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As a working mom who powers through pretty much any obstacle in my path, it often takes a full-scale calamity for me to realize my methods aren’t working.
One of those moments of clarity happened last week as I was preparing for a friend’s wedding across the country. Less than 12 hours before my 5 a.m. flight, I found myself furiously Googling salons in the city I’d be visiting because I hadn’t touched up my roots, cut my hair, painted my nails or waxed my eyebrows in months. Oh, I also hadn’t picked up my bridesmaid dress or bought shoes to match said dress, and wound up running through DSW like an Olympic sprinter just to make it to daycare pickup on time.
I also had to grab a pair of Spanx because I hadn’t exercised in months and had packed on 15 pounds. In short, I was a mess—a sweaty, frazzled, angry mess. Why had I done this to myself?
My son’s laundry had been done. His bags had been packed. My husband had been tasked with booking airport parking and a rental car at our destination. In short, I had taken care of everyone but myself. And it hit me: I have been stuck in survival mode for so long, I haven’t even paused to realize the many ways it actually makes my life harder when I don’t take care of me too. Here’s why:
It’s also just taking care of yourself. It’s actually going to the doctor and the dentist for a check-up. It’s remembering to take your vitamins and prescribed medications. It’s laughing with friends. It’s being kind to your body, so you can keep it around for at least a few more decades.
Why? Because, like me, you end up scrambling to get it all done at the last minute for some important event or another. Or you end up stuck in a cycle of niggling guilt that goes something like this: look at ragged cuticles, vow to fix them, forget to fix them, feel guilty about ragged cuticles, vow to fix them, forget to fix them, feel guilty about ragged cuticles …
Women’s bodies can birth and feed babies, which is pretty awesome, but our bodies can also climb mountains and run races and dance to a good beat. On that vacation I tried one of those fancy spin bikes, and I remembered just how good it feels to conquer a physical challenge. And endorphins are a hell of a natural drug, which leads me to my next point …
When you feel good about how you look, you’re happier and more confident. And when you’re happier, you’re kinder to the people you love. And if you have negative feelings about your body, it’s almost impossible to keep them from distracting you during, ahem, Grown-Up Time. And more sex makes you a better mom and employee.
Kids are wonderful but grueling. And it can be all too easy to feel resentment toward them when, say, you’re desperately squeezing out the last two drops of foundation in your makeup bag because you’ve spent the last few Saturdays at kids’ birthday parties and haven’t had a chance to run to Sephora.
Sure, I’d love to live in a world where women could frolic free of bras and mascara, but we’re not there yet. I give huge props to women like Frances McDormand who proudly go makeup-free, but it’s simply not a possibility for many women who want to advance in a professional work setting.
Which leads me to my final revelation: Since self-care is essentially a work requirement, I should treat it like one. I should schedule necessary personal appointments far in advance and keep them. Put workout sessions on my calendar and refuse to move them. Step away from my desk during lunch and actually tackle a personal assignment or two. And most importantly, I’m going to say no—most especially to Saturday birthday parties when I have plans to go to Sephora. I will not take on more family “assignments” than I can reasonably complete.
Of course, it’s an enormous privilege to have a job and a husband who supports me in scaling back. But I do think all working moms can and should find small ways to take care of ourselves every now and then. Because I know this for damn sure: We’ve earned it.
Written by Audrey Goodson Kingo for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.