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You Can't Pour From An Empty Cup: Why Self-Care Isn't Selfish


Remember those days before you had kids when sleep was an actual 8+ hour event, meeting up with friends resulted in long, unfurling conversations into the night; and you actually took care of your body and mind? The gym was non-negotiable and you diligently worked on your business or career, all while ensuring you had downtime. Maybe your idea of a date night was actually an every other day event where you shared your hopes and dreams with a partner you adored? And of course, you looked immaculate because investing in how you look was a pleasure and a reflection of your life. Sure, life wasn’t perfect, but you had the luxury of focusing on yourself.

That probably sounds like an alternate universe now where that version of you no longer exists. We get it, but we’re here to tell you the new version of yourself can be just as fulfilled and happy by blending your worlds of family and self into one.

Mothers know the big secret. When we’re deep in the throes of motherhood, the days and nights are incredibly long and the weeks are somehow short. Many of us lose ourselves in the minutia of the day-to-day. We forgo our once plentiful time to focus on ourselves and dive deep into our dreams and goals in order to spend more time with our kids. But it’s the little things that we often overlook in favor of getting things done. We eat while walking around and tidying up, instead of taking the time to meal prep or simply enjoy a balanced meal where actual silverware is involved... It’s inevitable that we allocate any precious minutes from rest to self-care to get things done with a never-ending to-do list that winds long into the night. Our schedules are overstuffed with playdates and swim meets and recitals, and that time we need to cultivate the powerful women that we are slips to the wayside. You’re not alone.

We must ask ourselves — what happened to that whole person we once knew? And when did she decide that her needs no longer matter? When did we stop being a layered person with a multi-faceted life and relationships and just become ‘mother’?

It’s a universal issue just about every mother faces: we slowly fall into these limiting behaviors of neglect and “everyone else comes first,” because we love our families and feel incredible pressure to fulfill the role that Hollywood has turned into a fairytale of “harried mother with adoring kids finds success.” Society, social media, and our families also put a lot of pressure on us to flawlessly embrace the intense highs and lows of motherhood and somehow enjoy every moment of it at the same time. It’s also a harsh reality that while we may have supportive partners who, in theory, are hands-on and helpful, most mothers still end up doing 90% of the lion’s share of the domestic work.

There’s another harsh reality we must face. When we buy into the myth of sacrificing our whole selves to be the perfect mother, we’re doing a disservice to ourselves, our families, and everyone around us. It’s time to let go of the myth and embrace the reality of what it means to be a mother and still have enough leftover for ourselves.

When we refuse to step off of the mythical mother platform, we spiral into the dark edges of ourselves and lose sight of what’s truly important. Burnout is very real and creates crushing feelings of disconnectedness from true selves, our partners, our creativity, our friends, our families and even our kids. We may find ourselves simply going through the motions, only everyone around us notices that we’re not truly connected.

So before we go another day putting the needs of everyone else before our own without room to breathe, we must remind ourselves to put on our own oxygen mask first, before we help those around us.

After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so if we want to be the best version of ourselves who is a whole person, mother, partner, friend, daughter, business-minded, ambitious, engaging, smart… we must learn to fill our own wells first.

This is all much easier said than done, of course. So, how can we unlearn our limiting behaviors, get more support, fulfill our dreams, be our best selves, and become the women we know we can be?


The first step is to definitively and categorically OPT OUT. Just opt-out.  Don’t continue on the journey of the mythical role of mother, because it will only set you up for failure and disappointment. Our kids don’t need us to be perfect, they need us to be fulfilled and strong women to model life after.

This requires giving yourself permission. We must give ourselves inherent permission to opt-out of the impossible quest to be the perfect mother, partner, employee, entrepreneur, friend, daughter, household manager, and anything else toppling your list. It’s giving ourselves permission to be ourselves and to know that is enough.

You are enough just the way you are.

This all means giving ourselves permission to say NO. It means ignoring the haters and doubters and judgers and those who sigh when we stumble--whether they be real or imaginary--and putting ourselves first. We are equal partners in this world, and we can stand up for what we need and want and still be wonderful mothers and women.

We do not have to do it all, and we should ask for help.

This won’t be easy, and don’t expect it to happen overnight. It’s a process, and we must be kind to ourselves and each other on the journey towards re-discovering ourselves.

But we must do it, for ourselves and for the ones we love.

So, what comes next? How can we practice self-care, self-love and self-compassion in the real, messy, imperfect world we live in?


Don’t feel like you need to change everything all at once. In fact, squash down those tendencies to demand perfect and expect to see results overnight. Start small and re-visit the things that you most enjoyed before you had kids or even the things you loved to do when you yourself were a kid.

Maybe that first small step is finding a gym with childcare so you can find your way back to Pilates and Bodypump a few times a week to refresh your body and mind? Maybe it’s getting your children settled during storytime at the library so you can text a friend or read your own book. Maybe it’s simply carving out 20 minutes in your day to take a walk and get some fresh air.

While your kids are at ballet class, sign up for beginner tap class for adults. Or go to Zumba. Or take an art class at the community college. Whatever it was that sparked your passions and creativity when you were small is probably something you will still enjoy today. It also signals to yourself that you are worthy, and that kid inside you deserves to shine.

You can also take steps to simplify your lives. Meal prep on Sundays while the kids watch a movie, or have someone take them to the park so you can have some quiet while creating healthy meals ready for the week. Keep it simple: some shredded BBQ chicken or carnitas in the slow-cooker, quinoa or brown rice in the pressure cooker, and a simple salad or green veggies on the side. Throw some chicken thighs and fingerling potatoes and carrots on a sheet pan and let them roast in the oven. Cook in batches. Choose foods that nourish your body and soul.

Remember to reach out to your community and ask for help, and offer some back in the process. You don’t have to go it alone. Hire a babysitter and take a nap while your kids are busily entertained. Or, better yet, use the time go on a date night with your partner, or with a friend.  Enjoy the adult conversation and savor the wine and food slowly and deliberately.

Do at least one thing every day that’s just for you.

As Joseph Chilton Pearce said, “what we are teaches the child far more than what we say, so we must be what we want our children to become.”

Create your journey and make motherhood part of it. Remember that motherhood was just one of your dreams, and there’s room to embrace so much more in your life. Take care. The world needs you to be who you are.



Written by Sharon Kan

Sharon is a mother of two daughters. She built 4 startups that were acquired by Oracle, Microsoft, Infor and Barnes & Noble. She co-founded WIN, the Women Innovating Now Lab at Babson College to help female entrepreneurs start their businesses. Over the course of her career, Sharon has mentored over 150 female CEOs and business owners. One fact about Sharon that you won't guess: she loves to skateboard when no one is watching.

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