It’s tough to practice real self-care when the internet’s obsessed with #selfcare. Let Mashable help with our new series Me, My Self-Care & I.
As the concept of self-care has spiralled out from the original definition, one of its new mutant meanings stands out: Self-care is actually just self-parenting.
It’s the care in caretaking, being the stern but loving voice in your own head that fights the whining kid who doesn’t wanna — telling yourself to go to bed at a sensible hour, not eating Froot Loops for dinner, going to the doctor when you need to, wearing the warmer coat, whatever the 2019 equivalent of balancing your checkbook is. It’s keeping yourself safe and healthy and all the other things on that second floor of the Maslow pyramid.
Learning that discipline is an important part of what I absolutely fucking refuse to call “adulting,” and you are doing yourself no favours by avoiding it well into your 20s.
And it’s true that giving into the whiny kid voice who just wants the fancy face masks and the next episode and the entire tub of ice cream and the not having to get out of your pajamas all day can also be self-care — being stern with yourself all the time is exhausting, and giving yourself permission is loving.
But somewhere between bingeing Succession at 3 a.m. in a bed full of chip crumbs, and an 8 p.m. bedtime after an all-broccoli dinner, is a form of self-care so grown-up it usually takes a lifetime to learn how to do it. If you haven’t already, it’s time to embrace self-grandparenting.
Molly Lambert, a writer and co-host of the podcast Night Call, has. She coined the term after she saw her friend Cait Raft, a TV writer, tweeting about “eating meatloaf alone at a restaurant.” (Googling the phrase, smugly convinced I’d thought of it myself, I’d found Lambert — of whom I was a longtime reader — had beaten me to it.)
“Climate change has made a lot of people reconsider or decide against procreating,” she says. “Since many of us will never get to have grandchildren, the idea was to treat yourself like your own grandchild.
“It’s a joke about self-care but I’m also totally serious.”
Self grandparenting by singing to my house plants and not having a job
— Cait Raft⚠️ (@caitraft) June 11, 2019
Self-grandparenting is a form of self-care that involves simple pleasures, slow living, and a mode of mindfulness that back in someone’s day, if not mine, was probably just called noticing things. It’s indulging in things we don’t tend to think of as indulgent because they don’t involve reckless financial splurges (like buying expensive shoes because you deserve them), or life decisions that violate the 2019 moral imperative of wellness (like eating a whole tub of something). It’s doing wholesome things that come without the baggage and extra labor of having to talk yourself out of feeling guilty, which is so often the case when we declare things to be “self-care.”
“I think it’s more about being gentle with yourself than spoiling yourself,” explains Lambert. “I think self-care culture tends to be too focused on buying stuff like crystals and beauty supplies. Self-grandparenting is totally about taking up retirement hobbies, since a lot of millennials are also contract workers with a lot of downtime. Rather than feel guilty about not being a productive earner, it can be time for hobbies, exploring your neighborhood on foot, or cooking something comforting for yourself.”
The retiree vibe is key: Time is something a retired grandparent may well have both a lot of, and a finite amount of, but you don’t need to be past middle age for that to be true either. Self-grandparenting involves a certain reevaluation of how you spend and value your time, slowing down the pace of your living, spending, and consumption.
While plenty of contemporary grandparents are more likely to have stood in line for the Grateful Dead than their daily bread, for millennials, our cultural imagination of grandparents is as people whose childhoods were marked by post-Great Depression scarcity and want, who might have been retired on a fixed income roughly as long as we’ve known them, and have a make-do-and-mend thriftiness built in that lends itself to doing, simply, less.
“Doing nice things for yourself that are cheap or free is a good way to self-grandparent, and I recommend taking up those hobbies you always wanted to get to: pick up a used instrument, start a sketchbook, get into bird-watching,” Lambert suggests. “I’ve gotten into learning about constellations, which are comfortingly ancient, like grandparents.”
Perhaps you already practice self-grandparenting. I am not a person who relishes imminent unconsciousness — there is always so much more internet to read and delicious nothing to do — but if you love nothing more than a 6 p.m. dinner and early bedtime, that’s self-grandparenting. Doing puzzles. Baking. Schweppes’ Bitter Lemon (and other delicious but ascetic or old-fashioned flavours). All hobbies, broadly speaking, are self-grandparenting (less so if they involve a great deal of equipment or moisture-wicking fabrics). Watching obscure TV shows old people love instead of the booby prestige watercooler drama of the week, and then not talking about them online, is self-grandparenting.
Tonic water, compression socks, various therapeutic ice wraps, and I’m watching a CBS show. Self-grandparenting to the max.
— Paige Phelan (@NotPhelan) July 23, 2019
Your particular self-grandparenting vibe might also change depending on your relationship with your own grandparents. It might be sweet and indulgent, or about a renewed lust for life when some of your precious time is handed back to you, or it might be of the platonic ideal of the sweet Nanna or wise-cracking Pop you never had.
“I was lucky enough to have really wonderful grandparents on both sides of my family,” says Lambert. “Not everyone is so lucky, so for those people it’s less about invoking their own specific grandparents than the general idea of a caring grandparent who would tell you it’s OK to have that bowl of ice cream after a hard day.”
And much as parents often become more mellow when they become grandparents — as though the stakes are lower, and they can afford to be indulgent now that the primary job of shaping a human is largely not on them — being your own grandparent (slash grandchild) can be a shortcut to an underrated product of life experience. The goal is the relaxed, live-and-let-live equanimity and, as Lambert puts it, “empathy for people, including yourself.”
Because some of your problems are of your own making, but plenty more are not, and that remains true whether you eat Pop-Tarts or salad for dinner.
“We live in terrible times,” Lambert points out, “and the least we could do is be less hard on ourselves for the things outside our control.”