I’d like you to try a little thought experiment. Cast your mind back to before you had children.
Struggling? Maybe you need some props. Get the baby monitor and put that annoying wave sound on. Now get an alcoholic drink. Wait, don’t just knock it back! Blimey.
OK. Now sit in your favourite chair and close your eyes. Picture yourself doing whatever it is you really love. Whether it’s watching a film, running along a mountain track, playing golf, baking, it doesn’t matter.
Here’s a few visual prompts from my old life…
Now, when was the last time you did that? If you said last week you need to give me some advice. If you’re staring blankly at the screen and wondering what planet I’m on then I suspect you need to keep reading.
The thing is I think all mums and dads need some time off now and then but if you’re rolling your eyes and/or swearing at me, I know, it’s almost impossible, I get it. Well I do now. I didn’t get it when I had all the time in the world of course.
But no matter whether you’ve been a parent for eighteen days or eighteen years behind that careworn, food splattered, rictus grin wearing, dishevelled exterior, you are still you. Honestly. You’re in there somewhere.
And I’m not talking about ‘date nights’ and doing stuff with your other half (if you have one). I’m on about doing something purely for you.
Is this selfish? Well, yes it is, by definition. And thinking only of yourself all the time is quite rightly seen as a ‘bad thing’. But I also think giving yourself permission to focus on your needs now and then actually makes you a better parent.
Let’s face it, for most parents the pendulum has swung so far the other way that we barely remember we’re actually individuals anymore and not just robot servants to our children, other family members or the catdog.
As Marvin Gaye once sang, we’re all sensitive people. I think if you give too much of yourself away and forget to nurture your body and soul, the end result is a frazzled, tetchy, frustrated person who is just about coping with their life.
These days we are all stretched very thin, parents or not; the pressures of work, managing a home, keeping up with family, friends, not to mention the torrent of information we all have to filter now from emails, social media and news.
Gosh this is making me tired. Hang on.
Ahh. That’s better.
Defend against the time thief
When friends or people at work ask me what I’ve been up to, sometimes I struggle to give much of an answer. This isn’t meant to sound like a moan. I love being with Baby B and I am lucky to have a job I enjoy most of the time. But I do often find myself thinking back to life before baby and wondering why I didn’t fully appreciate just how much free time we had!
All those hours spent aimlessly watching TV, reading a book, going for a walk or playing a video game. Or just sitting in the garden and watching the clouds float by! Last year we went on our first holiday as a family and even that wasn’t as relaxing as it used to be.
The first year with a baby I now know is a full-on experience. Your head feels like it’s been put into a blender and your body through a mangle. Getting to the end of each day, each week, each month is reason to pat yourself on the back.
But now, as Baby B is getting older he is getting a little bit easier to look after. He will happily sit and play with his toys for ten minutes at a time before he comes over to check in with one of us. And even then all he usually wants is a quick cuddle and he’s off again!
Ten minutes might not sound like much but I’m sure most parents of babies and toddlers would agree that it’s enough time to sit with a cuppa and check Twitter or simply sit back and watch your little one amusing themselves.
The next stage is of course actually giving yourself, and your partner if you have one, proper time out.
That means someone else is literally holding the baby but assuming you can work that out I think having the occasional break is really beneficial. It might only be going out for a walk or it might be a meal out with friends.
Whatever you do I can guarantee (from experience) you will return to your parental duties feeling recharged, refreshed, and ready to give your children your all again.
10 tips on having a break from being mum or dad:
1. Lay down some ground-rules. First off you have to talk about this with your partner or whoever it is in your life that shares childcare responsibilities. Make it clear this is something you need and that they get to take their turn too. Agree how much time a day or week it is that you can have ‘off’ from being a parent. During this time you can’t be disturbed unless it’s an emergency. You need to also agree the best time and day for each of you and how it will fit in with, and not displace, any jobs that need doing around the house. I’d suggest making sure the house is tidy, clothes are washed, meals prepped, child napping, dog walked and so on first. That way you can relax in the knowledge that your work is done (for now) and you won’t be plagued by thinking about what needs doing next!
2. Build an escape pod. This is a space that is adults only. I don’t mean that in a Fifty Shades way. What I mean is creating a space in a home that is strewn with toys, highchair, baby clothes drying on radiators, food splattered on every surface, and the sounds of wailing infants. If you live in a flat it might just be a cupboard, if you are lucky and have outside space it might be converting a shed into a garden retreat. Whatever it is and wherever it is, kids are not allowed. I’m not suggesting locking the door but you may want to set some rules. Agree with whoever is looking after the children that you have half an hour or whatever it is to go there, shut the door and write or knit or play video games.
3. Be aware of what you’re doing. I’m not suggesting you sit crossed legged under a banyan tree but you might want to use the time to zone out with a spot of meditation or yoga. Even if your time out doesn’t involve a dose of zen it’s still important to take a breath and acknowledge that this is your time. So before you crack on with whatever you’ve chosen to do I think it’s worth pausing and noticing the break between the rollercoaster of normal life and the moment you’re in. You could even say something like “This is my fucking time and no fucker’s going to take it away from me.” Go on. Shout it out. See. Feels good right? (Don’t worry about the people on the train staring at you.)
4. Explain to your children what’s going on. If they’re old enough to understand/care I think it’s worth saying “Dad/Mum’s doing XX for an hour and doesn’t want to be disturbed. If you need someone Dad/Mum/Gran is here to look after your whims and foibles”. Hopefully this curious choice of words will leave them confused enough for you to escape. I think it’s part of learning respect and next time they ask for/need some time out you can reflect back to the fact that we all (mum and dad included) enjoy uninterrupted time to do our own thing. I know, it’s a long shot.
5. Rediscover an old hobby, or start a new one. Whenever I get to that bit on Facebook, LinkedIn and so on where it asks for hobbies I always go blank. Hobbies reminds me of men in attics building model railways or women creating knitted European landmarks. Then I realise I like sitting typing shit like this into a keyboard so there you go I have a hobby too. Stuck for ideas? Here’s an all day buffet of hobbies. Still bored? Like my mum used to say “Go and do a jigsaw.”
6. Get some air. It’s official: getting outside is good for our mental health. And you don’t have to live in a rural idyll, a city park will do, or even going for a nose around your local area; why not walk down some streets you’d never normally visit (provided they’re safe that is). You could discover your local area through the charity Living Streets, find local treasure through Geocaching, or discover what’s around you with Field Trip.
7. Set a goal. This isn’t a test. But having something to aim for will help keep that date with yourself in the diary and keep you coming back for more. Whether it’s writing a novel or losing weight, setting bite size goals is a very effective way to turn small amounts of time and effort into big results. It also gives you another reason to get permission from you and your family to claw back that time in the first place. Imagine their happy faces when they see your match stick Cutty Sark in a bottle!
8. Keep a journal. Again this isn’t so you can justify your Me Time to anyone else, it’s so that you can appreciate it more. You could blog about it of course, but if you need a break from that as well then I think keeping a notebook about what you’ve done means you can look back and see how worthwhile it was. Especially if you’ve been working on a DIY, craft, or arts project, or learning a new skill. You don’t need to write an essay, and you probably won’t have time; a quick diary entry will do.
9. Don’t worry. Whatever you decide to do there’s no point in adding it to your to-do list. What I mean is that this is the thing that can be cancelled without stress if need be. Don’t turn your me-time into another appointment to keep. Sometimes family life WILL get in the way. Whatever you’ve chosen to do make sure it’s not something that increases your stress if it slips. There WILL ALSO be a next time.
10. Remember to give it back. To whoever it is who’s agreed to bear the childcare duties one hundred per cent in order to allow you that precious allotted time to escape into your own world. Take your turn, do your bit, pay it back into the freedom bank.
I hope some of these tips are useful and I’ve got you thinking about setting aside a dedicated time snack.
It’s your thing. Do what you wanna do. 🙂
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