Why are we so bad at treating ourselves well?


I was chatting with a friend online this week and they were explaining to me why an upcoming night away from home for a social event is such a big deal for them. She said to me: “It’s the first time I’ve been away and done something by myself that didn’t involve a hospital stay since I had children.”

 This from a woman whose eldest child is old enough to vote. I nodded understandingly because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do but what I wanted to do was shake her by the shoulders, give her a quick slap and shout “GET A LIFE” very loudly.

Here’s the thing: life’s a precious and incredibly finite resource and it’s a bit late to explore your interest in French cinema or take a long weekend break in London when you’re dead. So why are we not doing more to indulge ourselves now?

I attended a blogging event hosted by Boots last week where we were told that research suggests women are particularly likely to put their own needs last in a family. The event was promoting a new website called Boots Treat Street (long story, but you can collect loyalty points by shopping online and – crucially – there are loads of exclusive discounts including 20% off at Joules and 40% off at Waterstones).

I’m not criticising anyone who nurtures their family or indulges their kids from time to time – but are we getting into a bad habit of indulging other people at our own expense? Should we be indulging ourselves more?

Boots did some research into loyalty schemes and found that when women receive vouchers and cash back from loyalty schemes, they are likely to turn the money over to the ‘family’ budget whereas if we get points then we are more likely to keep them and swap them for products for our own use. Quite right too, I say.

It’s all too easy as parents to fall into a rut of taking care of other people, putting their needs first, and spending the whole day saying, “Oh, don’t mind me,” until we collapse in a heap on the sofa at 7pm, too brain dead for anything more than a bowl of pasta and an episode of Come Dine With Me.

As a single parent I wonder if it’s easier for me to carve out ‘me time’ because I don’t have to justify my actions to anyone. If I choose to take a day off to meet a friend or go to the cinema, I don’t have anyone asking, “What did you do today?” when I get home. Either way, I consider that time tremendously important and I will always prioritise it over other things like laundry or housework.

I want Flea to understand that life’s out there to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck, not something you put off until everything else on your to-do list gets ticked off. I think having outside interests and showing Flea that sometimes I get to choose what we do helps her to see that I think I’m important – and I think that makes me a good role model. Of course, this could just be a convenient theory to justify my cinema habit…

What I wonder is why are so many of us so bad at treating ourselves well and putting ourselves first?

Is it about not having supportive childcare, employers or partners? Is it about lack of time, or money? Sometimes do we secretly like being the martyr who sacrifices it all to please everyone else? Or is it something else entirely?

[Disclosure: my travel expenses to attend the Boots Treat Street event were paid for by Boots]  



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 22nd June 2011 / 8:06 am

    So true! I won’t post the link here but 9 of us bloggers did just this last week. We headed off to a beauty salon for a few treatments followed by dinner and drinks! What a giggle and I think many of them hadn’t treated themselves in years. Not that they looked like they hadn’t, but what they said.

  2. 22nd June 2011 / 8:29 am

    About 8 years ago six women friends all took the day to go to a hotel with a spa and pool on the beach in Tel Aviv. “We should definitely do this every few months,” we all agreed. As I said, that was 8 years ago. And as for my wish list of things to do when I’m dead….let’s just say that it’s a good thing that you’re a long time dead.

  3. 22nd June 2011 / 9:45 am

    It’s interesting how many women just DON’T treat themselves for years at a time – basically, I’m way too selfish to go along with that one…

  4. 22nd June 2011 / 9:49 am

    I get so annoyed at the idea that taking time for ourselves means having a pedicure or a bath. I love the idea of taking time, but I won’t be looking to Boots in order to do it. I’ll be in Waterstones, or that cinema you mentioned.

  5. 22nd June 2011 / 10:06 am

    Hahaha so true! Who ever created the lie that all women need is a couple of hours to themselves in the bathroom to keep them happy? It’s very odd when you think about it.

  6. Nikki
    22nd June 2011 / 10:11 am

    Hi Sally,
    You are 100% spot on. I haven’t had a night away from the kids since they were born – Jenni is 6 on Monday. Sad – yes, but I don’t like to ask my parents to help out as they live nearby and assist with childcare during the day and my inlaws live 3 hrs away. I am however (she says jumping up and down with excitement) going away for a weekend with the girls to Bournemouth for a weekend in Sept and I’m soooo excited!
    I think a lot of it comes down to budgets (we were really poor when the kids were tiny and I wasn’t working) and also I hate asking for help so my own fault. I’d also rather save and have a family break than go off on my own – although now I’m working I can do both so I am!!
    I also joined a local Ladies Circle Group – don’t laugh (http://www.ladies-circle.org.uk/) – think WI and then bring the age down massively, remove jerusalem and add in blinding nights out. That really helps me to get out – it’s always in the diary and so far I’ve done lots of things I’d never have ventured out to do or got round to (sno-tubing, Giant water orbing, dining in the dark, pole dancing class, burlesque nights etc). It’s practically organised for me so I just turn up and have a laugh. We also do fundraising so there’s a bit of giving back type activity too.
    I also started a gym class last year and go twice a week in the early evenings – we have such a laugh and the instructor – well, yum yum. Nothing wrong with a bit of eye candy!
    It’s all too easy to become exhausted and sit in each night, but life is carrying on around you and there’s little value in waiting for holidays or retirement to enjoy yourself. I only need to look at my parents aged 65 who are both in poor health to realise that you need to enjoy every day – I hope my kids look at us and think – you know what, I’m going to do that too.

  7. 22nd June 2011 / 10:26 am

    Agreed, I’m not a spa person, my idea of time to myself is films – and one of the discounts you get through the Boots card is Lovefilm, so it’s right up my street. Or you can use the Boots card to get 40% off at Waterstones – seriously, what’s not to like? (you don’t actually have to shop at Boots, see?)

  8. 22nd June 2011 / 11:37 am

    Sally, well done for raising the issue of women not putting themselves higher up the family rankings. For the martyrs out there it might help to remember that when we take care of ourselves we’re better able to give to others. Given I wrote a whole chapter in my book about what it takes to thrive as a working mother I regularly treat myself and take time out (could not bear to be seen as inauthentic/hypocritical). I’m with you tapping the friend on the shoulder and politely suggesting she starts living her life.

  9. 3Lads&aLass
    22nd June 2011 / 1:33 pm

    I, too, haven’t left my kids overnight more than a handful of times in the last 7 years since I had them. And three of that handful I was in the hospital delivering little siblings! We just don’t have anyone to leave them with overnight and have a small son with a chronic disease that requires constant care. Once my mom’s health declined we lost our prime babysitter. Plus that money problem you mentioned makes getaways near to impossible! It was a hard adjustment at first and we felt plenty blue about it. I will say, however, that we try to live as well as possible each day. I ALWAYS choose to neglect the housework to go on fun outings with the family or have spontaneous “yes!” days, and my husband and I find numerous stolen moments for “me” or “us” time. Whether that means sneaking off while the kids are occupying themselves or holding down the fort while the other gets out alone, it’s the best we can manage and we make it work. And I would absolutely NOT choose a spa either. But a good book, a dark movie theater, or a splendid meal all sound lovely. I wish there were a trade-in reward system for number of laundry loads completed… 🙂

  10. 22nd June 2011 / 3:33 pm

    Ace comment Nikki – I think what you’re doing sounds SO inspiring – and I agree a thousand percent – life is carrying on around us all the time.

  11. 22nd June 2011 / 3:34 pm

    Thanks for commenting Jessica – I think it’s the time out that’s so important, and putting ourselves first once in a while.

  12. 22nd June 2011 / 3:36 pm

    I think circumstances can make overnight visits away from kids very difficult – I’m lucky to have family close by but if I didn’t it certainly wouldn’t be an option for me at the moment. But I do really think taking time to do something you love and putting yourself first once in a while is important – even if it’s taking an afternoon off to read a book on the beach rather than doing the laundry – like you say, housework is always something you can do later if there’s something more fun available 😉

  13. 22nd June 2011 / 3:39 pm

    No, I think it’s just a common thing – it’s actually a conversation I had with a very close friend who had a weekend away in London last weekend after many years of looking after a child with serious health problems.
    Look, I’m not judging, I’m just saying it’s very common for women to find they have an odd hour or some spare cash to take the opportunity to ‘treat’ someone else – why not treat yourself?
    When I’m flat broke I use loyalty points to buy cinema tickets; I take a book and a sandwich down to the beach at lunchtime. I can’t get out in the evenings because I’m a single Mum, so I often go out during the day when Flea is at school.
    Basically, I do anything to protect that space and time to enjoy myself. For me personally – spending my entire life tending to others just wouldn’t be enough. Yep. I’m THAT shallow and self-centred 😉

  14. 22nd June 2011 / 4:20 pm

    My daughter’s 1 on Monday and I had my first night out last Friday – and LOVED it. It was brilliant to not be “responsible” for a few hours (even when I’m relaxing at home I have one ear on the baby monitor) but I missed her lots so I really appreciated her the next day – even the disgusting nappies. I wouldn’t want to do it all the time but, for me, the occasional “night off” is vital to keep my sanity intact.

  15. Geeky Mummy
    22nd June 2011 / 5:23 pm

    The reality is that when you have kids you do have to put them first. Something has to give. I think considering we get no support and we have two kids including a 16 month old I do fairly well. I love books so I set-up a parent book group. In addition to our book group meetings we now meet once a month in the evening without the kids to watch a film.
    So I sometimes get to go out 2 to 3 times a month. Also being a SAHM means I get to have lots of playdates etc with mummy friends, which is fun for me as I get to chat with friends – and I do love to chat.
    I haven’t been able to go to Cybermummy this year, maybe next year. It’s been over a year since I had my hair cut or eyebrows waxed. 2 years since I had spa treatments. Don’t get me started on the time I don’t have to blog etc. But I don’t feel hard done by. Plenty of time for that in a couple of years. I can honestly say I have never been happier and these are the years I would relive.

  16. Sally
    22nd June 2011 / 5:42 pm

    I’d agree with all you say except I’d add the word ‘sometimes’ into that first sentence. As a Mum you SOMETIMES have to put your child first. Personally, I’d say always putting them first doesn’t do them any favours – I genuinely, hand-on-heart think it helps Flea be a better person to know that sometimes we do what she needs, and sometimes it’s about what I need. It’s not me being selfish (perish the thought) it’s a life skill and therefore a highly positive parenting technique.

  17. susie@newdaynewlesson
    22nd June 2011 / 6:30 pm

    Funny because I do put myself first a bit, and that does end up making me feel bad. We are conditioned to beat ourselves up for it.

  18. 22nd June 2011 / 7:47 pm

    In my case it is definitely lack of childcare. My son is 4 now and I have never left him overnight. CyberMummy on Saturday will be the longest I have ever left them all for. I think because we don’t have family nearby, I got so used to doing it all on my own and then didn’t trust anyone else to look after him, then when the other two came along I didn’t feel I could ever leave all three with someone. So, to have a day to myself that is not on a weekend, i either have to pay a ridiculous amount for nursery or get my husband to take a day off work, neither of which are very appealing.
    I know its a bit crazy not trusting anyone else to look after them…and fingers crossed at some point before they are teenagers I will get over it. :-))

  19. 22nd June 2011 / 10:56 pm

    We are not inundated with money but yes, every year since the kids were born I have either had at least 1 weekend away every year with hubbie alone or the girls more recently!
    I know I am a better Mum when I have had some time to be me.
    Mich x

  20. 23rd June 2011 / 8:32 pm

    I think it’s often a martyr thing. I know quite a few women who have convinced themselves that the only way they can be a good person is to deny themselves any rest, comfort or personal pleasures. It makes me sad for them, I suppose. It’s a shame they have been convinced that is the way to go. Also, it doesn’t make them particularly interesting in my eyes.