Since becoming a parent, you’ve probably heard the famous metaphor, “you can’t pour from an empty cup” more times than you can count. The meaning behind the saying is true, that you can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself first, but in motherhood, sometimes you have no choice but to turn that cup completely on end and shake it around until you’ve poured every last drop out before you can even begin to think about trying to refill it.
As moms, it can feel like we are being constantly reminded of the importance of taking time for self-care for our own well being and for our ability to care for our families. The benefits of self-care are undeniable, but moms are particularly notorious for not prioritizing it.
😔 I don’t know about you, but every time I feel pressured to fit in some time for self-care I scoff and think, “when?!”
It’s not that we wouldn’t love to reserve an hour for ourselves every day, because of course, we would. The problem is that a lot of us literally cannot carve out a chunk of time that big without dropping the ball somewhere else or sacrificing sleep, a shower or some other basic need. Self-care is supposed to be a way to recharge and improve our mental health, but when your schedule is already packed, it can start to carry the same weight as all of the other items on your never-ending to-do list.
This is why we need to shift our perspective a little bit on what counts as self-care. Simply put: self-care can sometimes look different for moms in different seasons of life.
So, instead of feeling a sense of defeat or failure for not penciling in an hour of self-care every day, we should instead zoom out and appreciate the collection of little moments we spend doing something we enjoy across the whole day.
Here are some of the ways you may be filling your cup, one drop at a time, throughout the day:
Spending 15 minutes scrolling through your favorite app (but not doom scrolling!)
Opting to take the route home that adds 5 extra minutes to your commute
Ordering takeout for dinner instead of cooking
Popping in your earbuds and listening to 10 minutes of your favorite podcast (bonus points if they’re noise-canceling earbuds)
Giving the kids some extra screen time so you can turn off your brain before for a few minutes
Bringing a book or Kindle along with you wherever you go so you can read whenever you have an unexpected free moment
Video calling grandparents (or aunties or friends or whomever is in your circle) so they can virtually entertain your kids
Going to bed early if you need some sleep, or late if you want to catch up on your favorite show
Outsourcing tasks that will free up your time and reduce your stress, like hiring house cleaners or getting grocery delivery, if at all possible
RSVPing “no” to an event, whether it’s for you or for your kids
Eating a piece of candy from your secret stash that no one else in the family knows about
Deciding to be a “yes mom” for the day to get a break from being the bad guy
The important point to any of these though is that you have to do it guilt-free. Appreciate that these and other similar small choices are ways you are keeping your own cup from fully emptying throughout the day rather than a choice that makes you a "bad" mom.
After all, the constant pressure we face as moms is a major contributor to our steadily draining cups. So, if self-care is meant to refill that cup, maybe the best way to prioritize and practice it is to ignore the pressure for it to look a certain way. Getting the kids Happy Meals for dinner to make your evening a little easier may not be as flashy as other forms of self-care, but it doesn’t make it any less valid. And, sure, having the time for an hour-long massage, a pedicure or a hot yoga class would be amazing, but to that, another famous phrase comes to mind:
👉 Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good
There is no satisfaction in the pursuit of perfection in any area of motherhood, including self-care, and it’s important to remember that there is still a lot of good in “good enough.”
Ashley Ziegler is a full-time writer with a passion for telling stories through the lens of motherhood to help fellow moms feel seen and understood (especially the ones who, like her, are totally winging it).