“Oh, Mama, you need a break!”
How many times have you heard that as a mom? And how many times have you rolled your eyes at the very urging, knowing exactly how much work goes into just “taking a break”? The truth is, when you’re a mom, even arranging for your own break takes an exhausting amount of work — finding the time, checking your partner’s schedule, setting up childcare, hoping the kids don’t get sick, justifying the expense. And it’s incredibly hard to find any sort of “break” at home. That is why more and more moms are attending self-care retreats to get the break they desperately need. And more importantly, gain the opportunity to invest in themselves.
In 2015, Tara Pringle Jefferson, 31, founder of The Self-Care Suite, launched her self-care retreat, one of the first of its kind specifically geared toward women of color. Her first retreat was held in the charming town of Alexandria, Virginia, where attendees came together for a weekend full of what Jefferson describes as “Aha!” and “Me too!” moments, as they bonded over therapy sessions, massages, and amazing meals. Since then, her retreats have continued to grow and evolve, just like the women who attend them.
Jefferson’s retreat joins virtual arms with similar venues across the country, like the Bloom Retreat, The Art of Self-Care Retreat, and even a friendship retreat designed to give moms and women what they need most: permission to practice self-care.
If you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of taking time out to attend a retreat on self-care, think about it this way: How many women have spent their own money investing in their education or attending a work conference without a second thought? Why wouldn’t we treat our mental health and personal development the same way? Jefferson believes that by making her retreat an “official” event and taking the work out of the preparation and planning, she was able to knock down a lot of the barriers that exist for women to invest in themselves.
She notes that especially as mothers, so many of us are incredibly attuned to what other people need and want. We know if the toddler is cranky because she’s hungry or if the preschooler is upset because he’s wearing that shirt that makes him itchy … but how often do we take the time to explore those things for ourselves?
“My definition of self-care is asking yourself what you need and then making it happen,” Jefferson explains. “Very simple. But so often, women don’t do that. Often we’re invisible to ourselves.”
Jefferson notes that with a world around us that seems so unsure and our personal lives full of stress, the conversation on self-care is growing as part of a larger conversation about mental health.
“Stopping at the Instagram version of self-care — face masks and long soaks in the tub — doesn’t really help people get to their best lives,” she says.
Jefferson’s annual self-care retreats are specifically open to women of color of all ages, and the self-care coach says she sets the tone for her event to be a “safe space” for women right from the moment they buy a ticket. She points out that creating a self-care event specifically for women of color is especially important, because historically, black women have been viewed as caretakers.
Thus, her retreat is designed as a welcoming space for black women to turn the tables and take care of themselves for once. “[There are] very few spaces where women of color feel comfortable enough to really let it out,” she adds.
So what exactly happens at a self-care retreat? First up, Jefferson wants you all to know that there is plenty of delicious food on the menu. She describes it as a “choose your own adventure” with leisurely start times, because “who wants to be up and at attention at 8AM?” Group sessions are scheduled for later in the day, offering plenty of free time and a variety of different self-care activities that include yoga, massage, and acupuncture. Oh, and cupcakes (because of course).
Jefferson believes that the self-care that happens at a retreat is different than anything women can accomplish at home. She likens the importance of women physically getting away to attend a self-care retreat as flying on an airplane:
“You take off and then you cruise for a couple hours. It’s not until you touch down and make contact with the runway that you remember, ‘Oh, yes, we’re going 500 miles per hour.’ You can’t sense how fast you’re going until you get out of the air. That’s what this retreat is. You’re landing and realizing, ‘Oh, yes, I was going 500 miles per hour in a thousand directions. Let’s refuel.'”
While the retreat’s agenda does include discussions on the challenges of combining self-care and motherhood, Jefferson notes that child-free women are welcome at the retreat because motherhood is not synonymous with womanhood. And although the retreats are currently designed for mothers to take a full break (meaning there are no children in attendance), Jefferson is planning on hosting shorter events in the future so breastfeeding mothers and mothers with infants can also attend.
Like many women, Jefferson says that initiating her own self-care practice was something that took intention and work.
“It wasn’t until my late 20s where I looked up and realized that I had lost myself,” she explains. “If I had a full day to myself, I wasn’t sure how to spend it if I wasn’t working.”
So the mom of two started a journey of “trying to understand who Tara was,” which included therapy, new hobbies, embracing her love of cooking, becoming intentional about getting out of the house with friends, and overall, putting herself at the center of own life. As she herself continues to evolve as a woman and mother, Jefferson hopes to encourage women to be open about what their own self-care journeys and needs are. “We don’t have these conversations often enough,” she adds.
If you’re looking to attend next year’s 2018 retreat, look for tickets to go on sale in March. Jefferson opens up registration early to give women plenty of time to make arrangements and work out a payment plan. After buying your ticket, get to ready, because as Jefferson’s retreat hashtag says: #HereWeGrow.