“I was thinking of buying an actual lunchbox,” I whispered to my husband as I packed my lunch into an old grocery bag. “And maybe sunscreen? I thought I would also get a box of tea…it’s so cold at work.”

“That sounds like a great idea. Do what you need to do,” he replied. And then, “Um, you know you don’t need to ask me, right?”

“Yeah, but I…” I trailed off, unsure of how to finish that thought.

We let it go as just a funny little interaction, but it wasn’t quite finished for me. After that conversation, I noticed that the questions are everywhere, like a reflex.

Can I take a shower now?

Can I practice yoga tonight?

Can I go check my email?

 Can I draw tonight?

The answer is always the same, “You don’t need to ask.”

So, what’s with all the questions?

It’s not a husband thing. He’s never once expected me to ask for permission for things like that. Overspending? Probably not. A lunchbox is hardly breaking the bank. Frivolous? That doesn’t seem right. These seemed like pretty practical purchases. Greedy? Self-centered? Those weren’t it, either. So why did I feel so undeserving, and whose permission was I really seeking?

I decided to get curious and observe, and when I did there was no mistaking what this was about. This was about me and me. This whole asking-for-permission business was about what I think I’m worth, what I allow myself to do, and how I show myself that I care about me. It’s a self-caring problem, and it isn’t new.

Becoming a mom was like bringing home a bundle of all kinds of things. A bundle of joy, sure, but also a bundle of needs, pressures, and expectations. Five years ago, when I sat in my hospital room holding the tiniest person I’d ever seen, I had no idea what this all meant. I didn’t know what this would actually look like in real life, and I sure didn’t know who I was as a mom.

What I did have was a lifetime of input on what motherhood was supposed to look like without instructions on making it work for me. So I did everything I could to give my kids a happy life going by what I thought I knew. They have everything they need, but I guess I overlooked one thing. In an effort to be a good mom, I haven’t always been so good to myself.

Maybe it’s a phase all moms go through: the mom years. You know, the years when you’re figuring out what it means to be called “Mom.”

These are the years you don’t know how to dress your new body. When your time belongs to the tiny human(s) you just brought and keep bringing home. These are the years where days disappear to who knows where and you secretly fantasize about five minutes alone. I thought, Maybe that’s what this is. It’s being a new mom.

Then again, I just dropped my daughter off at kindergarten and I have two more at home. I’m not exactly a new mom anymore, but it sure doesn’t feel like I’m “seasoned.” Am I supposed to have this all figured out now? When do I get the official permission to take care of me?

Maybe it’s time to start looking at this differently. Permission isn’t going to fall from the sky. There is no self-care permission fairy. There’s just me. Honestly, I’m still learning what it means to be a mother of three and how I want this all to look, but I do know that it’s time to include my self in that picture.

There’s always a list of things to do, and the guilt is really compelling when you take that time for yourself before you’ve checked off that whole list. However, your health and happiness don’t come from to-do lists (and neither do your family’s). Health and happiness are cultivated in the decisions you make and the way you care about yourself, so they need to be nurtured.

When I get so caught up in the stress and daily details, I forget about that. I forget about happiness and my gratitude for all of this, and I stop nurturing myself. It’s like I disappear, and in my place is the critic, the complainer, and the hurrier. I cringe when I hear myself in that place.

The truth is that the less care I give myself, the less present I become. Here’s the hardest part to admit: the less care I give myself, the less care I can give to others. Caring about you is an essential part of caring for your family. (Have you ever noticed how essential you are to your family?) We’re moms today and will be even after the kids have safely flown from the nest. Let’s make the conscious effort to take good care of ourselves the whole time. Life is short and childhood is even shorter, there’s no time to wait for permission.

If you feel like you need it, consider this your permission slip to start caring about you. No guilty reflexes. No wondering if you’re really worth it. You’re allowed to give your children everything and you’re allowed to care about you. You are allowed to rest. You are allowed to be nourished. You are allowed to support yourself.

I do not take this lightly. For some of us, this might be a husband-thing or an income-thing. Some of us have children with disabilities or really challenging life circumstances. Even when everything’s perfect, this isn’t exactly easy!

There are real life barriers to even the simplest acts of self-care, and that’s why I think it’s so important to start with the permission to be caring toward yourself. Permission to care about yourself might look a lot different from the top self-care tip lists you see floating around these days. It might not look like an hour-long workout or a bubble bath and cup of tea. Maybe it does. There’s no right or wrong answer here.

Self-caring can be more subtle than that. It happens in the intangibles, like how you speak to yourself all day, how you feel about the decisions you make, and how you honor your special blend of talents and strengths. You have permission to feel good about all that, you know. So let’s start to be self-caring. If and when you feel guilty, remember that by lifting yourself up, you lift up your family. Remember what you want to model to your children if it helps.

I truly believe that when we speak to ourselves from a place of care, we foster caring for our families. When we make decisions that serve and excite us, we teach our children how to live by their own values. When we honor what makes us unique, we start our children on the path of sharing their own special something with the world.

In short, you are allowed to care about yourself, too. Are you ready to try it? You (and your kids) are worth it.