Lessons from Little Mrs. Sommers :: What a Character from the 1800s Taught Me About Self Care

Last week, my eighth grade English classes read “A Pair of Silk Stockings” by Kate Chopin. In the story, the main character Mrs. Sommers receives $15 unexpectedly (approximately $450 in today’s money). We see her plan out how she is going to spend the cash on new clothing for all of her children, but when her shopping day arrives, she buys nothing for them but instead buys herself new silk stockings, then shoes, and then gloves, and then a nice meal at a fancy restaurant, etc. 

My students were absolutely enraged by the end of this story. “HOW COULD SHE!?” Nods of agreement went around the room. “YEAH! She bought NOTHING for her poor children. They’re going to be dressed in rags all over again!” And finally “How could she be so SELFISH?” 

There was a time when I would have whole-heartedly agreed with their assessment of the story and of Mrs. Sommer’s character. A time when … I did not have children of my own. 

I found myself defending Mrs. Sommers. “But guys, she can’t even remember the last time she bought something new for herself. I mean, if for the past ten or so years she’s been putting her kids first, doesn’t she deserve at least one day of pampering?” 

Most didn’t agree. And that’s totally normal for a 13-year-old to wonder why Mom isn’t doing MORE. 

But I couldn’t stop think thinking about the differences in our reactions to the story. 

As moms, we hear the words “self-care” thrown around a lot. But how many of us practice it? How many of us can totally relate to Mrs. Sommers – receiving money unexpectedly and instead of thinking of going get a manicure or massage, our first thoughts are how the money will be spent on our children? I know I’ve done it – even with Christmas money before. 

I’m not saying that this is wrong; I think it is the natural response and reaction of a mother. BUT. 

Upon further reflection of the story (as a mother), I think Mrs. Sommer’s big mistake was not budgeting anything for herself. She was so used to just taking care of her “little brood” and making the money stretch for so many years, that adding her own needs or wants to the shopping list didn’t even cross her mind. 

Do I think she went a little overboard spending all of the money on herself? Yes, of course. But I don’t blame her for getting caught up in the moment and feeling the need for a temporary escape from reality.  

As moms, how do we keep ourselves from doing exactly what she did? I think the answer lies in taking care of ourselves regularly. Obviously, I’m not advocating leaving your children without food and clothing, but if Mrs. Sommers had planned to buy herself a new pair of shoes that were badly needed when she was planning out her shopping list, maybe, just maybe her kids would have gotten something and she would have, too. 

For me, budgeting for myself is more of a time issue than anything else. Money isn’t the big issue for me so much as time. Getting time to myself to listen to the music I want to listen to or watch a show that isn’t made for kids is important self-care. I have to make that time.  

I don’t want my story to end like little Mrs. Sommers’ story – sitting on a train car hoping that it’ll take me away and never come back. I want to enjoy my life and enjoy my children. For me, that means taking some time for myself just to be refreshed. 

How do you make time to take care of yourself?  

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Sarah Vorhies is a self-proclaimed foodie who has been married to her husband Justin for ten years. Sarah and Justin have two beautiful children, Lillian and Judah. Sarah stayed close to home and got her degree in English Education from Southeastern Louisiana University. She can honestly say she is never bored thanks to one of the most fun jobs ever - teaching 11th grade American Literature. She enjoys traveling, reading, finding new recipes on Pinterest, and spending quality time with her family.

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