Prevent parenting burn-out, step 1: Carve out some “Me Time”
One of the simplest things we have to do as parents is protect a little time for ourselves every day. (I can hear you howling with laughter out there in cyberspace: “I haven’t been to the BATHROOM by myself in three years! How in the world am I supposed to find any time alone?!” But see . . . my friend, you are talking and laughing all alone AT YOUR COMPUTER, which proves my point: If you don’t reserve a little time to yourself every now and again, you might go insane!)
Here are two strategies to try:
Me Time Strategy #1:
Deliberately teach your kids to give you a little break every day. Of course, nap time works great for this, but I also suggest having kids give you a short break at some other point in the day. When kids are really young, try setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and telling them that they can’t ask you for anything until the timer goes off. They will fail miserably at first, but by the time they are four or five, you should be able to claim a good half hour of semi-quiet for yourself every day.
I’m totally serious.
You can do this.
Your kids can do this.
And . . . TAKING THIS TIME FOR YOURSELF IS NOT SELFISH.
Giving yourself a few minutes to recharge—to have a quiet time with God, or read a book, or take a nap, or just sit and stare into space—will make you a better, happier, more patient parent. You will like yourself more, and like your children more, when this time is up. So really, your kids are doing themselves a favor by giving you this time.
It also teaches them several crucial life lessons: It teaches them not to be selfish, and it prepares them to have the self-control and patience they will need at school when it’s time to play quietly and work independently.
Me Time Strategy #2:
When our first baby settled into a nap routine . . . (Oh, the wondrous glory of predictable naps! If you can coax your baby into a routine, I highly recommend it. Your sanity will thank you.)
Let me start again:
When our first baby settled into a nap routine, my husband (whose work schedule is definitely more flexible than most) offered to babysit one day a week during her morning nap, plus a bonus hour or so afterwards, so I could . . . DO WHATEVER I WANTED. Surprise, surprise . . . I used it as writing time, and yes, Starbucks mochas were involved. This brief respite quickly became a highlight of my week. As much as I was enjoying my baby, I hadn’t realized how much I needed that little break. It was indescribably liberating to know that I would be able to leave the house ALL BY MYSELF once a week. It made the diaper explosions, sleepless nights, and laundry disasters all feel a little less overwhelming.
We all love our babies, but—as you know—those baby days can wear you out and leave you feeling a bit nostalgic for the Free Woman you used to be. If you can find a way to arrange a time for yourself—maybe once a week, even once every other week or every few weeks, depending on your schedule—you will feel like a new woman.
I GET THAT THIS IS HARD TO DO.
Really, I do.
It takes creativity and commitment.
This suggestion isn’t meant to be a source of pressure or guilt—it’s just an idea, something that might help your life, if you can pull it off. If you can work something out with a spouse, a neighbor, a mother/mother-in-law, a babysitter—even if you can trade off babies/toddlers with a friend so you BOTH take turns getting breaks—you won’t believe the difference this will make in your happiness. Giving yourself a set Me Time that you can look forward to on a consistent basis will make you One Happy Mama.
Four kids later, Kevin still gives me breaks like this—and I still need them . . . four times more than I used to, ha! But four kids later, I still like being a mom. I still like each one of my kids. I still like having babies in the house (but no, there will not be any more after this one!). And thanks in no small part to his generous babysitting, I still like my husband of 15 years. I wish the same for you!
Elizabeth works from home as a writer, editor, diaper changer, baby snuggler, laundry slayer, not-so-gourmet chef, kid chauffeur, floor mopper, dog groomer, and tantrum tamer. She is always tired, but it's mostly the good kind.