Stop Telling Single Working Moms That Self-Care is the Answer

Amelia Edelman
·7-min read

Are you one of those well-meaning people who sighs and urges your single mom friend to “just make sure” she’s “carving out some ‘me time'” amid the chaos of working and parenting? If so, please, for the love of god, kindly shove off. I’m sorry, but for so many of us, “me time” is vastly inaccessible; we just plain can’t afford it. And when we do get it…well, it’s rarely worth the cost.

We know you mean well. We really do. But chances are you, dear friend, have maybe just a few advantages on the “me time” front that we — especially us single, working moms, since I can really only speak for myself here — do not. Maybe you’ve chosen not to have kids (a totally great and legit choice!). Maybe you’re a mom who is married to a stable partner who is, you know, legally obligated to also take care of your kids (amazing!). Maybe you have retired in-laws or other relatives nearby to help out (hooray!). Maybe you’re a stay-at-home mom or work part-time or are an entrepreneurial MLM member (good for you!). These are all valid choices, and all hard work. But they likely leave you with just a little bit more wiggle room than someone who, say, works a full-time job, drives their kid to and from school alone every day, does all the housework and packs all the lunches and arranges (and pays for! O, woe) all the after-school childcare, wipes all the butts, does all the bathtimes and bedtimes and 6am wake-up times — that is, except for when said child goes to visit his dad. Once a month.

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Yes, I’m complaining about my own life here. What did you expect me to complain about?

The thing is, I’m super lucky. My kid is amazing, and I work for an awesome and mom-loving company. I’m paid fairly, and I even get to work remotely. And I’m fully aware that all mom life — all parent life — is really, truly hard. We are all doing the best we can, and that means we are all doing damn great. But if I hear one more friend or relative or even my therapist “suggest” that I “incorporate more self-care” into my life, I’m either going to end up punching them or just plain screaming “WITH WHAT HOURS?”

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Neither of which seems like a productive response. So maybe just skip the suggestion.

Because while I am lucky and privileged for all of those reasons above, I’m also a single mom of a 3-year-old — a single mom with zero family in my state or any neighboring states, who was suddenly saddled with a whole mortgage plus preschool tuition when said 3-year-old was 2 and his dad suddenly left to marry a very nice lady down the road.

Anyway, since my son is not old enough to go to public school, every minute this kid is out of my care, I am paying for that minute — handsomely. And while spas and meditation classes and forest bathing and whatever else self-care people do these days are all well and good, trying to do any of this stuff is way more costly for me than for someone who has access to some kind of free childcare hours — whether that’s via a spouse or a grandparent or a public school.

If I do the seemingly impossible in self-care feats — get a babysitter and dash out of work at 5pm to get a manicure — do you know how I spend that manicure? Relaxing and self-care-ing, right? NAY. I spend it painfully aware that minutes are ticking by which means a) work emails are still piling up, my punishment for leaving early-ish, and b) dollars are draining from my bank account to pay for that babysitter. Do I return home relaxed and refreshed and self-cared? Nope. I return home with less money and more work to do, instantly regretting my decision to Do Self Care in the first place. #NotWorthIt. The same goes for all manner of other “me time” activities folks suggest I try, from meditation to book clubs to going on a goddamned date.

Come to think of it, over a year ago I went on a few dates with a woman whose schedule was almost as abysmal as mine. Then, after multiple failed attempts to find a kid-free time slot that worked for both of us for a third date, she threw in the towel and suggested we just take my kid to the playground together. And I almost agreed. This was the sad state of mind that my me-time-deficient life had left me in; I was about to agree to introducing my child to a near-stranger (going against all my self-imposed dating-as-a-mom rules) while also confessing to this perfectly nice woman that I am a person who considers chasing a toddler around a jungle gym a fun and reasonable date idea (I am not).

Thankfully for the emotional wellbeing of all involved, I did not agree to the playground date.

But I did bring my kid with me to a spa once. Desperate times, folks.

In addition to that spa (he literally sat in a chair watching cartoons on my phone while I soaked in a hot tub), I have brought my kid to many bars, rock concerts, restaurants, work meetings, fitness classes, and my therapist’s office (that is, “The Feelings Hotel,” according to my well-traveled child’s preconceived idea that any building with hallways and rooms must be a hotel) — all of which have elicited many confused looks, raised eyebrows, and even vocal complaints from parents and non-parents alike. But you know what? I don’t care. My son is a well-behaved kid 90% of the time, and even when he’s fussy, he’s still allowed to go to these places with me — if only for the simple reason that if he doesn’t, I don’t get to go.

And for me, it’s worth all the eye rolls and “um, we don’t have a kids menu” comments in the world if it means I can get out of the damn house, get something done, and not have to pay someone else to watch my kid while I do it.

Since my job, like many jobs, does not get summers off, my son is now enrolled in preschool throughout the year. That’s about 260 days, or 1820 hours, a year. Add to that after-school childcare, anything on weekends, and god forbid I go out and do anything at night ever, and we’re talking…I don’t know what we’re talking exactly, but it’s definitely in the realm of 120K minutes or more of childcare annually. And I’m paying for every damn minute. Adding any extra minutes at all to that epic debt, just so I can fit in some “self care”? Absolutely not. Nope. Not worth it.

So. I will keep bringing my kid to work happy hours with PR reps. I will keep bringing him, adorned in noise-canceling headphones, to loud concerts of bands I love. I will keep bringing him to my therapist appointments when I need to (bless you, Feelings Hotel). I will keep attempting to do yoga in my living room while my son alternates between doing “his” yoga and climbing all over me. I will keep face-masking and drinking bourbon while my son sleeps and I write articles for work at 1 a.m.

This may not be “me time,” but it’s the closest thing to self-care I’ve got.

This story was originally published in July 2019.

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