Me Time: How to practice self-care as a busy mom

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I read this great post on Facebook about self-care.  I’ve been thinking about writing something along these lines for a while, but I’ve been struggling with getting it down on paper.  Not enough time, maybe?! So start by reading the Facebook post, it says a lot of what I feel.

There is a certain consumer-led market for self-care.  It looks at our lives, and elevates being busy, exhausted, sleep-deprived and caffeine-fueled, as if these are badges of honor in the parenting race.  ‘Look, I’m tired, I must be a good mom.’ We celebrate our busyness and continue to loop in and around our kids, never leaving them alone to do their work, the free play that they so desperately need in their lives.  We schedule activities for them into our planners and drive them from school to soccer to dance to music, with maybe a quick playpark stop if it’s nice weather and we have some wasted time between one class and the next.

We’re encouraged to celebrate that busyness. What follows next is inevitably exhaustion for us (and if for us, then surely for our kids too? And we wonder why they keep having meltdowns?!)  And in swoops an industry set up to provide us with wine, chocolate, gym classes, massages, time away from the kids in any manner in which we can be charged money.

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Taking time away from the kids is an important aspect of self-care, don’t get me wrong.  I love to head out for a run alone or meet a friend for wine or brunch.  I come back feeling refreshed, invigorated, and much more open to listening to what my kids are really saying and interpreting that to figure out what they really need.  I’ll play trains or Lego and ignore the laundry for longer when I return.  But inevitably real life intervenes again, as it surely must, and I get tired and crabby, and someone needs to be driven somewhere and I know when we return they will be like little birds with their beaks open wide in my face, desperate for food, and so I must stop playing and I must start cooking, and sorry boys, the Lego and trains will have to wait.

Recently I have been reframing self-care to think about what our family needs, and what I need, on a daily basis.  Self-care can’t just be about running away from life for a while. Weekends can’t just be when I leave and dad takes over playing with the kids.  We have to do things together, as a family, And self-care has to be more than a bath at night, it has to encompass how we live our lives in all the big and small moments.  If I can change how I see our lives as a family and where my place is in that (hint, it’s not a race and I shouldn’t be last) then I can look after myself, and the rest of my family, so that I don’t need those breaks away as much.

For us, this includes a number of things.  First, less scheduled activities.  We have never been big on these anyway, but since Red has started school there has been an inevitable onslaught of suggestions for extra-curricular classes.  Unlike as a toddler, when I picked what we did, now he knows what his classmates are doing and he wants to join them. He is still young enough that I can steer us away from these activities without too much awareness on his part.  He does one extracurricular class a week, a 30 minute piano lesson. I am working hard to resist the urge, by him and by me, to add any more classes to that mix.  We are incredibly lucky that I work part-time and so I can pick him up from school and take him home without needing a daycare option. At least two or three days a week someone comes back with us after school or Red goes home with a classmate.  Knowing all the families involved, I know that at their houses, just as at ours, this is basically free play.  Mostly the kids play together, but sometimes they play separately, and that’s okay too.  If it’s remotely acceptable weather we get outside.  Sometimes we go to the park, but more often it’s in the yard.  They just hang out, play, and I do the housework.  I cling to these unstructured few hours in the afternoon.  It amazes me to watch what unfolds as they play, as they unpack what they did that day and any difficult issues they are working through.

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As the kids get older I’ve also realized that they are old enough for us to enjoy activities together.  They have funny little personalities, and we joke around a lot. And so, for us, reading silly books is high on the list of enjoyable things we do together.  As is getting out on our bikes, or them biking and me running. It’s easier to enjoy my time with them when we’re out of the house and yard.  At home, I want to read to them, but I glance over at the dishes or the laundry.  Look, they asked for that book but now they’re reading it themselves, I’ll just nip out and run a wash before we read. Or in the yard, I set them up with an activity and then I sneak away to do some yard work.  When we leave the confines of our home, it’s easier to switch off the housework brain.  If I can, I’ll do some social media work for the blog, or check in with writing clients.  But I try to schedule that during home time, and not use our time out of the house.

I’ve noticed that when I truly fill the kids’ buckets and give them my undivided attention, joining them in whatever activity they’re doing, life is so much easier when we get home. And what I didn’t realize until I fully gave into this notion of fully committing is that I enjoy it too. If we can find something we all enjoy, and for us that’s often an outdoor activity, I don’t have to be the martyr, playing along when I desperately want to be doing something else (Minecraft, I’m looking at you). The kids sense that I’m all in and that makes it more fun for them too.

I know that they won’t want me as a playdate, a confidante, a sounding board, forever. I’m making the most of hearing those little voices, holding those tiny hands, giggling along with them, while it’s easy for all of us. I want to find things to share with them that we all find fun and relaxing, and recharge our mental batteries. And if I’m lucky, they’ll still want to do some of these things with me when they’re older too.

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