Practicing Self-Care As the School Year Begins
Guess who’s not superwoman? This mom right here. But oh, how I like to think I am...at least until it all comes crashing down. Somehow, as I was preparing for our upcoming homeschool year, taking care of the third round of sweet friends visiting our farm this month, attempting to keep up with my own friendships in town, planting lettuce seedlings, keeping the mud off the floors, managing piles of very stinky laundry, and - oh yeah - remembering to call my parents on the other side of the country...I snapped.
Back-to-school can be stressful for everyone in the family - from first-day jitters for the kids to the multitude of extra errands and financial burdens of having to purchase supplies, clothes, curriculum. Sure, all the summer cookouts, pool parties, movie nights, and friend gatherings were memorable. But transitioning from the free-for-all schedule of summer to the sudden scurry to get children ready for school can leave us standing here frazzled and fried, simultaneously ready to welcome fall and reluctant for summer to go. On top of that, the normal tasks of daily life don’t stop mounting.
During a season that’s especially focused on preparing and equipping our children, it’s easy to focus on everything and everyone else but ourselves. Personally, I’m wired to just pour out until I’m empty all the time, putting myself last. I fall into a trap of martyrdom, appearing to valiantly care for others when underneath, I’m really looking for external validation or praise. And then like a twisted up swing at the playground that’s been let loose, I just start spinning, faster and faster until I’m out of control, everything around me is blurry, and I’m screaming inside.
So here’s what I’ve learned about self-care: sometimes I have to lean towards what might feel “selfish” in order to actually make it close to the middle of the scale. This usually isn’t selfishness at all, but my God-given, healthy needs for self-care that I’ve neglected.
Pastor and social worker Nathan Foster (son of Christian author Richard J. Foster) does a great job of describing the difference between selfishness (selfish care) and self-care:
“Selfish care is essentially doing the things we want for no purpose other than to have our own way. You know you’re moving into destructive practices when a sense of entitlement creeps in as you move towards caring for yourself. This is most clear when the thing we want to do becomes interrupted, and we’re left bitter that we didn’t get what we ‘deserved.’ This can lead to developing a sense of martyrdom or even lead to hurting others for getting in the way of us having a hit. Quite simply, good self-care is attending to and respecting the limitations and needs that God has designed for humans.” (Source)
Foster goes on to specify that some of these God-given needs for self-care include sleep, nutrition, exercise, play, and healthy boundaries. To this list, I would also add beauty, because as I search scripture, it seems that God made the world beautiful on purpose, and it is a human need to regularly partake in that beauty.
What does God say about self-care? Jesus Himself said the greatest command is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and that the second greatest commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31, NIV).
Hmmm. I’ve always focused on the “neighbor” part and glanced over “as yourself.” But if I love my neighbors as I often show love to myself, that’s not saying much. Love my neighbors by neglecting them and never giving them attention? Love my neighbors by believing they’re not worthy of love and care like everyone else? Those don’t work, do they? We should love our neighbors as we love ourselves - we’re beloved, valued, worthy.
There are also scriptures that speak directly about caring for the body:
“Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” (3 John 1:2, NASB)
“After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church -for we are members of his body.” (Ephesians 5:29-30, NIV)
And finally, we know that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14, NIV), but really, how often do we internalize and apply it? We cannot neglect ourselves and our own needs as human beings and dismiss the desires that God has given us for beauty, order, nurture, and belonging.
Author Sally Clarkson, who has mentored so many Christian women through her books, podcasts, and ministry, says in a recent episode of her podcast, At Home With Sally and Friends, "A wise woman takes care of her soul. And we do have agency. We have the ability to cultivate joy, to cultivate delight, to light a candle in our darkness so we can stay alive. We have the ability to roll up our sleeves and write a great story."
Cultivating self-care can look different for each of us. Here are some ways I’m exercising that agency and adding more self-care to my life as the school year begins:
1. Early to bed, early to rise. I’ve always wanted to be one of those women who gets up an hour or more earlier than her kids. But I guess I never wanted it enough until now. I’m not a morning person, but I had to face that this must happen if I’m going to feel prepared for the day. So I do as much as I can the night before to prepare for the next day (school plans, clothes ready, snacks packed), and I force my night-owl self to wind down for bed much earlier. The next morning, I awake and drink coffee and read, write or just fill up my tank before my children arise.
2. Eating mindfully. No more standing at the kitchen counter, shoveling in whatever’s left on my child’s breakfast plate. I strive to make real, nourishing meals for myself and eat them mindfully, not scrolling on my phone without even looking at my plate. It doesn’t have to be complicated - just some eggs with a side of fresh veggies can do the trick, adding in and noticing as many colorful foods as possible.
3. Enjoying exercise. I’ll never be a runner, but it’s meant the world to me to find exercise that serves my body that I also enjoy. I aim for 15 minutes a day because something is better than nothing, and the time naturally increases with consistency. I love some of the tough physical jobs of farming, like broadforking and hammering, as much as I love doing pilates or yoga in my living room. Afterwards, I feel stronger, full of endorphins and ready to serve others genuinely.
4. Building in breaks. Whether you homeschool or not, it’s okay to build in short breaks for yourself when your children are at home. Sally Clarkson often talks about having a hot cup of tea by herself in the afternoon, and those 10-15 minutes help keep her going for the rest of the day. I try to sneak in opportunities to read an actual book when I can, in the parked car if my children fall asleep on a drive, as I’m putting my toddler down for a nap, or for 10 minutes while they’re in the other room playing with daddy.
5. Adding beauty to my home. For me, it’s essential to have fresh flowers, candles, and encouraging words all throughout my home. Just the act of adding one of these things to my surroundings is an act of self-care as I partake with God in being a creator of beauty.
6. Making time for my own friends. Before I know it, it’s been months since I had a get-together with a close friend that wasn’t a playdate including our children. Time to change that! Sometimes that means meeting a friend at Target at 8:30pm once our kids are in bed and walking around the store, talking and drinking a hot cup of something from Starbucks. Or in those in-between times when it’s just hard to get away, a morning coffee or afternoon tea date with friends at one of our houses while the kids play in another room can also be nourishing. And my favorite - the Voxer app (which is like a walkie talkie on your phone) is an act of self-care daily as I’m able to “chat” with a few close girlfriends about the details of our days, encouraging books we’re reading, and hilarious things that are happening around us. And we get to hear each other’s actual voices without having to be on a phone call.
I’m so glad God created us with limitations so we’d know we can’t be and do everything...and that He gave us the ability to make changes when we need it. It’s time to light the candle, friends.