to take care of their needs that doesn't cause them any guilt or family stress, and I hope maybe we can inspire each other and support each other in that journey.  


  1. This is such a good point. Even with just 2 kids at this point, I feel like I'd go crazy if I didn't take time for self-care! And exercising is the best way to do that for *me* - although I understand it's not that way for everyone, it really fulfills me and clears my head and makes me feel good about myself, all while costing not that much money. Win-win-win!

  2. My husband and I both run (him more than me (78 miles last week!)). We make time for it in our day for each other and fit it in where we can. Because mental health is important. I'm glad you take the time for yourself to do things that are really filling you up!

  3. Colleen! I am the same way about exercise. Without it inwould be checked into a loony bin.. Pregnancy modified bedrest is driving me insane right now.. and even in the new born stage when it's hard to get away for long runs I'll at least do 2 miles.. just to sweat.

  4. Amen! I needed to read this again as I look toward the school year and slightly readjusted schedules, needs and activities for the kids.
    We've talked about this before and I'll keep saying it, for me it is the mind-body connection. If I don't get my body moving in some fashion most days of the week, my stress and anxiety tends to increase. I get overwhelmed and then feel frustrated with everything else with myself and my body (because hey, my body just recently realized I'm getting older).
    Self care is a decision and the activity may vary for each of us. I need this old body to take care of these kids and husband, so I choose to stay fit and keep it moving.
    Thanks for the encouragement, bestie!

  5. I agree with everything about this post. My personality is also such that I NEED me-time absolutely, every day. It's so important for me to recharge otherwise I'm grumpy and irritated. Whether it's exercising, reading a book, just piddling around the house or even quietly watching tv. It's necessary for my sanity.

  6. I rarely get any time for myself at all. I don't get any time to do anything, really. However at work, DON"T schedule lunch meetings (Managers LOVE to do that), because that is my exercise time. It's all I get. It's sacred. If I didn't have it, I'd lose my mind. Exercise agreed.


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