Parenting is more than a full time job because it trumps all jobs. You are on call 24/7. This is why it best to wait to have children until you have achieved many of your personal goals; because once they are here; they are first. You will be at your paid job, worrying about them or being called to their school to run and pick them up, or in the middle of an intimate moment and you hear their cough…; or in the middle of taking some personal time in the bathroom and you hear their scream as they fight over a toy… So many distractions from your own goals and needs and it is never-ending even as they grow into early adulthood. So when and where can you find the time, the interest, the money and energy to take time for yourself.
Taking care of yourself means many things: it starts with getting enough rest and eating well, but extends to creating at least one hobby or activity that is uniquely yours. Many parents, especially working mothers, wait until the children are in bed to get the laundry done, and clean up, and pay the bills. That leaves little time for focusing on the things that make you happy. Yes, your children may make you happy, but if you don’t spend time with you, you will forget who you are and ultimately, lose a part of you. Most of us think that we just can’t squeeze one more thing in our busy schedule yet we are always finding time to squeeze in another thing for our family. So how do you find time and what can you do?
You must prioritize time with you; you must view it as important. Yes, your kids are important, but not everything they do or want ranks equally. Figure out what you can say no to or delegate in order to create space for you in your week. Organization is a key factor in creating time. If you are always doing things last minute because you are under the gun, the issue may be procrastination. Procrastination is the great time stealer. You may think you do not procrastinate but if you are always running around like a chicken without its head, then lack of planning and organization may be the cause of your anxiety. Planning is the antidote to chaos; you may not be able to organize everything but the more you organize your time and events, the more you will be able to squeeze in time for yourself. You have time but you have to find it and take it.
Once you get your priorities straight. You have to think about the things you enjoy doing. Do you like to read? Take walks in the park? Take bubble baths? Eat out with friends? Draw or Paint or Dance? Watch movies? Whatever it is that you like to do, you then have to MAKE time to do it and create a reasonable time frame for it: once a week, biweekly, once a month. Start small so you don’t set up an unreasonable expectation; a date with yourself only once a month is still doing something for yourself 12 times a year; which is probably more time than you have spent on you in the last year. You may not know what you want to do; so make a commitment to try something new each time until you find the new you.
Once you find your interest, you need to find an venue: a gym, a class, a restaurant, whatever. Then, you will need to prepare: where, with whom, how… and organize the details including who will watch the kids. Do not kid yourself and think that you can lock up in your bathroom and take a leisurely soak if there is not someone “on call” to handle the kids; if you need a babysitter, then plan for one. Treat this date with yourself like any other date: for work, or with your spouse, or for an event. Be prepared and work out the details so that you can concentrate and focus on you. Work out a plan with your spouse or a friend to exchange babysitting duties once every two weeks; make it a standing date. List what each person is expected to get done while the other is gone. The worst thing is to go out and come back in to a messy house or homework undone. It takes the sweetness out of the day.
The final issue to be considered is money. How do you afford to date yourself? You do not always have to go out; there are plenty of ways to take care of yourself without leaving the house, but many of us can’t rest if the kids are up. Going out can be expensive. Taking classes, going to the movies or restaurants, or even hanging out with friends costs money; once you leave your house, you probably are going to spend. Once you prioritize your time for rekindling you, you need to find a way to set aside money; it may mean saying no to something else you enjoy like specialty coffees, and setting that money aside daily, or generally reorganizing the family’s budget to squeeze out more for this new hobby. You may have to cut one of your children’s 12 activities just to squeeze you in. The money from their activity can go to yours. I know that seems harsh, but isn’t that what we working moms do all the time: cut us for them?
A word of caution here, this new found liberation does not give you license to neglect your kids. They should still be your priority and you must still make decisions that will benefit them, but you can also insert you into the equation. A weekly or monthly date with yourself will not hurt your kids. Instead it will benefit the entire family. It will keep you in tune with yourself and that will benefit you; and a fulfilled mother or father, is more likely to enjoy their children more. You will not be abandoning your kids if you spend a few hours doing something you like. Instead you will teach your kids that it is okay to be multidimensional; and in the process they will be more likely to appreciate the things you do for them; instead of taking them and you for granted.
Parenting is definitely the hardest yet most important job that we are called to do. It is hard to do everything. So don’t do everything and once a month or so do you. Take care of you. You and Your family will benefit. What a concept! Happy Parenting.