In Mother, Nurture Thyself I talked about how important it is for me to find time to care for me. On The Leaky B@@b Facebook wall and in the comments of that post we discussed just how hard it can be to find the time, energy and even means to make it happen. But we need it. Finding the time may seem like mission impossible but it’s so worth the benefits that taking the time to make it happen is worth the challenge. Mission Impossible, no big deal. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find some time for you and, if you have a significant other, you and your partner together and help your entire family to find a healthy balance.
I practically throw a party if I was able to pee just once in a 24 hour period without an audience. It’s a rare party indeed. Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. So how to find the time to nurture yourself? You have to start with recognizing that it actually IS important. It’s like the safety instructions on airplanes: secure your own oxygen mask before helping children with theirs. In other words, you won’t be any good to anyone if you pass out, so take care of yourself. Because, let’s face it, burnt out people aren’t fun to be around. Even kids don’t like to be around burnt out people, they’ll steer clear of them all together if given the chance. Once you’ve acknowledged that this is necessary, it’s time to start planning a way to find yourself your own nurturing time and here are 22 ideas to get you started.
1. Think small. Sometimes what gets in the way of finding time for yourself is that we think too big. We think it has to be a big block of time where we can get an entire scrapbook project done or a big night out. But even small things can be energizing. Have a stash of something small and special you can enjoy; a piece of chocolate, a bottle of your favorite nail polish, your favorite blogs and take 5 minutes here and there to enjoy them. Personally I love the Endangered Species All-Natural Dark Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs, just 1 square with a cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon makes me relax a little, a quick coat of my favorite OPI nail polish during nap time, drooling over some delicious yarn online or a visit to SouleMama’s blog all make me feel like I got a little breather.
2. You’re not alone! Kids need time away from others too, even young babies need time without stimulation of interpersonal interactions. Depending on the age of your constant companions (AKA kids) a great way to find some time to nurture yourself and model it for your children is to invite them to do it with you. I know, I know, that sounds like I said to have your kids there. I did. What I really mean is for your kids to learn how to nurture themselves just as you do. All growing up my mom enforced a daily quiet time for us kids, even when we were older. This regular practice did at least 2 very important things for me: taught me it was ok to be on my own a little bit every day and that I liked being alone a little bit every day. It probably also massively helped my mom be a little more patient with me. Quiet time was a sanity saver when I was young and today it still is. Depending on the day and what we have going on when, quiet time can be anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and a half. When they are very young it’s nap time, as they get older they look at books, listen to books on CD, color, craft, play-on-your-own time and when they are of reading age it’s dive into a good book time. Occasionally we’ll all enjoy quite time together in the living room where we set up a spot for each with cups of tea, blankets, pillows and books or journals and on simple rule: no talking. I love this because I see my kids learning how to respect their own boundaries and meet their needs for quiet space for themselves as well. A habit I hope they carry with them well into their adulthood.
3. Sleep. It probably goes without saying that most parents are tired. Chances are strong you’re not getting the sleep you need. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is good advice but can be difficult to do particularly if there are older children or a whole pile of responsibilities (Mt. Laundry) you feel you need to get done. So set the alarm. You may find that getting to your to-do list is easier after a 20 minute nap and takes you a lot less time than you expected simply because you’re not as tired. A few nights a week try going to be early even if it means you’re laying down just 30 minutes after you got everyone else in bed. It may seem like you’re loosing time that way but you’ll make up for it in energy and focus when you’re better rested. And don’t forget the power of sleeping in too, every great once in a while I set up a basket of special play things held back for special occasions for the girls to discover upon waking and Smunchie and I snuggle in bed as long as we can. Even more unusual is when I put a movie on for the girls and head back to bed for another hour!
4. Wake-up! As I write this I am the only person up in my house. It is blissfully quiet and I’m enjoying a cup of tea to myself. I was out of bed at 5 in order to have this moment, sometimes it’s around 4. Maybe not every day but a couple of times a week try slipping out of bed before everyone else gets up and do something for yourself. You might not want to risk house cleaning, that could wake the masses but other quiet activities can be pulled off without anyone ever knowing. This is so much easier when you’ve had a couple of nights of going to bed earlier or been able to take a power nap.
5. Step away from the sink. Nap time, the time when parents everywhere hope they will finally get something done, can also be the time you get a few moments to nurture yourself. I have heard and even experienced that cleaning can be cathartic on some level and that’s great (like once, I experienced that once). But that isn’t really nurturing yourself. That’s house cleaning. Sure, you probably keep yourself from going too crazy by scrubbing the bath tub and certainly in making sure you have clean dishes but you can take 5, 10, 20, maybe even 30 minutes to sit down and do something for yourself or take a shower. Mt. Laundry and Dirty Dishes Swamp will wait. It isn’t unusual for me to find taking that time for myself leads to me actually being more productive and energized in getting chores or organizing done later.
6. Know thyself. When much of your time is filled with the sound and busyness of children it can be difficult to hear your own thoughts. An inexpensive journal can be just the place to get your thoughts out. Free yourself of any expectations for your journal, it doesn’t have to be well written, articulate, or some type of prose, just throw something down and see where it takes you. Maybe it won’t be more than list making of the thoughts that are running through your head. Journaling is a great activity when you’re sitting with a toddler fighting sleep or even making dinner and have it sitting on the counter where you can toss a word or 2 as they come to you.
7. Be flexible. At some point I thought I would never let my children watch TV. Oh wait, I remember that point, it was when I had no kids. But then reality hit and having kids turned out to be very different that I expected. Read: I did a lot of the things I said I’d never do. We’re still a minimal screen time family (none M-F, very little on weekends) but sometimes I need a break so badly that turning on a 30 minute DVD is worth it’s weight in gold and by the end of it I’m in a totally different place to be the creative parent I want to be with my children. With my first baby I discovered that having The Piano Man give her a bottle of my pumped milk probably saved our breastfeeding relationship just because I felt like I was getting a break during that time. Being flexible with what you planned to do in order to build in some space for yourself is an invaluable skill that will go far in managing the parenting ups and downs that are sure to come as your children grow.
8. Co-parent. If you are with a partner then co-parenting is crucial. It isn’t babysitting to be the only parent with one’s own children or step-children, it’s parenting. Everyone will benefit from regular opportunities to be with each parent having time alone as primary caregiver. For me, sometimes it is just running out to the coffee shop for an hour or so on a morning The Piano Man is home. The hardest part often isn’t the kids or The Piano Man, it’s me forcing myself out of the house. I find and create all kinds of silly excuses and often struggle with feeling somehow I shouldn’t go because I’m not fulfilling my role as wife and mother. Over time The Piano Man has helped me to see how that communicates that I don’t trust him and that I’m buying into expectations about families that I don’t even agree with. It’s funny too because he was the stay at home parent for 2 years while I worked outside of the home! After my time away I always come home to find that he has done things differently than I would have but it’s actually good for my children to have the skills and parenting styles we both bring to the table. Plus, I’m excited to be with my family again after having been able to pee by myself and hear my own thoughts for a bit. It’s good for all of us, I get a break, he and the girls connect more, I let go of my control issues, and the girls experience the unique parenting finger print of their daddy. He and I also help each other find time by getting up with the kids and letting the other one sleep in, making a meal while the other one is taking a shower, or taking all 5 girls to the park while the other is getting a little bit of time alone.
9. What do you enjoy? Not sure? Find something that interests you, take a class if need be and start doing it. I have lots of interests and hobbies that I enjoy: knitting, sewing, needle-felting, crafting, cooking, reading, writing, song-writing, art, photography and painting to name a few. Wanting to be sure they don’t all center around my kids for both their sake and mine I’ve intentionally developed interests that don’t involve them or aren’t for them. I work on them here and there as I find the time, learning to be able to work in short bursts. Sometimes my children get to enjoy the results of my hobbies (i.e. knitted dolls, a sewn play farm mat) but the activity itself was for me. Branching out into something new (I recently added the needle-felting) can be especially invigorating, try it!
10. Time-savers. Find ways to save time, use the FlyLady method for house cleaning and decluttering, meal plans and weekly menus, and getting really good at using the slow cooker can add hours to your day. I’ve liked my Crock-Pot for a long time but it was when I discovered Stephanie O’Dea’s A Year of Slow Cooking (and she has 2 books now too!) that I discovered that I down right love my slow cooker and now we use it several times a week.
11. Make the most of time. When I decided I really wanted to write a book I got Barbara DeMarco-Barrett’s book Pen on Fire to help me find the motivation and strategy in my busy life being the mom of 5 kids. Learning how to see pockets of time in my day and to learn to make the most of them felt like someone gave me a gift. While larger blocks of time are important for nurturing ourselves, tiny snippets of time tucked here and there can turn into a cumulative gold mine of self-nurturing opportunities. Laying Squiggle Bug down for a nap or the night equals knitting, journaling, or brainstorming time and lately with Smunchie I’ve had to do a lot of pacing to get help her fall asleep and have started doing lunges, kick-ups, standing crunches and leg lifts at the same time. Other ways to make the most of time is to set the timer when everyone is safe, fed, and set-up with something for them and take 10 minutes for you to do something that will be sure you are safe, fed and well cared for as well.
12. Go outside. A change of scenery and fresh air for a tired, overstimulated, stressed-out parent is like a big cup of cool water to a marathon runner. When the weather permits we head outdoors. As a homeschooling family we take advantage of any weather opportunity to set up on an old, large quilt outside. Bringing our school work, play silks and some books and toys, the big girls find their spots to read or work (up in the tree is a favorite) as Squiggle Bug enjoys exploring outside and Smunchie crawls after her. When Smunchie was smaller she was either in a basket by my side or worn on me. Our back yard or a park, I can knit, read or write as the outside world provides a relaxing change of pace and environment for all of us while I keep an eye on the girls being entertained by the great outdoors.
13. Get moving. A walk, a bike ride, a living room dance party, a wii work out, an hour at the gym, laps in the pool, physical activity gets your blood pumping and your body working. Wherever you can fit it in or carve out the time to make it happen, physical activity will not only make you healthier (and your children deserve to have healthy parents) but will give your mind time to process all that you’re dealing with and release hormones that will give you energy.
14. All together now! While we all need time on our own and just one-on-one, don’t underestimate the effect taking time to nurture the entire family will have on everyone. Family game night, reading together, and any other host of fun activities just to enjoy together, both regularly scheduled and special occasion family events will nurture everyone as well as your family togetherness. Sharing the activities you love with your kids from time to time becomes a special opportunity, we have knitting parties in our house just because we all enjoy it.
15. Find community. Parenting groups, neighborhood community centers, churches, like-minded co-ops, school groups, play groups and more are opportunities to build community. It’s a way to connect with others for support, hear that your not alone, and refresh your adult mind by interacting with other adults. That can be revolutionary to your entire week! Additionally you may just find a friend that will want to get together outside of the group and swap child care.
16. One for you, one for me. There’s a balance of give and take to strike in most relationships. With children it’s a lot of give and we don’t expect to receive anything in return, though we do receive a lot in the form of love and all things wonderfully unique to children. So the take also comes from you, you have to give to yourself even as you give to your children. Wearing my babies and small children has been a life saver not in just soothing them and getting stuff around the house done but also by letting me find time to myself. With a content child on my back or front, particularly a sleeping one, I’ve multitasked all kinds of activities from creative experiments in the kitchen to sewing, from walks outside to working out (what a way to increase the work out too!), from knitting to installing one of my pieces. I can meet their needs and some of my own at the same time.
17. Tune out to tune in. Vegging in front of the TV can be a nice way to unwind but once kids are settled for the night how often do you really need to hear someone else talk at you rather than with you? Turning off the TV a few times a week and stepping away from the computer and phone so you can tune into yourself and your partner opens so many opportunities for finding things that nurture and energize you and your relationship as well as the time to take advantage of them.
18. Be intentional. Set and keep a few standing dates on some sort of regular basis, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually. Time for yourself alone and time for you alone with your partner and/or friends. A couple of times a month I meet with my good friend Monette (who blogs over here and is totally wonderful and inspiring) where we encourage and inspire each other with our writing goals and family life. To keep it simple we meet at the same place on the same day at the same time, a Thai restaurant with an amazing deal on Massaman Curry we both love. The Piano Man and I have both regular date nights (not weekly though, as much as I’d like to it just doesn’t work with our schedules right now) and annual special days such as the day after Christmas where we get a couple of sitters back to back and go out for almost the whole day.
19. Prioritize. If you can’t find people to swap child care with or don’t have friends and family that will babysit for free and spending the money on a sitter means you couldn’t afford dinner and a movie, skip on the dinner and the movie and get a sitter anyway. Check for specials and free days or events at museums or community centers, visit the library or book store and just browse (hang out in the poetry section and read love poems together or head to the romance section and randomly select books to read randomly selected passages allowed to each other- very hot, very fun and very free), or any number of ideas from my super creative friends (and the our daughters’ godparents) over at datesonthecheap.com.
20. Work together. The Piano Man and I work very well together and I know that isn’t the case for all couples. If you know there is something you enjoy working on together (we like cooking and songwriting) then schedule time after kids are in bed or when they are safely entertained with something and get working on it. If you’re not sure how well you’ll work together, try something new. Start a project. Our Lunch In Paris has been so much fun for us, we don’t get a lot of time but we’re keeping it simple and working it in where it fits. The whole concept was initially hammered out over the phone while he was pushing Squiggle Bug on the swing at the park and I was pacing the hall to lay Smunchie down for a nap and now we work our way through the book over coffee in the afternoon for about 20 minutes during quiet time about ounce a week. We’re laughing, talking and brainstorming as we share the experience and grow in our relationship.
21. Ask for help. We are social creatures, we need community and the support of others. Sure, you probably can do it alone but that doesn’t mean you should. Friends, family, neighbors, church members, and fellow parents can be excellent sources of help and support. Spend time developing a relationship with them and inviting them to participate with your family so you all get comfortable with each other, go over family rules and listen to your inner sense on someone but when you feel you’re ready, have them babysit. An hour while you take a walk around the neighborhood with your phone ready while the kids are napping or in bed is a good way to test the waters. We’ve just branched out into letting Earth Baby (a rather responsible 12 year old)Word of warning: only leave when your child is asleep if you are certain they won’t freak out if they wake and find the sitter there, be sure you can get home quickly and easily.
22. Think big. I know I just said to think small but you’ve got to think big too. If you never think big you’ll never do big things, right? Give it a try, ask a friend to do a sitting swap with you and go out alone or with your partner. If you have family near you (I don’t and never have since having children) and it works to have them babysit then ask them to. Seek out people through various connections that would be willing to give you some time, build relationships as a family and ask family friends to babysit once in a while. I know it’s hard to leave your babies but they will be fine, you’ve given them so much confidence and security already that they will have a good time and be happy when you return. And you’ll be teaching them that people DO return. It’s object permanence just on a little larger scale. Get a massage, go for a bike ride or walk, hit the antique mall, go see a show, something, anything without a small person hanging on you. After your little one is no longer breastfeeding at night or will do ok without it, consider even bigger plans with overnight getaways and trips.
It’s not all or nothing. Find a combination of things that work for you and be willing to change things as needed. Right now the only real exercise I get involves having kids with me, walks, the putting Smunchie to sleep work-out, living room dance parties, family bike rides, etc. That’s just how it is in this season of our family’s life but by combining some of these other ideas I’m finding a balance that works. Even as a breastfeeding, homeschooling mom of 5, or maybe especially as a breastfeeding, homeschooling mom of 5 I’ve had to make taking care of myself and my marriage a priority. After about the 6 week postpartum mark I can find at least an hour every few days to leave my sweet new baby in the arms of someone that loves her (in our case, her daddy) in order for me take a deep cleansing breath away from the ones that depend on me to care for them. It’s a breath of health. Not everyone can make all of these work* and you’ll have to find what works for you, creatively shaping your own path to nurturing the nurturer.
What works for you? When you find time for yourself how do you see it impact your children?
*I recognize that individual situations vary in terms of support and resources. The Piano Man is very involved as a co-parent and we’re able to find balance this way but not every partner is as available and single parenting presents a different set of unique challenges. It is my hope that we can all seek out community that would help us find the time to take care of the whole family, including the caregivers and providers.