Self-Care as a Radical Practice
In my twelve years of experience (so far) of social work, all direct service, I have heard about the need for self-care countless times. The conversation or lecture or training on the subject generally sounds the same each time: you can’t help anyone if you don’t take care of yourself, you have to prevent burnout, it is easier to do the work if you are in a good place physically, mentally, and emotionally, you’ll connect better with clients, you’ll meet their needs more efficiently, you can do more.
Since I have become a parent, the self-care discourse I find myself in has only slightly changed: it makes you a better mom, it makes you more patient and present for your kids.
Although there is nothing incorrect or essentially wrong about this, I find it troubling that THE reason purported for self-care is to do more, be more, achieve more. I had the benefit of being in the company of a woman a couple years ago who commented on how the way we think about self care is aligned with capitalism. This comment was a seed that caused me to completely alter the way I think about self-care, the fruit of which I am trying to articulate to you today.
So how does self-care relate to capitalism? Let’s start with capitalism……. Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for [personal] profit (source). So, the more efficiently workers work, the more they do in a day, the more those private owners make money. By extension, for the owner, the value of the worker is in direct relation to how much work they can accomplish, how much they get done, how “good” of a worker they are. The United States of America is a country that is deeply invested in its own capitalist structure, the belief that it is the best possible economic and political institution is a thick, dense wall that is hard to penetrate. In correlation, as a society we have internalized the concept that our personal value is in direct relation to how “good”of a worker we are, how much we achieve in life. And our notion of self-care supports this cause, and in effect financially benefits the owning class.
To be clear, this blog is not devoted to challenging capitalism (see below), that would deserve its own series of blog posts. Rather, I want to challenge our perception of self-care, and then explain why I am even addressing this in a parenting blog.
We have defined our value by external factors. We utilize self-care to achieve more, be more, do more. In this manner, self-care is a tool to demonstrate or prove our value. What I suggest is radical change. I advocate for practicing self-care because we are inherently valuable. I advocate for the recognition that our needs are important and for the prioritizing of taking care of them.
The first step is looking critically at what most of us consider to be self-care. We work until exhausted and grumpy, then take a time out in some way. Maybe we take a bath, perhaps veg out in front of the tv, escape into a book, or go for a walk. They are any number of options to get away from work for a short time before we come back and push ourselves until we are forced to indulge in more “self-care.” The problem is that this is not self-care, this is recovery. I learned a lot about this from Move to End Violence by taking their 21-Day Self Care Challenge.
I would recommend participating in their challenge to anyone. Yes, some of it is in work language but those parts are easily translatable to parenting language. I.e. instead of work meetings, think errands, child enrichment activities, or your to-do list. And don’t worry about not having time in your day or not being able to take space from your kids, that is not needed. Their approach to self-care is opposite of the general idea of ‘work until you have to recover’ model.
So what does this have to do with parenting? Particularly, how does it relate to raising socially conscious and responsible kids?
When we recognize our inherent value and take care of ourselves accordingly, we teach them that they have inherent value and how to take care of themselves.
You have value because you are. You have value simply by being. You can only truly recognize this in your self if you recognize this truth in every single other being on this planet. With this recognition we can break down social and interpersonal walls. We can reach across boundaries and embrace. We can let go of barriers and be gentle with each other. If we can raise kids who know how to do this naturally, it would be transformative.
If you are curious why anyone would challenge our beloved capitalist structures, consider this tangent…
The idea that our value directly correlates with what we can produce is a large factor in ableism. Our U.S. economy was built on a foundation of slavery, on stolen land. Not only is its foundation racist, imperialist, classist, and reeking of environmental degradation, but it continues to be an oppressive force against people of color, all with low to mid economic status, as well as nature herself.
Please don’t expect me to explain all the details and prove it to you. People spend careers researching, teaching, and writing about power, privilege, and oppression in all the ways it manifests. There is an abundance of great material out there, please feel free to familiarize yourself with it. In fact,if you do, if we all do, it will help inform us as we intentionally raise socially responsible kids.
photo by Polina Abdul (license)