I am the mother of two small kids and unlike my unmarried, childless twenty-something friends who have plenty of time for themselves, I find myself constantly overwhelmed. I have very little "me time." I cannot seem to get my life in any kind of order; I'm drowning in paperwork and to-do lists, and feel like I live my life according to my kids' schedules and have no identity of my own. How do I get organized and remember who I am?
--No time for me, 27, Philadelphia.
Dear No Time for Me,
You have taken the first step in making yourself a priority by reaching out and asking for help. I am not a mother yet; however, many of my friends are and I have noticed a pattern among them. Once they become moms, some kind of superhero gene kicks in and they develop the capacity to put more on their plate then when they had just themselves to care for. And then they try to manage it all on their own! Allow this may seem admirable, it is imperative to remember that it is okay (and necessary) to ask for support, delegate, find your own interests and not try to be a do-it-all supermom!
Let's start with calling in for back-up. You mentioned you have single friends who have more free time than you. Consider asking them for help. Friends without kids don't always know what kind of support you need because they have not had the experience of being a mom. Don't think that just because your friends don't offer means they don't want to help. ASK. Let go of any beliefs about burdening someone by asking for help. Here is how you can reframe it: giving someone the opportunity to give to you is a gift to them as well. Just think about how good you feel when you do something loving for your children, spouse or friend.
Think of 2-3 friends that you could reach out to for support. Who has a rapport with your kids who you could ask to babysit so you could treat yourself to "me time"? Who is great with organization and getting stuff done that could come over and help you get your paperwork organized while your spouse watches the kids? Who is a wonderful listener that you could schedule a lunch or dinner date with where you could vent and have some grown-up conversation? Are there any teenagers or college kids in your community that you could hire for a cheap rate to help you organize or complete unfinished projects and to-dos?
Another idea is to reach out to a fellow mom at your kids' school or activities and trade play-dates. For instance, maybe each Wednesday you watch all the kids and on Friday your friend takes them on so each of you get one "me" day a week. And talk to other mothers about how they balance everything. Supermom types often put up the front that they have everything under control and compete with the other supermoms. How about just being real and bonding over the wonderful yet challenging blessings that motherhood delivers?
Delegation is also very important. Have a conversation with your spouse where you sit and review the to-do list. How can you delegate some of your responsibilities, how can you act more as a parenting team? Often men are not aware of what to do until you ask them and most men really do love assignments since they are "fixers." Empower your man by KINDLY asking him to take some things off your plate. Thank him by being pleasant and loving. Often when we are overwhelmed and stressed, we end up taking it out on our spouse by becoming irritable and withdrawn. If you are noticing this in yourself, change it STAT!
After you've enrolled your friends, fellow moms and spouse in supporting you, set a schedule for yourself that you stick to. You are great at keeping to your kids' schedules so apply that skill to yourself too. It sounds like you have gotten into a pattern of putting yourself last. Although parenting does require a degree of selflessness, it is important for your entire family that you tend to your own needs on a fairly regular basis so you don't end up depleted and cranky. Tune into what really feeds your soul. Is it reading? Taking a bath? Exercise (have you looked for a gym or local YMCA with childcare options)? Spending time with friends? Shopping? What hobbies of yours have been put aside that you can return to? What interests you? Are there any classes you want to take or new skills you want to learn?
I suggest you pick three "me-time" activities and commit to scheduling an hour of each at least five times a week. Once you have set your schedule, post it on a big poster board so you and your family can see it every day. Ask a good friend to be your accountability partner that checks in with you to make sure you are honoring your commitments to yourself. You CAN find at least five hours a week for yourself, in fact you MUST. The more balanced you feel inside, the more organized your outside world will become. My suspicion is that your external world is chaotic because you are not taking care of yourself. Put yourself at the very TOP of your to-do list. Follow the "put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then help others" wisdom. Mother yourself a little more and I assure you that you will begin to remember who you are.
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