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Finding Time for You

How To Take Personal Time Outs For Yourself

The day starts out as usual. I manage to get three cranky children out the door and drive them to school. I arrive home to a blinking answering machine, a ringing business phone and our adorable new puppy marking his territory – for the second time this morning.

After I answer the phone and return some calls, I gulp down cold coffee and eat the remnants of what I hope was my daughter's leftover bagel. A shower is next on my agenda, usually my 10 minutes of peace, but our puppy yelps at the shower door as soon as I close it.

The telephone rings again. It is my son, pleading for me to deliver his assignment he left "somewhere" in his room. With wet hair and little make-up, I deliver the paper and drive home to find the answering machine blinking again. My daughter isn't feeling well and would like to come home. After retrieving her and settling her with pillows, blankets and a juice box, I return to my duties: preparing for one of two parent meetings at school this week.

Things are looking good until I get a phone call from my husband requesting I type and fax a mega amount of important documents to his associate. No problem. Make more coffee, check on sick daughter, clean up another puppy mess.

It's time to pick up my middle son and then drive to another school to pick up my oldest son for a doctor's appointment. However, my oldest isn't waiting in the car pool line to be picked up. I search the school and make some phone calls, only to learn he rode the bus home. I re-schedule the appointment and drive the 15 miles to pick up him up.

We leave the doctor's office much later than expected, pick up a prescription and groceries. I manage to fix dinner and leave for the parent meeting. Unfortunately, I forget to check my appearance and show up with a stain on my shirt and later realize I applied mascara to only one eye. By 10 p.m., I meet my husband on the couch. He gives me a "the wink." I say, "You must be kidding," – and collapse.

Give Yourself a Break

Most women already know what the statistics bear: We are still carrying most of the load. We juggle kids, work, home, volunteering and everything else in between. Are we really enriching our lives by doing everything?

"When we are stressed, overwhelmed and tired, we have a shorter fuse. We become irritable, and it's more difficult to handle the challenges of being with children," says Rachelle Disbennett-Lee, a personal life coach in Aurora, Colo.

Logically, we know that running ourselves on empty isn't good for our health or our families. But the instinct to be a devoted mother means operating in overdrive. We want our children to be happy, and we desire to give them every possible life experience, even at the expense of our own needs. We feel guilty if our children don't have everything we think they should have.

However, Victoria Moran, author of Creating a Charmed Life (Harper San Francisco, 1999) says we need to let go of the distorted images we have of the "sainted mother." "We've got to give ourselves a break, or we're passing the old guilt patterns along to our daughters," Moran says.

Heather Brockhaus, a busy mom in Bartlett, Tenn., used to struggle with the guilt factor. "If I didn't clean the house while my daughter napped, I felt like a slacker," she says. But being mother to a strong-willed toddler expends a lot of energy. Brockhaus realizes if she doesn't take advantage of her daughter's naptime to re-group, she's too stressed to be a good mother.

"When we emerge from our solitude, we are stronger, more relaxed and calmer," says Disbennett-Lee. She adds that as much as we need a break, our children need one, too. When we establish "mommy time," we are in fact helping our children learn independence, socialization and hopefully, an appreciation of what we do for them. Even more important, we are demonstrating that taking care of ourselves is important.

"Frazzled is not pretty," Moran says. "If you don't put gas in your car, it won't run; if you don't give some nurturing to yourself, you'll be a pretty poor nurturer."

"Pencil in" Your Time Out

Now that you know it is healthy and even productive to take a "time out," how can you actually take one when you can't possibly drop one thing on your schedule?

First, take stock of what you are doing now. Do you really need to bake three dozen cookies for every parent meeting? Or chaperone the next field trip? Will your children really be scarred for life if they don't have a dinner made from scratch?

Debra Condren, a New York City-based business psychologist and president of SuperiorCareer.com, says a lot of her clients admit that they have fallen into Super Mom roles not because they planned it that way, but because they just "let it happen."

"Often, women put their own needs on the backburner, behind everyone else's needs. The result is feeling drained and selling yourself short," says Condren.

Seriously think about what your own goals are. Focus on your interests and the opportunities at hand. Once you have your focus on target, the wasted time that goes along with being pulled in too many directions will be a thing of the past.

"Declare a 'mom's time out' and let your children know that barring any emergency situation, you are not to be disturbed," says Disbennett-Lee.

Rally the Troops

To successfully plan a time out for yourself, get everyone in the family involved. Even the smallest hands can reduce the workload for Mom. Trade babysitting with another mom and use that time to rejuvenate. Give yourself a spa treatment with a hot bubble bath and pamper yourself with quality moisturizers. Indulge with "grown up" things like fine chocolates or a glass of wine with a good book. Connecting with other moms is also fulfilling and relaxing.

Sarah Bell of Marietta, Ga., is fortunate to have a husband who encourages her to take time for herself. She enjoys getting together with her girlfriends to craft at least one night each week. Bell feels adamant that taking time for herself is part of being a good mom. "If you don't respect yourself, who else is going to?" she says.

Something else to remember as we look for light at the end of the tunnel: This time with our children will go faster than we think. As our children get older, we will have more time to ourselves. If we use this time wisely and take care of ourselves, the whole family will reap the benefits.

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