When my six-year-old, Anna, was a toddler, she was a handful. Bursting with energy, ideas and chatter, she took my hand and pulled me through our days in fast-forward. At the time, I was working as a freelance writer and, because my days were chock-full of Anna, I would start doing my paid work after her bedtime (thankfully, she crashed out at eight). I thought it was the best of both worlds — spending lots of time with my daughter, while still doing work that I loved. But it wasn’t the best of both worlds. Not at all. Running at full-throttle all day, then trying to summon up some creativity to write in the evenings (while throwing in a load of laundry, prepping for the next day, and all that jazz) left me exhausted, frustrated and cranky all the time.
The problem, of course, was I had no downtime. Yes, I had a very involved husband who would take over bed or bath time without complaint, but I felt like I was always “on.” And so did many other moms I knew. The solution for me came in the form of a temporary two-day-a-week job. I know that doesn’t sound like downtime, but it meant that I secured two days per week of daycare for Anna. And when the job was over and I returned to freelancing, I kept her in daycare those days. Officially, they were my work days, but they also gave me a breather from a day of “Mommy? Mommy? Mommy? MOMMY!!” It saved my sanity and helped me enjoy my daughter much more.
Motherhood is a demanding job and I do believe in that old cliché about it taking a village to raise a child — but not just for the child’s sake. Moms need respite, which is defined as “an interval of rest or relief.” It’s not passing off your child to be raised by others or failing because you should want to be with your kids 24/7. I don’t believe people who claim they’re fulfilled with that. Not without a break. We give so much of ourselves to our beloved little people, that we can feel completely submerged in parenting and all that goes with it (even after bedtime), forgetting what a huge benefit a gulp of kid-free air now and then can do for our own well-being. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our kids, or our lives — in fact, it often makes us appreciate them more.
I am lucky enough to have a husband who understands my need for respite. And even when my girls were young, he’d be supportive of me going for an overnighter or (gasp) a weekend away with my girlfriends. Sometimes his mom would come to help out, sometimes not, and that was more than fine with me — it wasn’t about me shoving the load onto his shoulders and saying “Look at how hard I work.” He knew.
Respite doesn’t have to be as elaborate as a weekend away — I know that’s not feasible for many moms out there. But even telling yourself that you’re worth spending $20 on a babysitter once in a while to have some time to yourself moves you higher up the priority list, where you belong. I have also found respite through a dinner out with a friend; a weekly pilates class; even a solo grocery-shopping trip (as pathetic as that sounds!). I took up running last year for this very reason — it gave me a chance to literally run away from my house and all my responsibilities for 45 minutes. I somehow stopped running this summer (I blamed the heat) and have felt a negative shift in myself, both physically and mentally, since. My husband even commented, “You were a lot happier when you were running.”
I’ve got to get back out there. Because, as the old saying goes, when mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. Take care of yourself, my friends!