Ok, you guys, I'm just gonna say it... I'm really, really, really, REEEEEALLLLLY bad at taking care of myself. I don't mean hygiene (I really like to be clean), although hygiene is a part of self-care. No, I mean the part where I take time out to do the things that I enjoy and that make me feel like... me. And I think there are probably a lot of other mamas (and dads, too!) out there who have trouble balancing the parent/partner role with the "me" part of life.
WHY is this so hard? Well, for me, it has two causes. First and foremost, some of the things I enjoy can be costly (new books and a manicure? yes, please!). With 4 kids, 3 school tuitions, and only 1 full-time income, extra money can be hard to come by. And when we do have extra income, we typically opt to spend it on one of three things: family outings, home improvement projects, or, every so often, date night. So, taking money aside and using it on only myself feels... selfish.
Which brings me to the second reason- GUILT. There are so many things out there, floating around the internet, hanging out and waiting to make us, as parents, feel guilty. Articles that tell us that we must never, ever let our children feel ANYTHING but joy and happiness, that we must put ourselves second always, that we must give and give and give of ourselves until there is nothing of us left. Really, who wants to add to that? We get all caught up in making sure that we are doing everything just right, but here's the thing: even though it's hard to do, I know that I am a better mommy and wife when I make some time to take care of myself and do the things I love. I am calmer and saner and less stressed, and ALL of those things carry over into my parenting. So how am I trying to find that balance? Read on!
Scheduling: The best way I can think of to make sure that I make time for me is to put it on my calendar. I love, love, love planners, and my calendar carries all the details of our lives. Scheduling time to exercise and to do things I enjoy can help me follow through.
Getting more sleep: or, rather, having a better sleep schedule. My kids start school at 7:45 and 8:00 am, which means they have to get up and going pretty early. And I am typically a morning person, accomplishing more early in the day, rather than late at night. Keeping a good sleep schedule will help me get up earlier so that I can get things done or even just sit and read while I drink my coffee BEFORE my kids have to get up for school. Of course, the whole sleep thing is dependent on everyone staying in their respective beds at night (more on that another time), but getting to bed earlier will help.
Finding less expensive alternatives: this is something that I've been getting quite good at over the years. For example, I love having my nails done- it just makes me feel really put together, but regular manicures can be costly and time-consuming. For Christmas a couple of years ago, my mom gave me everything I need to do gel manicures at home. Yes, gel polish is more expensive than regular polish, but since each bottle costs half as much as a regular manicure, and I get several manicures from each bottle, the cost is significantly reduced. And I've gotten really good at painting my own nails, so my results are just as good. Also, I've started embracing second-hand, resale, and thrift stores, particularly for books, home goods, and furniture.
Combining things I NEED to do with things I WANT to do: when I need new storage baskets for the linen closet and I'm really wishing I could have a girls' day with my mom and sister, a group trip to the newly open IKEA in my area seems like a good idea. 'Nuff said.
Volunteering at my kids' schools: this may seem counter-intuitive, because it takes time, but often, it allows me to spend time with my kids during the day when I wouldn't otherwise get to. Then, I don't feel so guilty about spending time doing my thing.
Being present: I try to make sure that I am spending quality time with my kids whenever I am with them. This means being present and involved, but I know there are times when I get distracted or I'm not fully present. Actually, I notice that these times occur more when I'm in need of some me time or adult interaction. But making sure I spend quality time with them means happier, more secure kiddos, which in turn makes it easier for me to break away for some time alone when I need it. It's a kind of cycle.
Asking for help: Let's be real here. Asking for help is pretty much ridiculously hard for me. This goes back to my Type A/perfectionist personality. Plus, I just think it would be really great if my husband could just KNOW that I am tired/stressed out/irritated/in need of some time alone or a date night... but he's not a mind reader, no matter how much I want him to be. And his brain doesn't work the way mine does. I know this is something I definitely need to work on.
Some day, I'll have all the me time I want. And some day I'll have life all figured out (maybe). In the meantime, hopefully these ideas will help me find some balance. And maybe they'll help you, too.