In Search of “Me Time”

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It’s Saturday night at 8pm, only 30 minutes until Oliver (hypothetically) goes to bed for the night and only 31 minutes until I start fantasizing about climbing into bed myself. My husband offers to take full responsibility of Oliver so that I can have some “me time.” Without thinking twice I jump at the offer.

Now if only I could figure out how to spend my “me time.” I start in the kitchen thinking a snack might be in order. I’m in the middle of comparing the merits of kettle corn to buttered popcorn when I can’t help but notice the awful state our kitchen has fallen into. Before I know it I’ve forgotten about the popcorn and I’m loading the dishwasher, washing bottles, and tying off the overflowing bag of garbage. My husband shouts in from the living room couch, “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be doing something fun.”

Fun—that’s a concept that’s changed a lot since having a baby. Sometimes when your choice is between trying to calm a screaming baby and scraping day old baked ziti off of plates, the plate scraping can seem like a trip to Disney World. But he’s right; the kitchen can wait. I reluctantly put down the dish soap and move into the bedroom. Maybe I’ll read a book.

The first things I notice upon entering are the hamper of washed clothes waiting to be put away and the dirty clothes laying all over the floor waiting to be washed. I resist the urge to tackle that chore and shuffle into the living room where my husband is sitting with the baby. I plop down on the couch next to him.

“You want a foot rub?” I ask, reaching to yank his socks off.

“I’m not going to say no, but this isn’t exactly doing something for you.”

I audibly sigh in agreement, but I’m not quite sure what else to do. I’ve grown so accustomed to filling any free time with must-dos like cleaning, cooking, and baby care that I feel a pang of guilt for doing something that I want to do. Surely having clean underwear takes precedence over any purely selfish pursuit. No?  And as a stay at home mom, handing baby care off to my husband for the rest of the night feels like I am slacking on the job. Because when am I not at work?

When raising your child is your “job” of sorts, how do you learn to clock-out when you’re always taking your work home with you…or, more aptly, you’re always at home with your work?

Learning to take “me time” in the face of other pressing obligations and errands requires some practice. I’m nowhere near perfect at taking guilt free time for myself but here are some tips that are helping me get there.

1. Give yourself permission. Taking care of kids is hard work; you don’t just WANT a break you NEED a break to be at your best.

2. Acknowledge feelings of guilt but recognize they stem from unreasonable expectations you have of yourself.

3. Talk with your partner or other care provider and agree upon a set time when you can renounce all baby responsibilities.

4. Get away from the baby during “me time.” Get out of the house or ask whoever is watching the baby to leave. It’s hard to focus on you when you can hear a crying baby the next room over.

5. Make plans with someone so that you can’t back out.

6. Ask for help getting all those lingering chores accomplished. If you don’t feel overwhelmed by a mountain of to-dos, it will be easier to focus on you.

So what did I finally decide to do with my “me time?” You’re looking at it.

9 Months: Growing Up and Growing Out

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Don’t let the smile plastered across my puffy, pregnant face fool you, being pregnant was not fun! And to anyone who says otherwise, please keep it to yourself; you’re making the rest of us look like whiney, complaining weaklings.

Toward the end of my pregnancy, every time someone asked me when I was due, I’d say “soon.” Ah, if only proclaiming that he was coming soon translated into an earlier due date; it was wishful, possibly delusional, thinking at its finest.

While my aches and pains weren’t unique to me, I certainly felt somewhat isolated when I heard how much other women LOVE being pregnant. “I love feeling the baby move, knowing that I’m carrying this life inside me,” I heard many women say. I wanted to counter with, “I love when the baby decides to stop moving for a moment; my internal organs need a break from the constant beating.” Another one I heard a lot is, “I don’t really feel all that different; I’m just so excited to be a mom I guess I don’t mind the minor discomforts.” Don’t get me wrong; I was looking forward to meeting baby Oliver, but at that moment it had as much to do with wanting to get rid of the nausea, fatigue, stomach pain and pressure, back and leg pain, and constant need to pee as it did with holding him in my arms. Does that make me a bad mother? Was I the only one who yearned for her pre-pregnancy body to come back so she could finally feel “normal” again?

Like most trying life situations, at least I can say I walked away from it with some valuable life lessons:

1) My body has limitations

Silly me, I used to think I was invincible. I believed I could do anything if I tried hard enough: overcome any obstacle, become stronger, faster, work harder, push past my limits, because heck, I don’t have limits. I was a walking, talking Nike ad on steroids. But when I traded in my workout attire and running shoes for maternity jeans and nursing bras, it was time for a reality check. Sometimes, despite my wishing and willing my body to do one thing, it had its own agenda for the day and would not cooperate. No amount of mind over matter powered me off the couch and to the gym when sharp pains were shooting down my back and legs. No amount of determination and will power enticed me to do the laundry or clean the apartment after a sleepless night and a mid-morning bought of nausea. Sometimes, I am limited. Sometimes I have to accept that instead of trying to make my body cooperate with me; I need to cooperate with my body. But that doesn’t make me weak.

2) Things don’t always have to go according to plan

When I was younger, I was fairly inflexible. I believed rules were meant to be followed, schedules adhered to, and organizational systems maintained. Tell me something was going to happen, be it a trip to the dentist or a trip to Disney World, and if it didn’t happen, I became distressed. Yes, I was that kid. And that kid’s attitude still has a way of popping up from time to time in this adult’s life. What can I say, I like when plans are made well in advance, I know what to expect, and I can adjust accordingly. Becoming pregnant set my world off balance a little. In my mind I planned to get pregnant in July, not October, and have the baby in March, not July. By the start of the third trimester I’d be an established free-lance writer with a decked out nursery, and all my little baby booties in a row. Upon Oliver’s arrival I did not yet own a single pair of baby booties. Our nursery was still strewn with shower gifts and little outfits waiting to be washed, and my career as a freelance writer is still a wish simmering on the back burner. I’m guessing like his arrival, most things surrounding our son will not happen on a set schedule, and I’m learning that I can adjust.

3) Becoming an adult isn’t about hitting some arbitrary milestone

Growing up I kept waiting for that magical moment when I would transform from a pimple-covered, pigtail wearing, lunch box toting little kid to a sophisticated adult. When I hit a certain age, say 16 with license in hand or 18 when high school ended and college was on the horizon, then certainly I’d be a grown up. Or perhaps when I land that first “big kid” job, buy a house, get married, or, like my mom always told me, become a parent, then I’m an adult. Well at 28 years old with many milestones under my belt, I’ve come to realize becoming an adult has more to do with an attitude than the number of candles on a cake. It comes from the wisdom gained through life experiences and the new perspectives those experiences offer.

4) Putting someone else’s needs ahead of my own does not mean forgetting entirely about my own needs too

Raise your hand if you’ve even been on a plane. Now raise your hand if you actually pay attention to the preflight announcements. Let me refresh your memory. If the plane cabin looses oxygen all adults are instructed to first place the oxygen mask over their own nose and mouth before assisting young children. There is an important life lesson to be learned here. I bet you didn’t realize there was free advice that went along with those peanuts. How many times have you heard a parent say, “I have no time for myself anymore?” What they’re really saying is “I forgot that I am a person too, and I have needs.” When we forget to meet our own need and focus exclusively on our children, it’s all too easy to become drained, and in my experience a drained parent is also a crabby, irritable, impatient, ready to lose her marbles parent. This isn’t in the best interest of either party. One of the best things you can do for your baby is to take some time for yourself so that you have the ability to be the best parent you can be. That is, to meet your child’s needs it is essential to also take into account your own–to put your oxygen mask on first so to speak.

5) Never underestimate the value of a support system

Toward the end of my pregnant, while I was carrying around a bunch of baby weight I relied on my family to carry much of the weight when it came to….well everything else. Their support then was invaluable, and the same holds true in parenthood. I find in trying moments, when I am at my breaking point, my husband will step up and offers the strength and support I cannot muster. When I am in desperate need of some personal time, my dad or mom will show up at my doorstep ready to take over baby duty. They weren’t lying when they said it takes a village to raise a baby. What they need to add to that though is it also takes a very large, very supportive village to keep a new mom sane.

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