Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Myth of "Me Time"

We've already talked about the "together mom" myth. Today I want to tackle another idea that gets a lot of coverage in the momosphere.

"Me Time."

Someone is always asking for more "me time" from her life. Moms love to get together and lament their lack of "me time." But I'll tell you something... The last time BJ said, "Hey, I'll take the kids for a while, why don't you go do something for you," (which he does, occasionally, because he is a pod person) I had no idea what to do with myself.

Let's face facts, here. I wasn't the sort of girl who got regular manis and pedis pre-kids. I'm not suffering because I don't have time (or money) for them now. I have literally driven around in my car, stopped at the Starbucks, driven around some more, and ended up at Borders because it was the only place I could think of to go. And I was bored within about 10 minutes, and someone's kid was crying which made it hard to pretend that I didn't have kids waiting for me at home. I was thinking about all the things I needed to do at home (cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, putting away messes, cleaning the toy room, dusting, vacuuming, cleaning, laundry, etc.) and feeling guilty about wasting time at Borders with my foofoo coffee instead of ticking things off of my to-do list.

Guilt makes it hard to enjoy things.

Another time I went and got a massage for "me time." Didn't love it. In 12 years of being with BJ, I have come to like my back rubbed a certain way, and I don't really like to be touched by strangers or touching strangers to begin with, and it just gave me the creeps and left me feeling like I'd wasted a lot of money. I do like getting a facial, and have found a wonderful aesthetician (if you're local, e-mail me for a referral, because Kelly is a goddess), but it's not really practical to have two or three facials a week in the interest of "me time."

I have forgotten how to do "me time."

Or have I? Is "time for manis and pedis and aimless, non-goal-oriented shopping and foofoo coffee drinking" what we mean when we talk about "me time," or is it something else?

Does the request for "me time" have to do with time free of kids, or is it something more?

Here's what I think. When Moms want more "me time," what they're actually asking for is "someone to take care of me time."

We spend all day responding to other peoples' needs (small, non-fluent, impatient, irrational people). We have to anticipate their needs, lest we risk a meltdown. We are responsible for their hunger, their thirst, their sleepiness, their entertainment, their feelings of being loved and cared for... And then our husband comes home (if we're lucky enough to have one) and we're responsible for listening to his day (his need for attention, to reconnect, etc.) getting dinner for the whole lot of them, cleaning up, getting the kids to bed, and, if the husbands are lucky, getting a little "couple time" in before we pass out.

It's a tall order, and there's not a lot of priority placed on meeting mom's needs in that agenda, unless we maybe get a bit of a foreplay backrub!! (Oh, hi Dad, are you still reading this? Hahah!)

I have learned, in the course of my 3.5 years as a parent of small, demanding children, to find ways of carving out small chunks of time for myself during the day.
  • Go to the mall or park with a book. Benignly neglect children as they play with the other kids. (By "benign neglect" I mean, keep an eye on them out of the corner of your eye, but don't push their swings and stuff... let them play on their own, they will live).
  • Trade free babysitting with another mom during the day, so you can do errands, etc. without kids in tow. (And see below for the added advantage of the playdate).
  • Go to the bookstore, grab a magazine on the way to the children's section. Benignly neglect children as they play with the train, etc. in the children's section.
  • At nap time, go for a long drive in the country. When the kids fall asleep, head back to civilization, get a foo foo coffee (hooray drive-thrus), sit in the car and read a book (or take your wifi enabled laptop and check your e-mail/write your novel in the Starbucks parking lot).
  • Nap with your kids, the laundry will keep. (Don't do this in combination with the rolling nap I outlined above... That's not safe!!)
  • Enlist the kids in the activities you enjoy. Now's the time to train them to be interesting to someone like yourself as they get older. What better way than to teach them your hobbies early?
  • Fence in your yard. Sit on the patio/deck/blanket on the grass with your book/magazine/e-mail/project while the kids play.
  • Have other kids over to your house. No, I'm not kidding. Playdates will entertain your kids, so you don't have to! I get the best cleaning done when my kids' friends come over.
  • Along the same lines, have another kid! In about 15 months, the egg you fertilize today will become a playmate for your little one!
  • Be a joiner - I look forward to the kids' gymnastics and ballet classes as much as they do, because I get a chance to visit with the other moms while they participate. Or, I can take a magazine/laptop/book with me.
  • McDonald's playplace, your local library during story time, etc. Find places in your community where you can get someone else (or something else, like tubes full of germs) to entertain your kids so you don't have to!
  • Join a Moms Club - I hear that MOPS has separate activities for the kids and the moms, so you get a little time where you're not entertaining and anticipating needs, but I guess you have to do a craft or something. I haven't looked too deeply into it.
  • When all else fails, or your stuck home sick like we are today, stick their butts in front of a video. I got the upstairs bathroom clean during an episode of Charlie and Lola this morning.
  • Find a spa/hair salon/nail salon/gym/etc. with child care. Again, e-mail me if you're local for referrals.
"But!" I hear you yell, "What about couple time?? Those only work during the day, and I'm not going to count a Big Mac and fries as a 'date' with my spouse!!" Here are my suggestions for finding couple time:
  • Find another couple with similarly aged children and trade babysitting with them once or twice a month.
  • Go to church and take advantage of the free babysitting. Hold hands and play footsie in the pews.
  • Exploit local relatives.
  • Contact your local high school or college and ask them to post a babysitting ad for you on their job board. Be sure to interview and get referrals and Google all candidates.
  • Ask non-local relatives to come and stay with your kids for a weekend so you can run away from home. They'll love the chance to spend time with your kids, your kids will love the attention and the variety in caregivers (and eating cookies for dinner and candy for breakfast and all the other naughty things grandparents, aunts, and uncles do) and you get to enjoy running away!
  • Travel to your nearest willing relative, drop the kids off, and then go to the nearest big city for the weekend... same idea as above.
  • Date-in. Put the kids to bed, send someone out for carryout and a rental movie, and snuggle on the couch.
And I'll tell you what, friends... If I've found some "me time" by day, I'm a lot more interested in finding "couple time" by night.

Here's the thing - when we've had couple time, BJ's a lot more willing and able to spend some of his time taking care of me - which is what I suspect the whole "me time" thing is really about to begin with. And I'm a lot more receptive to his gestures when we all have balance.

Also, because I'm a (mostly) stay at home mom, I try to remember that when he's working he is taking care of me, and us, by earning the money that keeps this family going. And that's definitely not nothing. Oprah once said something about, "Happiness is having an attitude of gratitude..." I really find that happiness in my marriage is all about gratitude. We're both working hard right now. It's hard on everyone. We're in it together. And if we remember that, we're both happier, and so are the kids.

How do you find the time for yourself and your spouse that you need?


Tara said...

This post was right on time for me. I often find myself with nowhere to go and nothing to do during my moments when my hubby decides to watch the kids and let me breathe. I do work full-time as does my hubby so once I get home it's a mad dash to clean up, make dinner, wash clothes, do a little writing, play with the kids, put them to bed and then maybe, just maybe a little nookie with the hubs. You're right - it's exhausting. So when I get some me time, what I really want is to just go retreat to my bedroom, curl up with a book while wearing a nice silky robe and eating a chocolate cupcake. :) I don't necessarily need to go anywhere. I just need time to collect my thoughts and just...breathe. Great post.


strwberrryjoy said...

GREAT POST AMY! I'm linking it from my blog! K?THNXBYE!

Susan K said...

Veteran mom here (16, 15, 11, 9)
One thing my dh and I have really really worked to do is to connect each night. After kids are in bed, talk to each other. Not while doing the dishes or other junk, but give each other your full attention. Finish that conversation that was interrupted earlier.
Anyway, for "me" time, I loved being able to grocery shop by myself!
My husband and I have been known to have romantic date nights at Lowe's or Menards. Hey, even Wal-Mart works. :-)

Erin said...

Our church just started a thing called "Mom's Day Out" on Tuesday mornings. The moms participating get on a rotation to watch the kids while the other moms go do whatever they need to or want to. This was the first week I did it and it was hard to fill up the time, although I managed. :) Next week I'll be watching the kiddos with another mom (it's 2 moms to 5-7 kids just depending). It'll be good to get to know the other moms at church and to have time off for myself. I realize I can't go to the mall every time or the doctor. But Starbucks and a good book sound like a good "me time" to me. :)

Honig said...

While I'm still only 10 mos into this experiment, something that has helped DH and I is that we each get a sleep in morning on the weekend, where you aren't disturbed until 9 am (and then we've trained the baby to do a mean wrestling pounce). Having spent the prior 9 mos nursing exclusively in the mornings (at roughly 5 am), this has gone a long way toward fulfilling my "me time."

The other thing I do religously is go to my private Pilates lessons. They're expensive, but I LOVE them (I hope to become an instructor myself one day) and it is one hour a week where I literally HAVE to focus on myself in order to do the exercises correctly.

oh, and I do love the froo froo coffee, too! :)

Yolanda said...

I guess every Mom has to find what works for them. I for one could get lost in a Borders/Barnes and Nobles for a couple of hours with no problem whatsoever (and not purchase anything). Some of my favorite me time is when my husband gathers up the kids, and runs them around a park or playground or wherever so I can enjoy my own house in peace(preferably freshly cleaned so I can experience the calm before the children return to undo all that was done lol). The time always goes by so quickly but even an hour can be very refreshing.

Melissa said...

Those are some good suggestions but what do you do when you have one little kid?

I have a 10-month-old. She doesn't walk or talk yet. I work outside the home full-time.

On weekends, we are constantly looking for stuff to do. The storytimes are all M-F, ditto for the two structured playgroups I've found. The nearest MOPS group is 11 miles and we don't have a car. There are no MOMs Clubs in Baltimore.

I feel very isolated on weekends when I want to enjoy my daughter but also try to squeeze in some me time. Yes, I'm away from her M-F but it isn't like I'm lounging someplace; I have a demanding job and my break time is taken up pumping.

Baby Bunching said...

Wow, I was just about to post something like this. Can you see I'm WAY behind in reading blogs these days. Ugh. I find that "me time" is a lot easier to grab now that I've learned I don't need lots of it together. It's amazing what 10 minutes of reading a magazine outside of my kids preschool with a coffee will do for my mental well-being. :-) Great post!