The new year has started, and with it the stream of resolutions. One I’m seeing come up a lot this year is mothers being encouraged to prioritise self-care in 2017. And gosh it sounds good. Eating nourishing foods… getting some exercise… soaking in a bubble bath… blissful me-time!
Which seems super counter-cultural, right? Motherhood is so demanding. We mums spend so much time looking after others. Why shouldn’t we look after ourselves, too?
Well for starters, in my household alone I’m already caring for five other people! ‘Self-care’ is wrapped up and sold as ‘it’s not selfish to look after yourself’. And it’s true that we need to put on our own oxygen mask before we can help others. But as the family’s primary caregiver (and most mothers are, whether they are in the paid workforce or not), self-care doesn’t give me a break, it simply delegates yet another caregiving task to me.
Tellingly, fathers are rarely advised to prioritise me-time. They don’t need to be; they already have it. In the average family, fathers spend about three more hours’ leisure time compared to mothers on a weekly basis. While that may not seem like much of a difference in quantity, the difference in quality is striking – mothers report feeling more exhausted and stressed than fathers during their down time. Mothers’ leisure time is typically more interrupted, more complicated to arrange, and characterised by multi-tasking compared to that of fathers.
This is in no small part due to the invisible, emotional labour performed in our society predominantly by women – vast swathes of mental energy dedicated to planning, remembering, organising. It’s the caring that happens in order for the caring to happen. It’s knowing what we gave Aunt Elsie for her birthday last year or that the kids need hats and sunscreen but only in term 1 and 4 or being the person everyone asks ‘where do we keep the lid for this’. How can we rest from tasks so unseen that most of the time we ourselves don’t even realise we are performing them?
If mothers are being left wrung out and burned out by caring duties, this is not going to be addressed by handing us additional caring duties. It’s time we stopped allowing caring to be framed as something women are expected to do, rather than something we can reasonably – and without mummy guilt – accept from others.