Over the years, many people – mostly women, and of those, mostly Mums – have said to me, “You’re so good at making time for yourself”.
One in fact, has been imploring me to write this post for some time and to share all my “secrets” (here it is at long last Jasmin).
While on the one hand I’ve felt slightly self conscious for having regular time out (which of course equals time away from our family), I’ve also felt like it’s something to be a little bit proud of.
I know a lot of my friends have struggled to find the balance between family time, couple time and alone/me time and we’re all constantly talking and workshopping ways to find that elusive balance.
Taking time out for me has actually been a relatively new phenomenon. As a very social extrovert, before we had children, rarely, if ever, did I feel like I needed time on my own.
Sure I needed my downtime, but I was more than happy spending that downtime with someone else – whether it be watching a movie together, reading on the couch or lying on a picnic blanket in the park. I didn’t crave actual alone time. Downtime yes, alone time not so much.
I often joke that having children has cured me of my extroversion. The fact is, with children at home, I am always with someone now, and have been for nearly a decade. I rarely go to the bathroom alone or have a shower without someone sitting on the bathroom step talking to me.
I can’t drive in silence or read the newspaper in peace on weekend mornings. I accept this and most of the time love the voices that fill the once quiet space, but occasionally I really need to get the hey out of our house and spend some time elsewhere. For me that sometimes means time by myself or time with friends.
To recharge and to reboot. To find peace amongst the constant noise.
So how do I manage that?
Here’s how I do it and why I do it.
1. Make it a Priority – It is abundantly clear to me (and everyone else just quietly) that our whole family is much better off when I have some time out.
Have you heard the saying, Happy Wife Happy Life? It’s kind of like that.
If I get some regular downtime, my tolerance for shenanigans is generally higher and I tend to get cranky/hide in the pantry a lot less.
“Me” time means different things for different people too – for some it may be an hour to go for a run or do some exercise.
For others, it may mean your partner and kids going out and leaving you in the house for an hour to read, sleep or ring a friend. Or it might be meeting a girlfriend or your Mum for a coffee or a night out with friends/kinder/school mums.
It doesn’t have to take a big chunk out of your day or weekend either. An hour for you and your partner each over the weekend isn’t much but can make you both happier, refreshed and more engaged with each other and the kids.
It might be something you need daily, weekly or monthly too. Whether it’s fifteen minutes in a cafe to drink your coffee in peace a couple of days a week; an hour’s walk on the weekend or a day in the city with a girlfriend once every 6 months, put it in your diary and make it a priority.
If you’re a single mum, obviously it’s equally if not more important to have “me” time but much harder logistically. I hope that the people around you though see how important it is for you and your family and offer to help you out.
2. Be smart about it – If my friends have similar aged children to my youngest, I generally try and catch up with them during the week, so the kids occupy each other and we can catch up. I’m technically still on duty but if I can see a girlfriend and have a meaningful/largely uninterrupted conversation, that still constitutes some “me” time.
This might happen at one of our houses, the park, a play centre or a child friendly cafe.
On the weekend, if I meet up with a girlfriend sans the kids, I’ll usually suggest early afternoon when my preschooler sleeps and the older boys are having rest time. This is usually downtime for Mr SnS and I too so the impact of my absence is less during this time.
Similarly, for evenings out, I try not to leave until all the kids are tucked up in bed. Thankfully, ours are all in bed (the older boys are reading) by 7pm. This way I can say good night to them, Mr SnS isn’t left with the full load and I can meet a friend at 7.30pm.
As far as exercise goes, I go first thing in the morning twice during the week, before breakfast and before the kids go to school. This works because Mr SnS works from home. Several friends of mine also do this, although they get up a bit earlier than I do.
To do this, I need to be organised with lunches, my post (if I’m publishing that day) and what’s needed for the morning. But I do it, because I know that realistically, that’s the best window for me to do what I would otherwise find hard to find time to do.
Other Mums I know exercise when the kids are at kinder/childcare/school or find a gym with a good creche.
Another way of being smart about me time is ticking off two boxes at once – for example, catching up with a friend over a walk/run/at the gym or shopping/running errands with your Mum/sister/bestie. This is a great use of time if you have limited opportunities to get out on your own.
It’s also good to talk about when’s the best time for ‘me time’ to happen. For example, you might decide that Sundays are family days or that it’s best for everyone if you both have an hour or so on a weekend morning so the afternoons can be spent together.
By regular, they may only be once a month, once a term or three times a year. For example, one group of friends and I always catch up for each other’s birthdays, which means we catch up as a group at least three times a year.
We generally take turns organising the catch ups which means they develop their own rhythm.
I also find these group dinners/catch ups are a great way to catch up with several friends at once regularly and in more depth. If you car pool, there’s even more time to catch up. It’s much easier to have a proper conversation over dinner or at someone’s place than the incidental catch ups at school, sport, at the supermarket and kinder drop offs.
I’m also in two book clubs, one with my old friends and one with school/kinder Mums. One meets every month on a Friday night (the dates are set the year before) and the other meets on a Tuesday night bi-monthly. These dates are in our diaries and it’s understood that unless something major crops up (a school function, Mr SnS travelling interstate, a family birthday), I’ll be going.
One of my book clubs also has a weekend away every year, which is locked in 6 months in advance and is one of the highlights of my year.
My foodie friends and I, aka The Donna Hay Food Club, also meet for dinner once every couple of months or so which has also provided a regular time to catch up together over our shared love of food (all the details are in this post).
I’m also a social rep for kinder and have been a class rep for school, and as part of that, I organise class dinners and coffee catch ups once a term, all of which I go to.
Because I know most of these dates weeks, if not months in advance, I can give Mr SnS notice and ensure that me going out fits in with what else is happening that day/week for our family. I also try to go out only once during the week (excluding weekends) so it’s not too much for all of us.
I probably go to more social do’s than most and what I need and do is obviously different from what you may need – the thought of going to dinners might make you tired. The key is to work out how much me time/down time you need, how regularly you need it and try and book it in in advance so it actually happens.
4. Give and Take – Me time is not just for me. Mr SnS needs it, and gets it too. And by each of us taking some time out, the other feels comfortable in seeking and taking time out too.
Mr SnS is an introvert, and sometimes, I don’t know how he and other introverts manage the constant chaos and noise of family life. But to be fair to him, he doesn’t just manage, he does a lot more than that and he is a very present and fab Dad. I think his work provides him with a break but he also makes a point of going for an hour long walk each day by himself, including weekends. He also has a boys’ weekend every year and the occasional night out with the lads.
5. Set an example – As much as I am devoted to my children and, as a stay at home mum slash blogger I spend most of my time with them, I also want my sons to learn that it is normal for parents (not to mention women) to have their own needs, friends and interests. Not to the extent that it has a negative impact on them of course, but that they learn to see us as people as well as parents.
People who know about friendships because they actively cultivate and maintain them; people who value reading and who make time to read and talk about books; people who try new things and make mistakes; people who take care of themselves and their mental and physical health. I hope that as they grow, our children do the same.
6. Encourage each other – it’s so important that we encourage each other to have time out. I try to do this by always saying, “Good on you” when a friend tells me she’s going away for for a girls’ weekend or having a night out with friends. I’ll help her with her kids if she needs me too and look for ways we can provide that time out for each other during the week.
Do you have regular “me” time? Do you find it an easy thing to carve out? How have you balanced this with family life?