Balancing Me-time

Give yourself the gift of time so that you can be more present for your children
By Helena Kingwill

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Most of us don’t regularly allow time to tune in to ourselves and our families. We’re often too caught up with tedious tasks, such as doing the dishes or paying the rent. But making time for ourselves and our children should be prioritised over the pressures we create for ourselves. It’s as important as our health. We shouldn’t wait for the wheels to come off. In her book Mother-Daughter Wisdom, Christiane Northrup puts it well: “When the fuel required for mothering and nurturing others is not replenished regularly, breakdowns and failures in the nurturing system manifest as depression, anxiety and even violence that affect both mothers and children.”
 
If the wheels come off you are no good to anyone, so taking time to create a calm and peaceful inner and outer space is an excellent investment. “Your children are the direct beneficiaries of you taking time for yourself and looking after your personal space,” says Cape Town parenting counsellor Karen Quail. She explains that we will be in a better space mentally and therefore more capable of engaging properly with our children. In order to find this time, it’s essential to clear space to create a calmer and more ordered life, advises Quail. This requires a very conscious discernment about our daily choices.
 
Routines and rituals
 
Clearing space for quality time requires decluttering the home as well as the daily schedule. “It’s about realising that when you say ‘yes’ to something – such as a commitment to be on another committee, a social engagement or another extramural activity for your child – you are automatically saying ‘no’ to family time or time for yourself,” says Quail.
 
When we are overwhelmed by the busyness of our lives, it helps to create chunks of time for each activity, advises Josie Brincat (50), a single mom from Durban. “It’s about being aware of what is needed for all and then creating a routine that suits you,” says Josie, who recalls that when her son was a baby, routine quality time with him was her priority. “I could find a way to make space for me-time through the support of my friends, however irregular that was, and I set aside quality time with my son as a scheduled event.”
 
Quail recommends ritual and rhythm in our weekly routines as a way to create consistency and peace in the home. This includes a ritual time to connect with your partner, and a regular ritual activity with your children – perhaps at bedtime to read or to talk about the day.
 
An excellent bedtime ritual is the rose and thorn discussion. Ask your child what their “rose” was that day – what went well. And then what their “thorn” was – what didn’t work out. It’s an effective way of releasing unresolved issues as well as counting our blessings. “These exercises act as a pressure valve for releasing stress from the day,” Quail points out. “If a ritual is regular, children feel safe because they know they can count on it.”
 
Using me-time wisely
 
Taking time for yourself gets easier as your children grow up, and finding that time depends in part on having a trustworthy support network.
 
“Everyone has different needs,” says Quail. “It’s important to tune in to what the right thing is for you. Author and philosopher Joseph Campbell encouraged people to follow their bliss, which simply means follow your heart or your passion and find your life’s purpose. ‘Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls,’ he wrote. If you constructively use me-time to develop your passion, your self-esteem and general happiness will improve, as will your ability to love.”
 
But what do you do when you finally get that moment to yourself? I posed the question to a few parents.
 
“If you give more to yourself, you have more to give to others,” says Sally de Jager (42), a Cape Town mother of two. “I don’t feel guilty about taking time for myself, because if I go for a run on the beach, I’m in a much better mood afterwards, and that affects my children too.”
 
Thandi O’Hagen (42) of Joburg shares custody of her son with her ex-husband. “I have one week all to myself, and the next I spend as much time with Kei as possible. But every Tuesday he goes to his granny and I go to a dance class. My exercise time is my best me-time,” she says.
 
James Cloete (42), a father of two from Cape Town, feels the same way about his me-time: “My wife allows me to go for a surf because she knows I am a much nicer person to be with afterwards.”
 
There is a danger, however, of the balance swinging out of kilter when me-time becomes an escapist habit. Chantal van Straten* (36), a Port Elizabeth mother of a three year old, was weary because her husband had gone surfing for a fourth day in a row while on holiday. “I wanted us to do some fun things together as a family,” she says. Taking time out should not burden the other partner nor compromise the children. It’s about quality versus quantity.
 
The ability to create decent, bite-sized chunks of time for yourself and focused time for your family requires intention, boundaries and organisation. The size of the chunks increases as our children grow up and we graduate to new levels of freedom. We have to know when to let go and when to be present.
 
*Name changed
 
You need me-time when…
 
  • you are feeling ungrounded, and keep forgetting and losing things;
  • you are staying up late to do creative things for yourself and not sleeping properly at night;
  • you are feeling depressed and are easily distracted;
  • you are running ragged – your hair is dishevelled, your clothes are worn out and you can’t remember the last time you really had fun.
 
Recommended reading
 
  • Tears and Tantrums by Aletha Solter (Published by Aware Parenting Books, awareparenting.com)
  • Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne (Published by Simplicity Parenting, simplicityparenting.com)
  • Mother-Daughter Wisdom – Creating a Legacy of Physical and Emotional Health by Dr Christiane Northrup (Published by Piatkus)

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