“If America Ferrera doesn’t have me time, what mother does?” read a text from one of my oldest friends as she sent me what the actor had posted on her Instagram recently.
In the post, Ferrera expressed how difficult it is for her to factor in self-care, explaining how she spent a recent morning alone: “I made myself breakfast and ate it when it was actually hot, with a cup of coffee that was actually hot, while listening to a podcast. And then I worked out without being interrupted, and took a hot shower alone.” Ultimately, she concludes that while she remembers how to show up for herself, she also wants to not beat herself up for not finding “me time” every day.
My friend and I had been texting a lot in the past couple of weeks due to worries about how the latest COVID-19 surge would impact our families and child care situations. The current omicron surge is making, as HuffPost’s Emily McCombs put it, every parent want to walk into the sea right now.
It seems that not even the rich and famous among us — those whose resources are certainly much greater than my own — are feeling OK during this third calendar year of the worldwide pandemic that has shaken most of us to the core.
But despite the lovely sentiment Ferrera expresses at the end of her post, that “we at least don’t beat ourselves up” if we can’t find “precious time” for ourselves every day because we are still “doing good,” there is one major thing she gets wrong about “how to factor in self-care.”
The things that she describes, such as eating breakfast and drinking coffee, are not self-care. They are, instead, basic human needs — and we as a society need to stop telling women that taking an uninterrupted shower is taking care of yourself. Instead, we need to realize that the things mothers are most desperate for are things every person needs and deserves.
Not finding 'me time' every day isn’t a time management problem; it’s a cultural problem.
It’s no secret that self-care has been pretty commercialized in recent years. There are countless articles about how we need this new candle or that cool coloring book in order to reduce stress and improve our mental health. Or we’re told to get a massage or a pedicure or even take a vacation, all of which requires spending money.
While there are definitely free ways to practice self-care, even lists of “free” ideas can have hidden costs, like meditation (which can require an app that might have a paywall after a certain point), taking a walk in nature (in shoes that you paid for), reading a book (which you may need to buy since going to the library during a pandemic isn’t a great option), or doing yoga (sure, there are free videos online, but you’re still paying for an internet connection, device, and possibly, workout clothes).
If you can afford it, and you manage to find 20 minutes or a blissful hour in your day to do one of these things, it can really help you feel better. But it’s not quite the same as having regular meals or getting adequate sleep.
What we seem to have forgotten as a society is that women still have basic care needs even after they become moms. I constantly see jokes online about how it’s impossible to drink a hot beverage or go to the restroom without an audience after becoming a parent. And while I laugh at these jokes too, I also think: But isn’t that what we need most of all?
I admit that I am not immune to the cultural confusion between self-care and basic needs. Last fall, when I was really stressed after developing bronchitis due to the RSV infection I caught from my toddler, I leaned into buying makeup as a form of working mom self-care. I justified the purchases because I wanted to feel pretty and good for my Zoom meetings at work but, deep down, what I truly wanted was 20 minutes in the bathroom where I am doing something just for myself.
My new self-care purchases weren’t about building my confidence back up after childbirth, though they certainly did that. They were about this desperate desire I had to find a little bit of alone time, to do something for myself, to spend a few minutes not thinking about my endless to-do list.
A basic need we all have — for some peace and quiet — seems to intensify after giving birth. At least, that’s how it was for me. As an extrovert, I truly didn’t believe my friends who were already parents that I would want to be alone at the end of the day or that I would feel “touched out” by my baby needing me constantly.
But after hearing my toddler bang on the bathroom door screaming “Mama!” while I tried to take a three-minute shower (my new specialty) this morning and not getting a chance to finish the other half of my breakfast donut until noon despite being up since four in the morning today, I am calling it. This is not a self-care issue or a “bad at managing my time” issue, as Ferrera put it.
Asking my husband to watch our son while I empty my bowels isn’t self-care. This is a basic human needs issue.
Let’s stop posting photos of ourselves smiling after the first shower in days and saying how we’re so proud to have made time for self-care. Let’s stop texting our friends memes about how funny it is that we haven’t eaten breakfast until two in the afternoon.
This is not meant to be a criticism of Ferrera. I am, in fact, a huge fan of her work ever since I saw her in “Real Women Have Curves” in 2002. Her continued fearlessness in “Ugly Betty” helped to inspire my journalism career. As a Latina, it was incredibly inspiring to see someone who looked like me find success.
But although she has inspired countless others, and has received praise for the self-care Instagram post, I don’t think we should be inspired that she was finally reminded that she knows “how to care” for herself. What we need to do, instead of putting a heart on an Instagram caption, is to have a serious conversation around what women need in motherhood.
We simply cannot continue to pat ourselves on the back for finally having the chance to wash our hair after a week. We need to talk about the fact that regular meals, water, movement, good sleep, and washing ourselves — things that every mom I know prioritizes for her children — need to be prioritized for ourselves, too.
That’s not even to mention good working conditions and access to health care, which are human rights under the World Health Organization. Or the fact that women of color are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when it comes to economic inequality and caregiving.
It’s time that we as a culture begin to take the needs of mothers seriously. And while I have no answers for how or when this will happen, I do want to make a suggestion to the moms out there: Let’s stop posting photos of ourselves smiling after the first shower in days and saying how we’re so proud to have made time for self-care. Let’s stop texting our friends memes about how funny it is that we haven’t eaten breakfast until two in the afternoon. Let’s stop feeling guilty because we just want to poop without having to make a whole plan for it.
Instead, let’s talk about how taking true care of yourself requires support and help from those around you, and also from society as a whole. Let’s talk about how not finding “me time” every day isn’t a time management problem; it’s a cultural problem.
Yes, we are all overworked and overstressed and so, so, so very tired of living in a pandemic. We can’t fully do anything about that right now. But we can demand that our spouses and employers and friends and family and government take our needs seriously.
It’s about humanity. And I, as a mother, am certainly ready for my daily, hot and uninterrupted shower.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.