I love my kids to bits, I truly do. They are the most wondrous little beings who fill me with more love than I ever thought was possible.
But sometimes I just need time out from being a mum.
I’ve been feeling it a lot the last couple of weeks. The Easter holidays were awesome, but Cardiff Daddy had no time off work other than the bank holidays, so it was just me and the little people for the best part of two weeks. And while I loved having them off school, and we had so much fun and adventure, it was intense.
This week and last, since the eldest two have been back at school, Cardiff Daddy has had several work and social commitments in the evenings, meaning he’s not been home until late. I realise for those solo parenting, or with partners who work away, this is an everyday occurrence, and I salute you for all that you do. But I really appreciate the nights when he is home and can help, or can take over while I grab five minutes of calm, and the children really miss him when he’s not here. Like a lot of mums, as soon as my children are in bed, there seems to be so much to do – sorting laundry, washing dishes, tidying up, sorting out the kids’ lunch boxes, filling out forms for school or whatever. Once all that is done, like a lot of work-from-home mums, that’s when I start my writing work, or when I go to teach my yoga classes. Like a lot of mums, sometimes those few moments are all I get.
All three little people seem particularly overtired at the moment and despite doing my best to get them to bed early, we have had more meltdowns, tantrums, and arguing and fighting between them than usual. I’ve needed lots of TLC and patience…
Like I said, I really need a bit of time off from parenting right now.
It’s one of those things you’re not supposed to talk about though, isn’t it?
We’re supposed to want to spend every waking second with our little ones. We’re supposed to cherish every moment; to not blink in case we miss it.
We’re not supposed to say we need time away in case it makes us look like a “bad parent”, or “ungrateful” or like we don’t love our kids enough.
Which is, frankly, ridiculous.
I love, love, love my babies with all my heart. But even the most devoted parent needs time to just switch off and be ‘them’ for a while.
To recharge, recuperate, rest. To remind themselves of the person they are away from their family and, if they work, their job too.
I know that when I take time out for myself I am a better parent. I am more patient and more enthusiastic.
Sometimes I just need my mind to be mine again for a while. For my brain not to be filled with thoughts of looking after my children, or what’s for tea, or household chores that need doing, or organising family life.
It’s like that aeroplane analogy; during the safety demonstration when the cabin crew tell you to put your own gas mask on before helping those around you, because if you’re struggling to breathe, you’re not going to be much help to others, are you?
And so it is with parenting. Time out to nurture your own well-being can help you find the energy to be everything you need to be for everyone else you have a responsibility towards.
Yoga helps me massively. Before kids, I used to practice pretty much every day and attend two or three classes a week. That’s not so easy now, but I practice at home when I can as it makes me feel physically, emotionally and mentally better.
That said, it’s generally when the kids are in bed – or, if it’s at the weekend when Cardiff Daddy is at home, then it isn’t long before they are running in and out of the room, joining in and climbing all over me. As much as I love their enthusiasm for yoga, an interrupted practice doesn’t have the same impact.
I also find myself sometimes up staying later than I really should, after my husband has gone to bed, because it’s the only time I get alone. The only time when it’s just me with no kids, no work, no husband. I’m usually just scrolling through Facebook or watching an episode of something my husband refuses to watch with me on Netflix, but the downtime is so good!
Part of me feels that proper ‘time off’ from the kids needs to be during the hours you would usually be with your children.
It’s like annual leave from work. The evenings and weekends (or whatever your non-work time is if you usually work weekends or evenings) are not the same as holiday booked on your usual working days. Work-life balance is so important to prevent burn out, even more so in this day and age where smart phones and laptops mean you are continually contactable. Proper time off restores productivity, recaptures enthusiasm and helps calm the mind. It’s the same with parenting. Whatever age your children are, it can be tough. Sleepless nights with a crying newborn. Toddler tantrums. After school grumps. Hormonal pre-teens. Teenage traumas. Every stage has its ups and downs.
And there’s nothing wrong with needing some time away from that.
It doesn’t make you a bad parent. It makes you human.
I’m self-employed and work from home… and it’s difficult to take annual leave. But last week, I gave myself an hour off on my usual work-from-home day and went for breakfast all on my own in a lovely café. Other than me, the café was entirely empty – the space and the quiet did wonders and it made me so productive when I got home and started work.
I’m also planning a few girlie meet ups with different groups of mum friends, and even an afternoon to myself to go shopping for clothes for me, without any kids in tow.
I needed to know it was not just me craving some time off from parenting though and so have been asking my mum friends how they manage to make time for themselves.
Many of my friends say going to work gives them a break, or that they count a solo trip to the supermarket as me-time, or even having the hubby take the kids out of the house so they can blitz the housework. But we need to stop doing ourselves a disservice and remember that while household chores are undoubtedly easier with no children around they do not, I repeat DO NOT, constitute me time. And work is definitely not me-time either, even if it is the less stressful option sometimes!
One of my friends once booked a day of annual leave and caught the train to another city all by herself for a shopping spree without telling anyone because she was desperately in need of some space.
Another friend, whose husband works away a lot, has spa vouchers from Christmas still waiting to be used. Previously she’s booked annual leave for this kind of thing – but this time she’s going to book it when he is at home so he can do the solo parenting that she does so much of and so she feels like she is getting actual time off.
One mum I know, who works part time, has two children now in full-time school. The times she’s not in work are supposed to be predominately for household chores – but she says she always allows herself a bit of crappy TV as well to give her some much-needed downtime.
So many mums have told me that although they know they feel better when they take time for themselves, they feel guilty if they take that time during what would otherwise be quality family time.
That mummy guilt is a strange thing, isn’t it? (I’ve written about it here.) I say mummy guilt because I’ve yet to meet a man who feels it in the same way. A lot of dads seem to book golf days, or go for a long cycle, or head off to watch the rugby or football, or an all-day drinking session, without any of the soul searching we mums go through, wondering if we can give ourselves permission for this time off.
But we don’t need to feel guilty. We really don’t. We spend so much time prioritising our children, our partners, our jobs, our homes.
Sometimes we need to prioritise ourselves too.
Because if we don’t, then who else will?