Self-care is a term that has popped up in my world more in the past five years than I think I ever heard before. What is frustrating is that some people make it seem like a luxury–a selfish self-indulgence at the expense of family. Those people, frankly, can pound sand. There is nothing selfish about taking care of your needs; and yes, self-care, especially for adoptive mamas whose kids are struggling, is a need. 

To quote Inigo Montoya, “Let me ‘splain. No, is too much. Let me sum up.” Self-care isn’t bubble baths, spa days, and letting yourself eat carbs once every few months. It isn’t massages and expensive meals out with friends. Or, at least, it isn’t just those things. It can be taking time for yourself to indulge in a hobby or activity that is solely about you and not your kids. It can be chocolate bonbons and a manicure. But those aren’t really self-care. They are self-indulgences. Which, you are entirely entitled to every once in a while. 

What I’m talking about is actually taking care of oneself body, mind, and spirit. 

For me, personally, the first baby step into self-care was realizing that I needed to see a doctor. I had a sinus infection that would not go away. So, I grudgingly made the appointment and grudgingly sat through the exam. That would have been fine if my doctor wasn’t also a good friend. And she asked how I was doing which caused me, much to my dismay, to have a complete mental breakdown in her office. Tears and snot comingled as I poured out everything that was wrong and how I felt about it. 

After letting me get that all out and giving me a box of tissues to clean myself up with, she gave me a hug. Then she looked me in the eyes and suggested I get help. I needed medication, and I needed a therapist. Minimum. 

Initially, I protested. I wanted to tell her I was fine and ignore her concerns. But, I also couldn’t imagine living in the pit I had to claw my way out of every day. The grief, guilt, and exhaustion that was bone-deep were wearing me out. I felt anguish over my children’s stories and experiences. I felt fury, depression, and very much like a failure. I knew my doctor was right. I hated it. But I did what she said. I made an appointment with a therapist. I had a psychological evaluation and discovered I had Depression, ADHD, and anxiety. I got the right combination of medication and while I still have hard days, I find my life more livable and enjoyable than it has been in years. 

I would have gone on indefinitely if I hadn’t needed the doctor for a sinus infection. I can picture myself fading away to nothing in deference to everyone else. Somehow I thought that by letting myself be a doormat for everyone else’s needs I was being a good mom. I was not. I was enabling them to be not great people. I gave the impression it was okay to keep feelings buried in the face of adversity. In trying not to fail anyone I felt like I failed everyone. 

Self care is going to the doctor for annual checkups. Adoption is a time of transition, much like childbirth. And despite the lack of physical demand during the actual acquisition of the child, it takes a toll on our bodies. Very real pain, chemical imbalances, and emotional situations can happen as everyone is adjusting to the new normal of additional family. It’s weird for everyone initially even if everyone gets along well. The stress of the situation can cause depression similar to postpartum depression. 

Self care is counseling if you need it. You’ll be a better adoptive parent if you talk to someone who can point out that sometimes your thinking is incorrect. Sometimes just hearing another intelligent adult say “That sounds hard. I’m here for you” can heal wounds you didn’t know you had. 

Self-care is taking time to enjoy a hobby just for yourself. You don’t stop being a person after you have a child. It feels all-consuming, and sometimes it is all-consuming, especially if your child has special needs. That’s why it is so important to have a network of support. If you don’t have a hobby that works now for the time you have, consider picking up a new one. That might just be the ADHD talking, but I find myself feeling happier picking up a new hobby than making myself try to enjoy an old one that isn’t working with the kids in the picture. 

I taught myself hand lettering and calligraphy. It’s portable and easy to pull out in a waiting room while we’re waiting for our counseling or doctor’s appointments. I also picked up drawing. To be clear, I’m not great at either. That isn’t the point. It’s something I truly enjoy. I get to spend a few minutes not consumed by my kids’ (whom I adore) needs or wants. They know that there are certain times mommy is inaccessible. If I have my headphones on and am in my sketchbook they know they need to have a good reason to interrupt. It can feel selfish, but letting them see that you have your own interests and wants is good for them. It gives them the freedom to feel happy enjoying something just for themselves. As an anxious child turned anxious adult who was constantly seeking outward approval, it is life-changing to just want to do something for me. 

So yes, self care can be an indulgence. It is also doing the inconvenient things you need to do for yourself to be well. Which, if you need to feel a reason to justify it in the framework of your kids (which, you absolutely do not need to do) think about how you can’t help your kids if you’re having a nervous breakdown from all the stress you’re under.