For the three years after my first baby was born, I dedicated nearly every minute I had to interacting with and caring for my kids.
I don’t regret a single second of that time, but now I’m ready to focus on myself a bit, too. So I’ve developed a few strategies for squirreling away an hour here or there for my own passions.
Two notes here: 1) My kids are people, not machines, so sometimes naps go short or my me-time plans otherwise fall through. I’ve learned not to get too attached to my schemes because the inevitable result is frustration. Instead, I try to go with the flow — trusting that another opportunity to groove on myself will arise soon — and I enjoy the bonus time with my babies.
And 2) I’m purposely not including anything to do with screens here. Not that I haven’t set my preschooler up with an episode of Octonauts while I showered, cooked something or finished some urgent business on the phone. But occupying my babes that way is not my ideal. If I’m really going to feel good about my personal time, I want to know that my kids are engaged in a more fruitful way (or sleeping).
1. Tinker with Nap Times
I have a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, and their natural nap times are at about 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. respectively. There are some days though when my baby has had an extra long night’s sleep and my preschooler seems a bit sleepier than usual. On such days, I’ve occasionally been able to coax them both into taking their rest at a middle ground time — say 11:30 a.m. — which then gives me time to read a book, take a run on the treadmill (my husband will be laughing about this one) or get some writing done.
2. Hire a Sitter Who Doubles as a Playmate
I tried this last week and really loved the win-win-win of the situation: I asked my sister-in-law if her 10-year-old daughter (my niece — a sweet, responsible and creative girl I adore) would like to come entertain my 3-year-old during my baby’s nap time. I offered to pay my niece for her time and energy.
This amounted to her first job, and she was psyched about it. My daughter was thrilled to have the attention of her big cousin for a few hours. And I got the warm and fuzzies as I heard the two of them discussing what fruit they were going to shape out of play dough next and play acting with my daughter’s dolls while I got a few things done.
3. Make Chores into Quality Time
At least for limited amounts of time (say, half an hour), I can engage my little one with helping me sort and fold laundry, vacuum, make beds, wash windows, batch cook simple foods, etc. etc.
Developmentally (and for safety reasons), she can do only segments of any of these tasks. But when I pull a way-too-big rubber glove over her fingers and hand her a spray bottle or coach her through folding a shirt, she literally beams with pride. She feels important, and like she’s being let in on some of the secrets that big people know.
Side note: This works best with my preschool-age daughter; my 17-month-old’s curious, chubby and often grubby little hands would be more apt blow his nose in all the clean laundry than fold it.
So anyway, this time is inherently valuable, but another nice aspect of it is that doing chores with my kid means I don’t have to do everything after the babies are asleep. I can put on a show or read my Kindle instead. Which is good because, let’s face it, that’s what I was going to do even if the laundry wasn’t folded or the windows were streaked. I’m tired!
4. Ask for Help (in a Loud Voice if Necessary)
When I went back to working in an office after my baby girl was born, I woke up with her every single day, which often meant we were up before the dawn. On top of that, she was a terrible sleeper for the first year, usually waking up around six times a night to nurse. Only to nurse. Which meant I was the only one waking up.
My husband took care of her while I was at work most of the days he was off — usually three or four days a week since he works 24-hour shifts and then has 48 off as a firefighter. I would wake him up at 8:30, which meant he would actually get out of bed around 8:40 and I’d have 15 minutes to shower, dress, eat breakfast (yeah right) and then sweat through my shirt on the sweltering 5-minute walk to my office building for the 9 o’ clock start time.
I came home for lunch to see my baby, nurse and deliver pumped milk. I might scarf a PB&J down at my desk once I was back in the office.
When my day was over, my husband would usually be waiting with my daughter in the lobby of the building. This was sweet, don’t get me wrong. But it also kind of felt like, “OK, you’re back on the clock!” And I hadn’t even left the building yet.
When I was at work, I was working. When I wasn’t at work — even on my lunch break and even in my sleep — I was taking care of my daughter. My husband was working overtime on childcare too, but he got to sleep through the night every night and he got some breaks. I didn’t even ask for a break. My baby needed her mama, and I was going to be there for her every available second if it killed me — and it nearly did!
It’s not like that anymore. Sometime after baby #2 was born, a switch flipped and I realized, “Hey, wait a second. This arrangement sucks for me!” I started asking my husband to wake up with the baby on some of those early mornings. And now I often ask for an hour or two alone on my days off so that I can do something I want to do for myself. He’s been nothing but supportive about it — but I had to speak up.