One Simple Question Unlocked My Best Self Care

Self care should be simple. Carve out some time, then use it to do what fills you up.

But I’ve found if I have a couple hours “off” on a Saturday during naptime, I’m torn.

Should I hike? Go shopping and treat myself? Meet a friend for lunch? Try to write?

It’s circuit overload, and sometimes I just shut down and I waste half my “me time” on social media. When I come home from a long day at work and finally finish my second shift of dinner, bath, bedtime, and cleanup, all I want is to melt into the couch to the glow of Netflix, but that’s not usually what brings rest to my weary soul.

Since when did self care get so complicated?

I wish I could blame it on being a mother, but I remember in the early years of my marriage, weekends were…well, confusing, because my husband and I had different ideas about how to refresh ourselves after a long week. I could sit and read for hours; he wanted an adventure.

My husband loves exploring new coffee shops (we live in LA––there’s always a new one); I didn’t care for espresso. So maybe it was in trying to find ways to restore our souls but remain together (I mean, married couples are supposed to be together on the weekends, right?!) that we lost sight of the unique ways our individual selves best received care. Even on our honeymoon in Hawaii, I wanted to read on a towel in the sand all day, but he’d be itching to go on a hike after 30 minutes.

I’m also simply too disciplined. My husband is less so, but where he lacks discipline, he makes up for in ambition and enthusiasm about life.

Between the two of us, duty and FOMO were running our lives soon after we said, “I do.” Even before we had a child, weekends were full of chores and errands and trying to get a workout in, or finding something fun and interesting to do.

We rarely let ourselves sleep in past 8:00 (I shake my head at my pre-kid self). We were doing a lot of puttering, running around, filling our time, taking care of things but not necessarily ourselves in the tender manner that’s the signature of true self care.

A few months ago, Gretchen Rubin asked a simple question on her podcast that unlocked self care for me: “What did you do for fun when you were 10 years old?

I didn’t even have to think about it. The answer is: read.

From 6 to 14 years old, reading was my favorite pastime. I’d get lost in books.

I loved discovering new authors and stories, but also re-reading my favorites dozens of times (The Chronicles of Narnia, everything by Roald Dahl, Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself and later, Just as Long As We’re Together).

I have dreamy memories of reading for hours in perfect California weather in our backyard hammock, and less dreamy memories of getting in trouble in class for reading novels under my desk during lessons. In the my sometimes tumultuous childhood, reading was escape, comfort, and an endless circle of friends.

Now when I’m dreaming of that moment when my work is finally done and I’m on the couch, I’m starting to say in my mind, “Reading is relaxing to me.” I’m trying to rewire my brain, be a coach and a mother to myself, remembering who I truly am and what is best for me.

That 10-year-old swinging in her hammock knew.

And now this 33-year-old is putting down the remote and picking up a book once more, finding old and new friends, and herself, too.

Joy Netanya Thompson is a writer and editor living with her husband and young daughter in Los Angeles. Find her and a link to her blog on Instagram at @joyofhonestmotherhood.

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Alanna

    Oh, that’s good. That’s really good.

    • Joy

      Thank you!

  2. Beth

    Thanks for that. I rediscovered reading again two or three years ago and sometimes I feel guilty that reading is basically my only hobby at this point in my life. I also enjoy sewing and gardening but neither fit into our nomadic, space and budget constrained lifestyle right now. But my Kindle book and library subscription does. And it makes sense that something I loved to do as a child would still be filling for me. I just hadn’t thought about it that way.

    • Joy Thompson

      Yes! That’s another great thing about reading…you can do it anywhere/everywhere, for FREE! So thankful for libraries. 🙂

  3. Cheryl

    I honestly couldn’t answer what my ten year old self loved to do or at least I thought I couldn’t. It was until I read the part where you said that you read to escape your sometimes tumultuous childhood. And would get into trouble for reading under your desk. That was me. You brought back memories long forgotten that bring so much pleasure. I will definitely be checking out my local library. Thank you so much for the inspiration and enlightenment.

    • Joy

      That’s awesome, Cheryl!! Happy reading!

  4. Lucie

    This is so powerful and beautiful. I loved all the words of your post. I hope you get to read a lot more books 🙂

    • Joy Thompson

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Lucie! I’m devouring An American Marriage by Tayari Jones right now and loving every minute of it!

  5. Susan

    I so relate to your description of you and your husband on vacation. I am happy lazing on the beach or in the pool with a book all day most days. My husband is good with that for 1 day max. He really wants to go do something every day. We’ve been married for 20 years now, and we compromise to a certain extent. We schedule me beach/pool time but try to have scheduled activities too – tours, sporting events, museums, active adventures like white water rafting, jet ski tours, etc. I generally love any water based activity so those are good common ground. I don’t love museums, so when we go, we split up and I take any kids who want to skip the exhibits to the iMax movies and he takes anyone else to the exhibits. We’ve also branched out a bit with vacations and did a cruise and a trip to Iceland. He loved the cruise more than me as it is activity central, but I got my beach/water activities on the days we were in port. Iceland was a whole different kind of vacation!

    • Joy

      Sounds like you guys figured it out! We have a 2-year-old so vacations aren’t really vacations right now…but we have had some successful ones since that honeymoon. 🙂 I go on hikes with him, and then sometimes he carves out time for a mountain bike ride and I get to sit by the water and read.

  6. Bethany A Vitaro

    Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself! I read that book at least two or three times growing up and for a while I wondered if I was the only one. Whenever summer arrives I remember going to my tiny local library and taking out stacks and stacks of books each week, the joy of finding that a favorite book like All of a Kind Family was one of a series or that my favorite author had written more books than I thought. I still love the library but I’m rarely here for me, usually for my children and I do still get joy out of a new stack of books. But yes, I do miss being lost in a story and reading without interruption. I often dream about a week spent in a cabin just knitting and reading. I need to get back o ha.

    • Joy

      Yay glad someone else loved it! I heard of All of a Kind recently…I wish I’d known about it as a kid! I’m excited to introduce it to my daughter when she’s a little older!

  7. bentokai

    Self care should be simple. And its very important now times because today our life is so busy we have not that much time with our self how to relax our body. Thanks for the information give us that ideas.

  8. Jamee

    Yes to reading! And Just As Long As We’re Together was the best! I saved my copy until my oldest daughter was in 7th grade. Tho by the time I was her age I was reading VC Andrews and Danielle Steele ??? I love that question and I’m going to reference this post often! Happy reading- PS Have you read America’s First Daughter? My most recent favorite!

    • Joy Thompson

      Yes! I am so excited to introduce Judy Blume to my daughter when she’s older! (She’s 2.5 now so I’ve got a while 🙂 )

  9. Marianna

    Joy, you are so right.
    In early childhood and growing up books have always been my favorite escape and pastime.
    Recently I did push Netflix or Amazon back (leaving Pride and Prejudice though :), seeing that I didn’t enjoy movies as much as books.

    There must be something magical in the way words work their way, cresting pictures and feelings inside you.

    Happy summer reading!

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