How Do You Take Care Of You?

Single mom Katerina Zacharia shares her self-care strategy for the new year.

Three years ago, a child therapist asked, “So, what are you doing to take care of you?” I wanted to leap across the table and strangle her throat. “What the heck kind of question is that? Why would you ask something so ignorant, arrogant, and insensitive?” In my own hypercritical arrogance, I challenged her middle class marital privilege and stormed out of the office grumbling some bullshit about her exclusionary western model of child psychology. I never went back. It was not one of my most self-aware, self-reflective moments.

The same question continues to rear its head in the most surprising of places. Two years ago, I met a colleague for lunch and he asked, “So between your career and your children, where are you?” I had no answer. Friends have consistently encouraged me to take time for myself, stressing the importance of self-care. I shook them off with a combative wave of the hand like, “Back off, you don’t get it.”

I suck at self-care. I do. When I do take a moment for myself, I either shop for career clothing and catch up on errands or dress myself up in urban conservative sexy garb and head out on a date. While errands are enjoyable without children, they are definitely not all about me. And, dating…well, that is most certainly not self-care. I might look good, but most dates more closely resemble self-abuse. And self-abuse…well, in that I excel. It’s been years since I’ve cooked a meal for myself. I still eat standing up, scrapping off my children’s plates. I thread my exercise routine through our morning and nighttime routine. Push-ups while they dress, sit-ups while they bathe. I literally use my children for arm curls, shoulder presses and leg lifts. That way, I’m always engaging them.

Bottom line: I feel guilty that I have completely institutionalized my children. They spend 10 hours of their day in educational institutions with another six hours per week with a sitter. So, when I do not work, I bind myself to them as tightly as my sanity allows. Sometimes, despite the guilt, I need to tear myself away. I wait until that moment just before my breaking point and then, I call in the reserves to relieve me.

I thought I was a badass parent, rocking my selfless strategy until one day recently my 6-year-old daughter remarked, “Mom, you should go back to Bikram yoga.” I replied, “I spend so much time away from you during the week, I’d rather be with you during the weekends.” Encouraging with a hint of exasperation, she said, “It’s only a couple hours a day. Get a sitter. Go. No big deal.”

Even my daughter took notice of the gaping hole between the extensive care of my family and career and the paltry care of me. My daughter’s exasperation jarred me into action.

I decided to approach it like I do business strategy and planning. In business, I am naturally talented at designing and executing a comprehensive, feasible strategy. So, rather than compartmentalize my skills and leave them for my career, I pulled my strategic lens into action to build out my own self-care plan.

  1. What do I want to do in the time I carve out for myself? I will not call self-care free time. Free time is frivolous and leisurely. Self-care is not. So, I must plan for an emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and professional return. The point of a business plan is to prove a strong return on investment.
  2. How much time shall I carve for myself? I need to assess what is feasible for my children and for me. All self-care decisions filter through my children, at least in this first iteration of the plan. What time of the day will yield the highest return for all three of us? When and where am I most productive and efficient in my self-care?
  3. How much of my monthly budget will I allocate to self-care? Where do I free up resources? Do I pull from the dating? Clothing? Makeup? Lunch money? Here’s my problem: I still associate self-care with frivolous items—clothing, makeup, dating. Objectively, I know that self-care is as important as food and electricity. But, we’ve already established my objectivity sucks in the area of self-care. So, back to the plan where I can analyze my own subjectivity out.
  4. How will I build into the plan a way to hold myself accountable? My habit is to de-prioritize me. I need to create a system that holds me accountable for my own self-care.
  5. What tactics will I use to silence the guilt to commit generously and openly to the plan? That’s the hardest one of all. I’ve got no historical data to choose from and no real models of success.

My whole identity is wrapped up in an unreal, unsustainable selfless powerhouse manifesto—the single mother warrior narrative. Part self, part societal, the conditioning to struggle and fight to create all opportunities for my children reigns heavy. I want the success story, but that’s a waiting game. The story will unfold if (when) my children grow up with forgiving hearts, open minds, inspired intellects, emotional generosity, and fearless drive.

If I outsource their care, (which I do) then I have less control over the outcome. If I refuse to outsource their care for my own care, I will have little mental, emotional bandwidth to be that great mother in the success story I’m steering toward. I am edging upon the law of diminishing returns, hitting up close to that point where return hits zero and that scares the crap out of me.

As I prepare my self-care strategy for the New Year, I am incredibly apprehensive. The business plan represents a paradigm shift. In my personal process of creative destruction, I have to transform the selfless me into the self-care me.

Here’s the deal I’ve struck with myself: If my plan crashes and burns, I will re-evaluate, adjust, and execute again…until I get it right. Once, I felt I had no option but to be selfless. Now I understand that my only option is to infuse a little selfmore into my success narrative.

Katerina Zacharia is a media executive, teacher, and sole parent raising two children on her own. She is passionate about her work in media, diversity, and education, her children, her friendships and family, and keeping her sanity. She has no nanny.

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