This post is by Nicole Avery of Planning With Kids.
In a recent survey of 4,000 mums across Australia by Kleenex Mums, just under half said they could do better in terms of taking some time out for themselves. Taking time out for yourself as a mum lets you rest, recharge, and reassess. In short, it helps you be a better mother and for me, having time to myself has been crucial to me keeping my sanity in the chaos that can be life with a young family.
I am a mum of five, I write a blog, and have just had my first book published. One of the first questions people ask me is ‚ do I have any time for me? And the answer is, “Yes I do!” I haven’t always though, and it has taken learning, adaption, and planning on my part to make sure that it happens.
The burned chop
Back in my early corporate days, I attended a self-improvement workshop specifically designed for women. My memory of the workshop is vague, with the exception of one analogy that the trainer made. She said mothers tend to always give themselves the “burned chop”: if they overcooked a chop while cooking dinner, they would eat the burned chop themselves. In other words, mothers put the needs of others above their own.
This analogy has stuck with me over the years. There have been (and will probably continue to be) instances where I forego things that I’d like to do in order to fit in all of my family’s needs. Compromise is always necessary within families, so I don’t expect that I always have my needs met first. Planning time for myself, however, means that my needs are not always last on the agenda, either.
Taking the burned chop every time is not the example I want to set for my kids. Setting my own goals, and allocating time for myself to achieve them, models for my kids the way I’d like them to approach looking after themselves. I don’t want them to think that, as a mother, my needs are not as important of those of other family members.
How to avoid eating the burned chop
Over the years I have worked out that just saying “I want time to myself” won’t make it happen. I have found there are three key steps I need to take to succeed in taking time out for me:
1. Set personal goals for “me time”
I needed to know what it was that I wanted. What did “time for me” actually mean? There are no set answers to this question and it is something that changes over time. Right now, for me, it means getting to the gym for an hour five times a week. Exercise has such a positive impact on my life:
- It makes me less cranky.
- It helps me sleep better.
- It gives me more energy.
- I have some time to just have my own thoughts, without lots of questions from little people!
All of these things then mean I am in better frame of mind and state of health to parent my kids and relate to my husband. So although this is “time for me” they also receive indirect benefits from it as well.
2. Set an activity plan
Once I knew what I wanted, I then needed to talk with the family about ways that we could make it a reality. There is always a need for compromise and negotiation where there are many competing needs. My husband and I agreed on my gym times: Monday to Friday from 6.00am to 7.00am.
We explained these times to the kids, so they would be aware that they will most likely wake those mornings and mum won’t be home. My husband does everything possible not to schedule early morning meetings that will cut into this time with the kids. It does occasionally happen, but he will give me as much notice as he can, so we can arrange another time for me to get to the gym.
Gaining the support and commitment of the rest of the family was critical to setting an activity plan that would let me achieve my goals.
3. Stick to it
With the family on board, it is now down to me to make sure I actually stick to the activity plan we created. This means setting the alarm each night for 5.45am. If I sleep in and leave late, I lose some of my precious hour at the gym, so I needed to be disciplined. Previously when I have been doing early morning gym sessions, if I went to bed late, I would go to bed with the mind set of “it’s a late night, I will see how I feel in the morning”. Before I had even lain down in bed, I had given myself a leave pass not to get up.
This time around I have approached it quite differently. In my mind the 5.45am wake up call is not negotiable. If I go to bed late, then I am just tireder in the morning when I get up. It is not the morning start that I need to change, it is the evening before. Through this discipline over the first few months, I have now created myself a good habit. Each night before I go to bed, I do the same things:
- Set the alarm.
- Get the gym gear ready.
- Fill up the water bottle and grab the gym towel.
- Make sure the iPhone is charged and the headphones are with it.
Having all these things ready means I have no excuse in the morning when I am tired and sometimes would prefer just to lie there! I have taken away as many obstacles as possible and I focus my thoughts on how good I feel at the end of the session. It is a powerful motivator to get me up and going.
How do you approach finding some “me time” in your life?
Nicole Avery is the master organiser behind the popular blog Planning With Kids, where she shares tips and tricks to organising the chaos of family life. Her first book “Planning With Kids” was released in May 2011 by Wright Books.