The biggest adjustment I’ve found in becoming a parent, and there have certainly been several, has been getting used to much less “me time.” I knew less time to myself was going inevitable since I was going to be putting another person’s needs before my own for the forseeable future, but I can’t say that’s made it any easier. You see, I put off having a baby for so long precisely because I loved the freedom of having limited responsibilities outside of work. I could travel every weekend, go out with my husband or friends whenever I felt like it, train for marathons, develop my freelancing business, get a massage or a pedicure or a facial -- or all three on the same day. I could watch endless hours of tv and not feel like a complete waste of space since there were always more free hours on the horizon. I could take savage 2-hour naps on the weekend. Sigh. The good news is I can still do all of those things. The bad news? I have to choose verrrrry carefully which one or two I would most like to do in any given day or week.
There are so many wonderful things about having a baby or toddler, but man are they time intensive. By the time you’ve gotten through the morning shuffle, worked all day (or alternatively taken care of your kid all day, which is definitely also work), and then gotten said kid fed, bathed, and off to bed, there are only a few free hours in any given day. Weekends have the potential to be better, assuming your kid is a napper, but for some reason they oftentimes seem even more exhausting. Maybe it’s the whole taking care of your kid all day thing…
So. What to do when you desperately need more time to yourself to recharge your batteries, indulge your personal interests, and generally feel like a you are the captain of your own ship? I haven’t yet figured out how to manufacturer more hours in a day, but I have found some ways to carve out just a teensy bit more me time:
Outsource and automate as much as possible This is table stakes. There’s absolutely no reason why you should be wasting precious free time and mental energy on cleaning, grocery and household shopping, and cooking, unless you want to. Assuming your budget allows, get a housecleaner (and a Roomba), get your groceries delivered, set up Amazon Subscribe and Save for all your kid and household needs, and don’t feel bad about ordering takeout on a semi-regular basis (for San Francisco peeps, I'm really digging Private Chef Club as a takeout alternative as this link will give you $15 off you first order). In my mind, paying for help or convenience in order to free up some time and headspace is a no-brainer.
Alternate one-on-one time with your partner like it’s your job I feel like I have my working mom guilt pretty under control, but even so, I sometimes feel like I spend every minute of free time I have with my son. Then after I have sat on the floor watching my husband give him a bath, I’m reminded that a lot of tasks just don’t require or even benefit from both of us being involved. Sure, it’s fun to do family outings as well as have spontaneous moments all together at home, but there’s no reason why both of us need to watch our son eat dinner on a regular basis. My husband and I do a lot of things in shifts, which allows us to get some moments to ourselves, and on the flip side provides us with the opportunity to further develop our own unique bond with our son. Whether it’s working out, needing to do actual work on weeknights or weekends (boo), or something in between, my husband and I frequently employ a tag team approach so that we are able to take a breather and come back to interacting with our son feeling fresh and engaged.
Make plans now, find childcare later While it’s no secret that things change a bit once you become a parent, there’s no reason your personal life has to completely go out the window. My modus operandi has been to continue to plan date nights, dinners and drinks with friends, and baseline self-care appointments (haircuts, massage/rolfing, and the like) to ensure that my default is not to stay home like an unkempt hermit. If I commit to plans first, chances are I’ll find some solution for childcare in the interim, be it my husband, a neighbor, or a babysitter. The key for me has been to plan these engagements on the reg so they become the norm rather than an anomaly. This has helped me feel like the majority of my personal needs are being met and that my lifestyle hasn’t totally changed since having a kid.
Organize a family dinner This may seem like a bait and switch since I just lobbied against doing everything together as a family unit, but it’s actually a highly strategic move. On a regular night, it’s at least 8:30pm by the time we’ve gotten our son to bed and managed to feed ourselves and clean up. Since I’m unwilling to sacrifice sleep for anything, this leaves me with less than two hours of me time. However, if we make the executive decision to all dine together at 6pm, we have an entire extra hour or more after our son goes to bed to blow it out however we see fit. Sure, it takes a bit more planning to make sure a dinner everyone can get behind is on the table at a geriatric hour, but our son loves sitting at the big kids table with us and there’s nothing like having a several hour block of free time before bed.
Take your baby or toddler for a walk This one is certainly not rocket science, but it’s worked wonders for me. Whenever my son is restless and/or I just need some time to think, I load up the [insert whatever vehicle or carrier he prefers at the time – right now he has a meltdown if we take anything other than this]. Then we walk for miles up and down the hills of San Francisco. My son almost always enjoys it, and while I often talk to him and point things out, I mostly take the time to think, relax, and enjoy some quiet time outdoors. Lately I’ve been rushing home from work specifically to get a stroll in – it’s a great way to decompress from a day in the office.
It sorta feels like I just wrote a post on how to avoid your child, but that certainly wasn’t the intent. I love spending time with my son, but the reality is that caring for him is a demanding job on top of the busy life I was already leading before he arrived. I am confident that I am able to be the best parent to him precisely because I prioritize my personal time and fulfillment. If you have other strategies for how to find more “me time” in your daily lives as parents, I would love to hear them!