Put focus on activities you most enjoy and you’ll be more motivated to do everything else that must get done. Make a list of all of the things you used to enjoy doing before you had kids. Maybe you loved running, journaling, or watching old movies. Print out a blank calendar page for the next month from your computer and pencil in some of your old favorite activities.
OK, now let’s get real. If your toddler doesn’t nap twice a day for 90 minutes each time, your day is going to be shot, right? So the next thing to do is pencil in all the stuff on your calendar that needs to happen to keep your world spinning. Whether you enjoy doing these things or not, these are the things you must do, or you’ll be sorry. Pencil in time for every “must” on your to-do list.
Next, pencil in the extended family’s ongoing commitments. Your husband’s early morning staff meeting? Your teenage son’s driving test? Your in-laws are coming into town? Make sure you account for everyone’s plans. Have a weekly check-in date for schedule reviews. And don’t say yes to any new plans without looking at your commitments first.
You are now likely to start getting a sense of what your daily, weekly, and monthly time commitments look like. Take note of two types of rhythms: the hectic times and the quiet times. If you are like most parents, you have more of the former than the latter. Don’t worry. Just mark off whatever quiet time you can find. Make a little box around each chunk of quiet time that’s available. There could be more than you realized.
Are you a morning person or a night person? If you’re a morning person, see if you can set your alarm an hour earlier each day to make the most of those dark, quiet morning hours when everything is hushed and still. I bet you could get a lot done if you simply rose earlier. Similarly, if you are a night person, plan to stay up an extra hour so you can milk some of your midnight oil. Draw boxes around any chunks of extra time you’ve created rising early or turning in late.
Both parents need down time. So now that you see the possibilities, don’t get greedy. Show your calendar to your spouse and discuss who still needs more down time. Be prepared to say what you want, what you need, and what you can’t live without. Your partner should do the same. Put names in the boxes to represent who gets which chunks of time. Encourage your spouse getting up earlier or going to bed later, if that would be wise.
Now that you have a plan, execute it. Start with your bedroom alarm clocks. Reset yours. Do you also need to reset your children’s alarms? Maybe you’d like them to go to bed earlier, so you can have more time undisturbed at night. Next, set your cell phone to remind you 15 minutes before each chunk of available free time. Once you become more aware of your available time, you’ll be less likely to let it slip by unnoticed.
When inevitable interruptions come along such as flu season, pet problems, or last-minute show-andtell projects, you can cheerfully give up your me-time. However, on days when there is no such interference,
you need to guard your time like a dog growls low and quiet over a bone. Don’t bite or bark. Just calmly remind your family members to respect the time you are taking. With a little practice everyone will get the
hang of this concept.
If you’ve scheduled “you” time right in the middle of the old laundry or dishes time, you may initially have to fight off the nervous anxiety that comes with walking away from such duties. However, you will soon notice opportunities to multi-task your chores into your unreserved time. You will gradually become better at rallying the troops help in picking up the slack. Share the household chores with other family members.
Once you start taking time for yourself, something magical should happen. Your little respites will become seamlessly incorporated into your family’s natural ebb and flow. Without schedules or alarms, your pleasures will become a natural part of the family rhythm. And no one will question whether or not you really need that time to yourself because they will notice the difference when you don’t get any.
Christina Katz has been encouraging busy parents to make time for themselves for more than a decade. Her latest book is The Writer’s Workout from Writer’s Digest Books.