QUESTION: I have school age children and work full time. I feel like all I do is take care of the kids and work. How can I make time again for me and find my own identity? Can you give me some suggestions before I pull ALL of my hair out?
Juggling being “mom” plus working can be a challenge! But as your question implies, there is still an importance to finding time for yourself, both for relaxation and so you do have a sense of your own identity separate from your ‘Self as a Parent’ and ‘Self as Career Woman.’
Some helpful hints:
(1) Let go of any guilt you have about time for yourself! I don’t say this just for the sake of letting guilt go, but because time to yourself is ultimately also in the best interests of your child. A little adult time or personal time or relaxation time goes a long way to improving mood and thus allowing you to be an even better parent. Plus if you always ignore your own needs, you are role modeling for your children that self-care is not important, and that being an adult and parent is all work and no play.
(2) Plan ahead. One general plan that can be used regularly is best, otherwise planning itself can get put off. That is, build your personal time into your weekly schedule, don’t wait for there to be “time” for it. People do best with routines and schedules. Be creative and find what works for you and your family. Maybe Saturday mornings are your time to read and relax, or Sundays you go to evening church services, or every other Saturday you go hiking, or every Friday after work you go to happy hour, or Saturday night you participate in a game night or night out with friends… Whatever you do for yourself, build it into your schedule. A regular “me time” schedule, whether weekly, every other week, or once a month, allows you to plan your time more easily. (I suggest more than once a month. Weekly if possible; every other week at a minimum.)
(3) That brings up the question of childcare for some people. Be creative! If you can afford a regular sitter for these times (every other Saturday night for example), then advertise and find one. It is actually easier to find a sitter to work a regular schedule than to scurry to find a sitter for occasions as they come up. If you cannot afford a sitter so regularly or have trouble finding one, perhaps you can barter with a friend. For example, if you like to cook, maybe you can make a favorite meal in exchange for a night of childcare. Or the most direct exchange is to swap childcare services between yourselves.
(4) Take advantage of spontaneous opportunities. While planning is essential in a busy life to having fun or relaxing adult time, don’t forget you can still be spontaneous! Some parents get into such a strict routine they allow wonderful last-minute opportunities pass them by. Don’t automatically say no to a last minute invitation, but rather take a minute or two to check on possible childcare. Create a relationship with some parents of your children’s friends that is reciprocal in this way as far as having a child over unplanned so their parent can do something that fell into their lap. Also, accept all of the help you can get! If a friend or family member offers free childcare, graciously accept. And if your child gets invited off to a Saturday afternoon jaunt, don’t always fill that time with mundane household tasks, but instead jump into an activity you truly enjoy (read, garden, go for a walk, call friends, shop, etc.).
By taking time for yourself, you will feel better and be role modeling a more balanced lifestyle for your child!