‘Me time’: why am I so rubbish at putting myself first?
One recent Friday night, after a particularly challenging week where my over-tired children seemed to do nothing but tantrum and argue, I told Cardiff Daddy I was heading to Tesco to do the weekly shop because I needed a bit of ‘me time’.
And so, once all three little ones were fast asleep, I grabbed my shopping list and reusable bags and headed out. I bought food for all the family meals I needed to make that week, birthday presents and cards for a couple of children’s parties we had coming up, nappies for my baby and new school trousers for my three-year-old.
I messaged a friend something along the lines of it being funny what constitutes ‘me time’ these days and what a luxury it is to be able to go to the shops without having to get multiple children in and out of the car and entertain them around the shop. She said she knew exactly what I meant and thinks of the weekly shop as ‘me time’ too.
I got home and Cardiff Daddy had been watching a film with a beer. The next night, a beautiful sunshiny evening, he went out for a ride on his bike, while I sat at my laptop with work to do (the joys of self-employment).
And that’s when it hit me: I seem to have lost the ability to take actual proper doing-something-for-myself-me-time; I have become entirely incapable of putting myself first.
I can’t remember the last time I did something that was just about me. It might have been a long over-due hair cut in January where I had to bite me tongue when the girl shampooing my hair told me what a waste of a day she found sitting in a salon having her hair done. Oh, you have no idea, I wanted to tell her.
Shopping on my own might be less stressful than when I do it with my children, and it might give me a welcome break from the house where, as the stay-at-home work-at-home parent, I spend a lot of time. But it’s a household chore for the benefit of all of us. Me asking my husband to take the children out for an hour so I can blitz the housework doesn’t count either – it’s the cleaning, for goodness sake, not a spa break. I’m insulting myself by calling it ‘me time’.
The worst thing is, I’m a yoga teacher and I’m constantly reminding the people in my class how important it is to put themselves first so that they can be at their best for all of life’s other demands. Taking time out to relax and nurture yourself is so important to recharge your batteries and switch your body off from the flight-or-fight stress mode. It’s like the air mask analogy – when you’re on an aeroplane, the flight attendants tell you to put your mask on first and then help those around you, because if you’re gasping for breath you’re no good to anyone else.
I used to do an hour of yoga practice a day. It’s not so easy now I have three young children and a job, but I practice when I can and I still teach. I’m always joking that I feel as relaxed at the end of the class as my students. And I genuinely do but, let’s face it, I’m the only one in the room working. Long gone are the days when I would regularly head off on yoga retreats and exist in a blissful bubble for the rest of the week, not to mention girlie weekends with my friends, shopping trips, a whole afternoon reading a page-turner of a book.
I’m not trying to make myself out to be some kind of martyr but why do I find it so impossible to give myself time just for me? Cardiff Daddy often jokes that we’d be screwed if I was out of action because I am the glue that holds the family together. I’m not one to blow my own trumpet but he has a point. If I allocated me time, I’m just not sure I’d even get it. Last week, he took the kids to the shops while I was at home – and called me three times to ask questions about the shopping list we’d already discussed. I’m pretty sure he could have figured these things out for himself. As it happens, I was doing work, but if I’d been doing what most normal people do with their ‘me time’ – having a hot bath or painting their nails or reading a book – it would have been a real intrusion on that time.
I guess I’m in a different position to a lot of mums in that although I’m a stay-at-home mum during the day, most nights as soon as my children are in bed my laptop is on or I’m teaching yoga. I accept that’s a decision I’ve made because I want to spend my days with my children, not to mention the costs and logistics of child care and school drops offs for three, but it means life is so busy – and I’m just not sure I’m striking the right balance at the moment.
I know I’m not the only mum to struggle with the concept of me-time. I’ve talked a lot to my friends about this – well, as much as you can when you’re at soft play or the park and your kids are running off in all directions – and so many of them say they are exactly the same in calling a solo trip to the supermarket me time, or that they value an uninterrupted shower as much as they used to a massage or a manicure. So many of us say our husbands will go out and play golf or for a bike ride or watch the football in the pub with their friends, whereas when we get down-time it’s almost always about the house or the children in some way.
In fact, a study last year found that the average mother gets just 17 minutes to herself a day. That’s less than an hour and a half of waking time to herself a week. I don’t think I even get that much. We women do 78% of the household chores and while I admit Cardiff Daddy is better than a lot of men around the house, he can ignore a floor covered in toys in a way that I can’t.
And even when we do get proper ‘me time’, we’ve become so unaccustomed to it, we’re not quite sure what to do with it. Once the kids are in bed, the telly might be on and there might be a glass of wine nearby, but for a lot of my friends, they are making packed lunches for the next day, hemming school skirts, ironing clothes, sewing on Rainbow or Beaver badges, filling out school permission slips, arranging play dates for their children, doing an online grocery shop or any number of tasks. The same survey found that three-quarters of mothers said, even in quiet moments by themselves, they can never fully relax if they know there are things to be done. I am definitely guilty of this.
My friend Laura recently had a couple of days of annual leave that needed to be booked from work. With childcare and school already in place for her two children, rather than doing the cleaning or the washing or the shopping, she bought a train ticket and headed to Bath for the day with some vouchers she’d had as a birthday present to spend. She very nearly didn’t tell her family this is what she was doing because she was so felt guilty for being so desperate for time on her own.
But, she says, being on her own was strange.
“I found myself having to force myself to firstly slow down and not rush in and out of shops. I have lost the ability to browse,” she says. “Secondly, I found it hard to go into a shop and look for me. I was tutting at just how expensive clothes are because I tend to shop in supermarkets. Thirdly, it was really odd to just follow my feet. I went into the cathedral this morning and just wandered to a museum/gallery this afternoon. I nearly stopped myself going in then I remembered I wouldn’t have two chatty bored children.
“That said, I did miss them more than when I’m in work and I bought them a book each.”
A cheeky mid-week day trip is out of the question for me, with two of my three not yet in school or any other kind of childcare. But. But – I have booked myself a place on a yoga afternoon. And I’m planning a spa day with some friends. I’m going to get back to my daily yoga practice, even if it’s only a few minutes a day. I’m going out with some mum friends this weekend and we’ve decided to go out early and leave the dads to put the children to bed. I don’t think I’ve missed a bed time since my baby was born 13 months ago and now I have finished breast-feeding, there’s absolutely no reason why Cardiff Daddy can’t do it himself. He loves being the parent in charge – so I’m doing him a favour too.
The fact that three-quarters of the 2,000 mothers questioned in that study felt they lived their lives entirely for other people made me cry. I’m making a commitment to get myself out of that statistic and into the other quarter who think about their own needs once in a while too.
After all, if I don’t put myself first, then who will?
Are you guilty of not putting yourself first, or have you managed to find a balance? Let me know on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or by tweeting me on @cardiffmummy
I’m glad I’m not the only one, my me time is doing housework without s baby clinging to my legs. At least you’re appreciated, it would e so much worse if no one noticed.
But maybe I need to appreciate myself more and give myself the time I deserve?!
It’s not so much the me time I find an issue, it’s the lack of adult company. I left work in 2007 and it’s amazing how quickly you fall ‘out of the loop’ and stop being as assertive as you once were. Tescos is my ‘me time’ too – sad, isn’t it!
Yes, being a work at home mum there are days I don’t speak to any adults other than my husband! x
Looking back, I’m not sure how I would have coped with any me-time when my kids were little, I was definitely the glue that held it all together and to be honest? They were mine! i didn’t really have a life beyond them, until my last one went to nursery and I started to see glimmers of it….the odd child-free coffee with a friend, a haircut in peace, going to work on my own and listening to the radio station I wanted! Small things but it gets easier as they get older. Now I relish the quiet days when they are at school. Afternoons and evenings are so hectic that I need to treasure the peace during the day (the ones when I’m not working of course!). x
I’m sure it will get easier when they get older… and at some point I’ll probably be complaining I have too much me time and never see my children! x
I can totally relate to this, I find myself using my ‘me-time’ to do things that aren’t for me at all, but I can get them done quicker, I really need to arrange some me time!! It’s reassuring in a way that everyone else is going through the same, but also sad because we all deserve me time – this post has definitely spurred me on to sort myself so me time out!
I hope you manage to sort some time for yourself. You deserve it. It makes me sad too that so many mums can relate to this post. Is it a female thing? I don’t know any men who do this! x
This was a great post. Since becoming a mum, I’ve noticed that the “me-time” has seriously dwindled. And I will say that since becoming a mum, I have become so much more appreciative of all my own mum went through with 3 kids. Definitely has given me a new perspective and made me so grateful of all she did for us when we were growing up, often sacrificing so much of herself.
Yes, it certainly makes you think, doesn’t it? No wonder they make so much of their me-time now! x
Oh god, I totally relate to this! I try to take some time when Ayden naps, and my older two are at school, but I usually end up tidying or doing the online food shop. Fail. Enjoy your night out 🙂
There’s always so much to do, isn’t there? I am always amazed when people say things like sleep when your baby sleeps. Who has time for that?!
It is incredibly hard to have me time when you are parent but sometimes you need to just take it Thank you for linking up to #binkylinky
I wish I had more time for myself. So that I could finish my photo albums, my quilts and finish reading so many of the unread books I have sitting on my shelf! My girls start nursery for two hours a day in September so I’m hoping to claim back a bit of me time then! Thanks for linking up with the #BinkyLinky
Gosh I needed to read this today! I absolutely hear you, in fact, to be honest, I could have written this myself, such is the way I’m feeling at the moment. 🙂 Like you, any ‘spare time’ I have child free is spent freelancing, blogging, doing house work or attending errands. I actually can’t remember the last time I did nothing, like absolutely nothing.
Most of us women are just rubbish at looking after ourselves properly. I don’t why – blame society, blame our mums who were our first role models ( sorry mums!) or just blame ourselves, but whoever’s fault it is, we really do have to learnt to DO BETTER AT THIS!
My husband is exactly the same as yours, if he’s tired, he goes for a nap, if he wants a break he’ll spend time doing what he loves. It used to drive me crazy but I actually now admire him! He never apologises for looking after himself, he never feels guilty about having some ‘him time’, he just does it because he needs it! It’s about time us women started to learn from the men in our lives and do the same. Why oh why do we think we have to do everything?! Thank you, you clever lady. I’m off now to cook tea, but, when I’ve finished, just for you, I’m going to do absolutely nothing. I hope you’re proud 🙂 x
P.S Thank you for linking up to #AllAboutyou! x
As a fellow mum of three i totally agree that ‘me’ time is zero these time. Any time i do get is spent doing housework, grocery shopping or trying to catch up on blog work. My other half on the other hand does not a lot of housework and when he gets time off work he has baths, watches films, goes out to the pub. I just can not seem to relax though knowing that there is chores to be done xx
Hi! I don’t normally comment on blogs, but this article is so right I couldn’t resist. I manage to carve a little ‘man time’ for myself every month because I know I need it. And de-stressed me is a better partner and father than stressed me.
It’s so hard to convince my girlfriend to do the same, and talking to friends they have the same problem. It seems that many women have such a strong sense of responsibility to their family that they forget they have a sense of responsibility to themselves too. I would be very happy to take of littl’un a bit more and give my girlfriend a chance to relax if only she’d let me!
Thanks for expressing it so well, I’ll be forwarding this to her…
Hi Ben, thanks for commenting. I love what you have said and how thoughtful of you to be able to recognise your girlfriend struggles with putting herself first and to want to do something about it. I hope she lets you, as it sounds like she deserves a little bit of time to herself.
This is so, so true. The type of thing I count as me time these days is ridiculous … A shower, cleaning without baby clinging to my legs, driving to work! Haha! I love being a mother, but sometimes you do have to put yourself first. I’m off to book that haircut I desperately need!
Good on you! Enjoy some pampering and actual me-time. I regularly say a trip to the supermarket without my children is me-time. It’s terrible! x
I can relate to this post on so many ways. The 5 minutes shower before a small person insists on joining me. And how do men do it, ignore the carnage our children leave behind them in a room. I just can’t do it. And even ‘me time’ is filled with thoughts of the never ending to-do list! I can’t switch off! Nice to know I’m not alone though x