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Me Time for Moms

A Happy Mom Sets the Tone for Happiness at Home

Sometimes I want to scream, “Wait a minute! What about ME?!” What about Mommy? When does she get to do something fun?

The self-help gurus assure me that when I find balance, I will discover the freedom to do more of what I want to do, instead of filling all of my time with what I have to do.

That buzz-word—balance—vexes me. First, why do I have to search for it like the golden egg at an Easter egg hunt? Second, people claim they’ve achieved it, but they must have teeter-totters that defy the laws of physics. Mine looks like theirs, work on one side and my so-called life on the other, but when I focus on work, that side of the see-saw slaps the ground, hard, throwing the life side up in the air. When I concentrate on parenting, marriage and maintaining a home, the life side crashes down and the work side takes a wallop.

In my constant quest for illusive balance, I feel like the fulcrum caught in the middle, bearing all the weight. I strain to hold everything steady-as-she-goes and make constant adjustments to maintain that perfect state of equilibrium. Still, I have no “me” time. And it isn’t long before one side or the other whaps down and jolts everything back into divergent motion.

Where Do We Find the Time?

“Most of us subscribe to work-life balance,” says John Gregory Vincent, CEO of Augusta-based The Genesis Group. He’s an expert in maximizing organizational talent, whether in a small organization, like a family, or a big organization, like a corporation, and he advises clients to let go of the romance with balance. No one can be on both sides of the scale at the same time.

Alternatively, embrace what he calls the One Life Philosophy. “If you look at it from that perspective,” he says, “you don’t have your work week and your home week, you just have your week. Stop running two sets of books.” What he means is quit trying to categorize every activity into one for work or one for home, because it’s all your life. It’s a whole package.

The other thinking pattern a mom has to change in order to corner a little “me time” is the idea that she is managing her time. According to Vincent a person has to “own her time.” It’s the difference between being efficient and effective. “Time management is all based on the system of getting more activities done (more laundry, more housework, more phone calls, more e-mails) in the same amount of time.” A mother’s to-do list is an animal with an endless tail, and the more she does, the more there is to do, so the more she does. Eventually that animal eats her entire day.

Time ownership, on the other hand, recognizes that time is a limited, non-renewable resource to be used effectively in order to maximize its potential. When a mother takes ownership of her time, she elects to eliminate tasks that require a chunk of her day or week but pay small dividends. She’s more willing to say no to activities and obligations that don’t advance her toward her goals. Sloughing those tasks frees blocks of her day that can now be filled with personal pursuits that bring joy, relaxation, self-actualization and satisfaction.

Get Over the Guilt

Even when a mother changes her strategies for keeping calendars and lists, capturing minutes and hours once lost in the fray, she may not necessarily pencil herself into them. But a family doesn’t need a martyr. Sacrificially working herself into a frazzled mess doesn’t make mother a hero in their eyes. In fact, it can make her irritable and ill and unpleasant.

Unfortunately, many of the messages moms receive from self-comparison, the media, that internal self-critical voice, friends or maybe even their own mothers reinforce the notion that taking time for oneself is a selfish action. Accompany that with a natural drive to nurture and a slew of excuses and the person Mom sees looking back in the mirror is an overwrought, over-worked woman.

“Just because you’re a mom, doesn’t mean you stop being you,” says Stacey C. Brown, a licensed mental health counselor. “You had interests prior to becoming a mom and those interests don’t just turn off once you have a baby.”

Taking time for herself allows a mother to pursue those old interests or invest in new ones. It gives her opportunity to stay connected with friends. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes to breathe deeply and enjoy a view of the backyard. “If moms don’t take ‘me’ time,” adds Brown, “they get crabby, unfocused and possibly even depressed.” Worse than that, long-term chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body. What good is Mom if she’s short-tempered and sick? How happy is her home if she isn’t happy?

Attitude Is Everything

Agatha Christie is quoted as saying, “The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” Time is what we make of it. What a person makes of it determines how she labels it. Every woman applies her own definition to “me time.” A mom alone at the kitchen sink can either rue the drudgery or capitalize on the quiet.

Be careful not to put too many constraints on “me time.” Qualifying it against a rigid set of standards will minimize or eliminate it from the schedule. Just like moms need to change the way they think about time management and work-life balance, they must open their minds to a broader definition of “me time.”

Kerri Zane, author of It Takes All Five: A Single Mom’s Guide to Finding the REAL One, says, “Me time is when someone is in her flow space, or, as I call it, her happy place. It is a state of mind. It’s a mental vacation spot.” It is not a particular activity or place or number of minutes. Losing oneself in thought while ironing can be just as refreshing as dining with friends, which can be just as rewarding as plinking guitar strings in a private lesson, which can be just as rejuvenating as flipping through a magazine while waiting in the carpool line.        

Yes, certain circumstances require that a woman set self-interest aside for the betterment of “the organization,” but this should be the exception, not the norm. None of us will ever be granted more time than we have right now. Any woman putting off joining a yoga class, planting a garden, learning to crochet, writing a novel or taking a nap until she has time, will never do it. In fact, right now, we each have more time than we will ever have again. Tomorrow we will have less and the day after that, even less. In lieu of asking, “What about ME?!” take that minute and spend it on Mommy.

Helpful Resources for Moms

Body Back: The Mother’s Handbook to Medical, Physical and Social Well-Being by Heather Porter
Letting Go of Super Mom by Daisy Sutherland

Lucy Adams is the author of Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run. She lives in Thomson, Ga., with her husband and their four children.

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