Recently, I wrote an article about the importance of self-care for all parents, however underestimated it may be. When it comes to putting this mindset into practice, though, we often fail. There always seems to be something more important, something that pops up unexpectedly, and that needs to be dealt with straight away. Day by day, our lives turn into the driving force for the upbringing of out children.
But what happens to us? Are we supposed to simply wait for them to grow up and go their own way, to start figuring out who we are and what we’re about all over again?
Of course not.
Not only is it our right, but we also have the responsibility to dedicate a portion of our day to our own mental health. Regardless of how you choose to spend that time, it needs to happen – otherwise, you’re pushing yourself into active burnout, and your family into chaos.
When is the right time to put a stop to everyday tasks and proclaim “me” time? How do we do it without affecting our family’s routine, the kids’ activities, or our partner’s plans?
That largely depends on your own family’s dynamics. Each individual has a certain part of day when it’s more realistic to create pockets of time than during other times. Let’s talk about the three most common models and why you should (or shouldn’t) plan your free time during them!
5 AM – 9 AM: Early Birds
If you often find yourself waking up around 4-5 AM, unable to fall back asleep, tossing and turning (and pretty much waiting for your kids to wake up), now is the time to consider taking the advantage of this time.
In many cultures, getting up this early is being frowned upon, even deemed unnecessary in normal circumstances. The “if you don’t have to, it’s better not to” pushes many people into thinking there’s something wrong with them, and searching for advice on how to treat insomnia.
This is wrong in so many ways, and more often than not, completely counter-productive.
Each person has their unique biorhythm, performing in a way that no amount of alteration can affect. Humans work best if they accept who they are and put their traits into their own advantage – why wouldn’t this apply to our sleeping patterns, too?
Personally, I’ve never felt the urge to get up at 4 in the morning. It’s not in my nature, and regardless of how many successful stories I stumble upon, I’ll probably never get my body used to it. I gave it a try by going to bed at 9-10 PM and setting the alarm clock to 4 AM. My body was shocked by my decisions every time, causing me to wake up at 1 AM instead, unable to sleep until 7 AM (just in time for my toddler waking up). I’d spend the whole day walking around like a zombie, before realizing it’s just not a good choice for me.
If you’re different than me in that way, take full advantage of it. Get up early, make yourself a delicious cup of coffee (or other favorite beverage, if you don’t even need it in order to keep yourself awake at 4 AM!), and do your favorite things, completely guilt-free.
Who cares if there’s a general tendency to read books, play video games, or watch TV shows in the evening? Remember that this is your time to relax your mind. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t been annoyed, provoked, or positively enraged yet. Having a relaxing activity you enjoy will increase your tantrum tolerance and the day will go by much faster with you knowing you dedicated some time to yourself!
12 PM – 2 PM: Nap Time Enthusiasts
After my son and I were released from the birth center, I was told almost immediately: “Sleep when your baby sleeps!” I was also told I would regret not taking that nap, so I started doing it, believing in the better judgement of everyone around me. I assumed that, with their expertise in parenting (little did I know that there’s no such thing as a parenting expert!), they couldn’t possibly be wrong.
But in my case, boy, were they.
Yes, on one hand, taking naps when my son would nap was making me feel better for a while. I was more refreshed, less tired, and more excited about the rest of my day. The problem was, I’d still end up getting tired by evening, so I’d go to bed at 9 PM, just to go through night feedings all over again.
Napping during the day didn’t increase my wake window at night. It also didn’t allow me to do anything fun, since I just didn’t have enough time for it. I was turning into an empty, unhappy mom who was being highly suspicious about having postpartum depression.
I was never depressed. I was just terribly bored.
From the moment I’ve decided to invest my son’s nap time into working on my skills, watching a good movie, growing my business, or playing my favorite games, I’ve become a happier, more involved parent. To my surprise, I wasn’t even getting all that tired later in the day – not any more than when I used to nap together with my son, at least. I was happier, more energized, and relaxed – it made all the difference and being a bit more tired didn’t affect me at all.
If you have a child who naps during the day, try dedicating one of those pockets of time to your own well-being (if it’s the only nap, just like in my 15-month-old’s case – well, it is what it is). It’s changed my whole parenting experience, and it might do the same for you!
8 PM -12 AM: Night Owls
I believe that this is the most common (although the least effective) pattern among all parents, myself included. For a lot of us, it’s simply easier to squeeze our activities into the time our kids are awake (and finish them soon after they’ve gone to bed, if we’re lucky).
Although it looks like we’re able to get the most out of this time window, first glance can be deceiving. Did you notice how much slower we move, speak, and perform any other tasks, after our kids have gone to bed for the night? Upon finishing the remaining chores and random tasks that seem to be popping out of nowhere, even if there’s time to do something fun, there’s often very little motivation. I know that, in my case, I almost always choose getting much-needed sleep over reading a good book after my day is over!
If you can find a way to stay energized, though, this is a perfect time pocket for you. It takes a bit of effort to reset after a long way, but some of these ideas can help:
- cardio exercises of any kind
- music/dancing (if you can pull it off without waking up anyone, by using headphones, for example)
- refreshing/vitamin bomb food
- shower (hot or cold, depending on what keeps you awake)
- getting some fresh air
If you invest a bit of time into getting yourself in the “fun” mood, you can have a great evening – and still go to bed at decent time.
I’m often guilty of not doing this properly – I sometimes feel frustrated by the lack of time I dedicate to myself and just “get on with it” as soon as I get the chance. That often leads to me falling asleep after 30 minutes of a good movie I’d been looking forward to watching – shame!
Regardless of everything though, night time is my favorite pocket of time to dedicate to myself. If nothing, it gives me a feeling of false freedom.
“It’s 8 PM and I’ve got so much time – I can stay up until 5 AM if I want to and do whatever I want!” I mean, this rarely happens, due to:
- Not actually being able to stay awake until 5 AM
- Not having all that much to do that’s completely worth it
- Being terrified of my toddler’s toothless smile at 7 AM, wanting to get up and start the day after my two hours of sleep.
What’s your favorite pocket of time to dedicate to yourself? Has this post helped you come up with a good schedule? Share your thoughts in the comments! I can’t wait to see your thoughts on this one!