My First Parenting Tip of 2023
Don't stab yourself in the eye with scissors. (Plus a short rant on the value of doing less.)
Once again, this newsletter is two days late and not the newsletter I had planned for you. (You’ll get it next week, promise.) We returned home from visiting my parents on Monday night and then, yesterday morning — just as I was trying to wrap my head around returning to work — I looked in the mirror, was horrified by the state of my eyebrows, and decided I need to address them at once. In typical mom fashion, I began trimming my eyebrows with beauty scissors (you know — the really sharp ones) while also checking email on my phone, and promptly stabbed myself in the left eye.
Then, as you can imagine, I did not write my newsletter.
It was a weird experience — I thought for a while that my eye was fine, and then suddenly it wasn’t, and I was in a lot of pain and my eyes and nose were spouting tears and mucus like Niagara Falls. The only thing that kept the pain at bay was keeping both eyes closed (for some reason opening my right eye also hurt my left eye?) and turning off all the lights while also wearing sunglasses. Talking even hurt, I think because the movement of my jaw jiggled my eye a bit. Everything is connected, as they say.
Although the pain wasn’t fun, I wasn’t too worried, because my husband’s Googling suggested it was a corneal abrasion which usually heals pretty quickly. I put myself to bed early (with a lot of help from my husband — turns out it’s very hard to do things with both eyes closed!), and, miraculously, woke up much better this morning and able to open my eyes. I then went to the optometrist who told me that it’s starting to heal (but who also said “wow, that’s big!” when she saw the gash). She gave me eye drops and ointment and now I’m mostly able to do things, although staring at my computer screen for too long does give me a headache, so I’m going to keep this post short.
Funnily enough, this is not the first time over the past few weeks that I have sustained an injury while trying to do something for myself. It’s …. the third time. Last week, I burned my forehead with a curling iron while rushing to get ready for an evening event. (I was running late because one of my kids absolutely needed to shower in my bathroom, thus delaying my own shower.) The week before, I threw my back out trying to quickly give myself a pedicure. (While also trying to pack my kids’s suitcases for our trip.)
Here’s the thing I keep coming back to: As a parent, it’s extremely hard to carve out personal time. When we do, we’re almost always rushed or distracted. We’re squeezing our self-care in between (or alongside) other parenting, domestic or work responsibilities, then throwing our backs out in the process. Even if we’re not injuring ourselves, we’re probably not putting the effort into the activity that it deserves. I was talking with someone today who quoted a friend as saying that even if we do make time for our own hobbies as parents, we never have enough time to get good at them.
This is especially true for women. There are, of course, exceptions to this trend, but mothers are often straddling more parenting and domestic responsibilities than men while also having to navigate more stringent cultural expectations around beauty and personal care. My husband has never burned his forehead with a curling iron because he’s not expected to curl his hair. He’s never thrown his back out giving himself a pedicure because who cares what his feet look like. He hasn’t once stabbed himself in the eye with beauty scissors because men are not expected to have groomed eyebrows.
Mothers’ leisure time is also more frequently contaminated by children and other parenting responsibilities. (Isn’t “contaminated” a great word for it? It actually comes from the research literature.) That’s in part because men’s leisure activities tend to take place outside of the home (golf, cycling, fishing), while women’s activities tend to occur inside the home and often surrounded by kids (gardening, baking, knitting). I do barre workouts in my basement, where my kids can find me and demand snacks. My husband goes on long bike rides, miles away from the kids and their requests for more goldfish.recently wrote a thoughtful newsletter on this topic. As she explained, “women have been socialized to understand interrupted, home-bound leisure forms as the general norm (with pointed exceptions), and men have, in turn, been socialized to understand uninterrupted, away-from-home leisure forms as the norm.” And, of course, women have been socialized to take on more of the parenting, and to look as good as possible while doing it all. (As the cherry on top, women are paid less for their work, yet many of their personal care products cost more.)
What’s the solution here? Obviously, cultural expectations surrounding domestic duties, motherhood, and beauty need to change — and I think that ever so slowly, they are. But we can also make things better by easing up on ourselves. A few weeks ago in a newsletter thread, I talked about the value of setting New Year’s “Stop Doing” resolutions — that instead of adding more things to our plate, as is the norm in January, we should consider doing the opposite: To stop doing inessential things so we have more time for the activities and people we really care about. Maybe we don’t need to trim our eyebrows so regularly. Or check our email every ten minutes. Then we’re less likely to poke our eyes out and more likely to get meaning out of the things we really enjoy. By rejecting unfair and unrealistic expectations, we inch social norms in the right direction, too.
Fun news: Child psychologist Dr. Kristyn Sommer has just picked my book for her first virtual parenting book club. Join the nearly 1,000 parents who are reading and discussing my book by clicking here!
My latest piece for The New York Times explores what the science says on how best to comfort others. Read it here.