Hey, moms—take a REAL break.
It’s high time we realized that just being kidless for a moment or two isn’t enough. Although the rare solo H-E-B trip to grab some groceries is a little slice of heaven, it’s not an actual break. It’s a chore. It’s a need. So is a chance to pee alone. Nice, but no trip to Fiji. So let’s stop making it more than it really is to make ourselves feel better about not getting a break.
Obviously, for most of us, a trip to Fiji isn’t really in the cards either. However, the need to figure out what actually refuels you as a woman IS totally essential to happiness. And…spoiler alert… the answer isn’t a clean home.
So let’s take a look at the system itself. When I was a young mom (ahem, I’m not old, I’m comfortably middle-aged) I remember thinking how it was basically impossible to sleep when the baby slept. I was a self-proclaimed terrible napper and I would spend every last moment of naptime showering, organizing, or cleaning the fridge (a.k.a. dumb things that needed to be done). I remember sliding right into the mindset of it being “me time.” And then, once I became completely overwhelmed and exhausted, I couldn’t figure it out. Why was I spent when I had all this “me time”? Ha.
Social norms, social media, and my own darned perfectionism had set me up to fail in two big ways. First, it told me that if I had free/kidless time that I needed to be productive and fill my time with things that benefit my family. This included doing laundry, organizing toy bins, or shopping for things they need. Second, it told me that I should be grateful for the opportunity to do these things in quiet. I do them anyway, but if I can do it in quiet, then I should be refueled. Nope. Groceries don’t refuel me.
And that was a lesson learned the hard way. On an empty tank. Crawling into the station.
Four years ago it finally hit me that I was absolutely terrible at taking care of myself and that my ideas for balancing myself weren’t working.
Picture me this: It’s the middle of the day in the middle of the summer. Three kids at home. Husband happily at work. And I should say, when my kids were babies, the summers spent at home. Were. Brutal.
So, anyway, the kids had just finished a productive argument about their ability to see planets in the daylight, ending with someone throwing a matchbox car at the other one, and the youngest has decided to empty all the animal crackers into various pots and pans on the kitchen floor. You know, just a Tuesday.
I decide to take a shower because if I don’t detain myself, I’m going to end up on a highway to nowhere. My shower is enclosed and I have a shower bomb begging to be used. Perfect.
So, I make my way into my bathroom, turn on my music and start the shower. My one-year-old finds me because he’s one and they have radar hearing. He sees a parent out of reach and immediately decides he needs to be in there with me. He’s licking the shower door whilst banging on it for me to open.
So far, very relaxing. I start to pick up the speed of my lather and realize it was over before it started. And then, in walks my daughter. A five-year-old know-it-all who is not shy with the truth.
“No offense, but do you think my boobies will eventually look like yours? I didn’t realize they get so hangy and I kinda think that doesn’t look good.”
I have an immediate reaction to turn toward the wall, and I stay there while explaining to my darling daughter that I breastfed three babies and I can’t help it, and… get out of my bathroom… there is nothing wrong with my breasts.
I get out, completely defeated. I cry, I yearn for myself. I know she’s there, but man, where the heck is she?
Five years later… I realized that here is what I learned and here is what I practice.
I go to dinner (gasp, on a school night) with friends. We laugh, have a fabulous dinner. We go home (gasp, after kids are in bed). We feel good about it.
Some days I drop off the kids at school and stay in my pajamas. I don’t comb my hair. I listen to Stevie Nicks really loud on my record player. I drink coffee. I take a walk.
My husband does bath time with the kids. I sit on the couch and scroll Instagram. Used to feel guilty. Not anymore.
I go exercise… except instead of running, I turn on a hilarious podcast and laugh out loud and walk at a snail’s pace to take in my favorite part of the morning.
I drink coffee in the middle of the afternoon because it makes me so darn happy.
I schedule brunch with my tribe at least twice a month. You can have the diamonds—brunch is a real girl’s best friend.
I read books that make me think. I read books that make me laugh. Books are such a holiday for me.
I went back to work. After five years of 100% child-rearing, I decided I missed my professional identity and I went back to work part-time.
This is me. I found her again. I learned to not leave me on the shelf while I tend to my family. I learned to let my passions lead the way, and I recognized that books and coffee and music are my needs.
Most importantly, I had to learn that it was okay to want a break. I love my family more than life itself, but I love them more when I’m happy. It makes me a really good parent when I take a break. In fact, I become a crummy parent when I don’t take a break.
So, don’t let society fool you into thinking a shower without someone commenting on your jiggly parts is your deserved holiday. Call your friends and go grab lunch. Go see a movie by yourself in the middle of the day. Take a mental health day from work and do whatever floats your boat.
Just make sure it’s something you’ve intentionally chosen.
Make it count. Make it happy. Make it all about you.