As a working mom of young kids, my nights are interrupted as littler bodies collect around mine at random hours until someone wakes up, setting off a chain reaction of wakefulness to start the day. A half-hour to an hour later, the alarm goes off (I did not choose to co-sleep, it chose me). Mornings might be calm, or a tsunami of bickering might surge before 6 a.m.
Feeding, dressing, and brushing everyone else’s teeth means that my morning “self-care” is brushing my own teeth, followed by “cardio.” Cardio is frantically rushing around to collect all the debris necessary to get everyone out the door on time. Post-work, the river of rush hour traffic flows into dinnertime. (Do all kids hate dinner, or just mine?). The day ebbs into an overtired hour of reading, sometimes baths, pjs, more teeth brushing, clean up, next day prep, and the chores that make the lights stay on and the house livable. Around 9 p.m., everyone is asleep and the house is less of a disaster.
Time for… what, exactly?
Parenting magazines and mommy blogs describe this as the precious hour of “me” time, to be filled with a glass of wine, a bubble bath, or some “guilty pleasure” trash TV show. Is this when Pintrest projects get made at other people’s houses? It’s just not enough for me, and I think we need to talk about it before we moms find that we’ve lived our lives for the other people in it and forgot about ourselves.
I think it’s because my kids are mostly sleeping through the night that I’m no longer too tired to ignore myself. I feel antsy, energized, like I’m stretching and growing. Bubble baths are just a band-aid on a wound that will keep bleeding unless I can get the kind of “me” time I crave. I need to feed my soul after doing the repetitive work of adulting and childcare. I’m a new age with a new, post-kids body, and I need time to discover who I am, to look around from this new perspective. I don’t just want to read the next great novel; I want to write it.
It’s hard to articulate the feeling of flow. I miss diving deep into a project that leaves me feeling replenished and purposeful. I miss doing work I enjoy without keeping one eye on the pick up or dinner or bedtime clock. I need creative immersion, flow, to feel like me. I’m reclaiming my “me” time in a way that feels meaningful for me, and here’s how:
1. Time from sleep (a dangerous game)
Tony Morrison got up before her kids to write. I’m a night owl and stay up too late. But burning either end of an already short candle is risky. Running a working household smoothly is a precarious tower of cards, and pulling precious sleep out from under the foundation will eventually cause the tower to collapse in illness and burnout. So, I’m trying to be reasonable here, but some nights I’m living dangerously with purpose.
2. Time from work (when you can)
Days are filled with work and momming, so time for you pulls time from one of these. Have you ever taken a vacation day just for you? I’m going to try it. I know, we already take more than the time we have for sick kids, for snow days, for random school vacation days, for when the sitter cancels last minute… My career is challenging, and so even though I’m lucky to have it, I’m scheduling time away from it too, just like I would any medical appointment. My soul is hungry (and also, I need to schedule that dental cleaning sometime too…).
3. Time from parenting (if you can shake off the guilt)
The workday is long and bedtime comes early, weekends are a blur of fun and chores and errands. Taking from this time is hardest for me because I already feel so guilty about not seeing my kids enough. But I’m deciding to do it anyway, as guilt-free as I can. Before kids, this used to be all my time. Now, I’m taking back a tiny part of what I have completely given over. One night a week, I don’t see my kids. There, I admitted it out loud. Fridays I stay late at work, wrap up and cap off my week, then go to candlelight restorative yoga. Substitution: see if your child-free good friend will let you lie on their floor with your eyes closed for an hour (basically restorative yoga). Some weekends I’ll head to a coffee shop for a little while to write. Some evenings I’ll take a walk by myself to think. You deserve no less than to own your own time at least once a week. Well, you actually deserve way more than this because parenting is hard, but I know your alternate kid-watchers are also busy and/or cost money, so it’s a start.
Parents of babies, you’re in a special kind of working parent hell, but have faith – you’ll get through it. When you’re crawling out of that pile of diapers, bottles, and wake up calls on the hour every hour, don’t forget to check in with yourself and make sure you’re still there. You need this time, and the world needs you. That education you fought so hard for? The loads of job applications you submitted? The things that move you and inspire you, be it creating art, canvassing, playing a sport, talking with a friend, listening to your favorite songs and writing new ones? Don’t forget that person. She’s still in there. She still needs time of her own, and more than a damn bubble bath. Put on your own oxygen mask first. You have a spark, and it’s never too late to decide to let it shine.
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