We get it. Insta-worthy candles, bath bombs and massages have their merits, but in the midst of motherhood, what does self-care truly look like?
It tickles me when someone suggests some ‘me’ time when I’m deep in the pits of juggling my mom life and everything else that I have to do. Yes, some time for myself is necessary for my sanity, but that doesn’t mean that everything I’ve been stressing about will go away.
Have you heard of the mental load? It’s a continuous cycle of thinking, planning and organising domestic life. Unsurprisingly, it is seen as a feminist issue, because the mental load tends to disproportionately fall on women in relationships with men, and those with families. Women have been taught from a young age to keep everything in the home under control, while men are often raised to believe domesticity simply isn’t their thing – regularly faking incompetence to get out of it.
Two years into motherhood, and honestly, I still haven’t figured things out. While I have the superhuman ability to grow a third arm when I’m carrying my son in one and his meal in another, my husband doesn’t know how much Zyrtec to give him. Does making time for self-care mean anything at all if you’re still the one who has to go through the mental list of things that need to be purchased or replaced, classes and appointments that need to be booked for, bills that need to be paid? Can your body ever truly relax?
The mental load is a heavy one. After my father’s death, I have had to pick up everything that he once managed — my parents’ home and the expenses there, my mother’s wellbeing and her finances, and on top of that, my household, my son’s life, my work, and somehow, somewhere while carrying the weight of the entire world on my back, I try to find time to do me.
And don’t get me wrong, I do try — I find time to work out, or have a 45-minute lie-down session at Pure Wellness Studio and I try to find time with my friends when time permits, but the problem remains — if I dropped the mental load, nobody would pick it up.
We’ve managed to structure our emotional lives into artificial binaries: public and private, work and family, carer and cared for – and becoming a mother means you have definitively leaped into the side of carers without turning back. Even through the baptism of fire that were the newborn days, I never saw motherhood as sacrifice because I wanted this all. And there are days when I long for a time when I didn’t have to carry a mental load, because someone else — my mother — was probably doing it for me.
Somehow we live in a world where our needs come second — sixth, even — and sometimes, no massage, or workout, or indulgent shopping session will help the emotional burden of having the weight of the world on my shoulders. I have to learn that self-care doesn’t mean that I get to entirely shrug off the responsibilities, but it’s really truly just about getting pockets of time where I get some semblance of a life without dragging a small human along.
But then are areas, grey spaces of overlap like tonight, when my two-year-old thinks he’s the one getting all the comfort by wrapping his little body around mine when he sleeps, that in fact, the roles are switched and he is my carer. With his little form wrapped around my torso, the rigid societal distinctions break down and my strengths co-exist with my weaknesses.
A version of this article first appeared on www.femalemag.com.sg.