When you’re a parent, you talk a lot about time. Really, there’s never enough. The laundry is mounting, dinner needs to be cooked, one kid just used yogurt as hair gel while the other used it as an art medium on your window, your schedule looks like it was designed by an easily distracted squirrel, and did I mention that it’s garbage night?
And just when you’re busy fretting about how there’s never enough time, you realize your kids’ ankles are showing and they’ve grown another inch seemingly overnight. So, you start begging for some higher power to slow it down, all but forgetting the aforementioned yogurt incident and desperately wishing for your littles to stay little.
Time. There’s never enough.
So, cuts get made. You say no to the tenth birthday party your family has been invited to this month. You decide to stay home for Thanksgiving. You cut back registered activities to one per child. Folding laundry completely drops off your radar and you just pull things from the clean laundry basket each morning and hope a sweater hides the worst of the wrinkles.
Amongst all the cuts that get made when we’re trying to find all the minutes we need in a day, there is one thing that always seems go first: ourselves.
During the day, I typically run on autopilot. We have our routine and my mind and body knows what to do. So, I dance with the preschooler who won’t sit still because she doesn’t want to get dressed. I scrub the oatmeal from the toddler’s hair. I herd them out the door and chauffer them from pre-school to the playgroup to the grocery store to the doctor to the dance class. I read books or play dolls. I cook supper while managing the preschooler who likes to help and supervising the toddler who could break a marshmallow if left alone long enough. And when I finally walk my preschooler back to bed after her ninth and final jailbreak from bed, I put my house back together. Dishes, sweeping, toys put away, bathroom wiped up… my feet usually kick up late enough that I probably should go to bed, but I love the quiet.
I could do something for myself. I could write. I could take a bubble bath. I could make a whole bowl of brownie batter and lick it clean without having to share. I could learn to knit or get lost in a book. I could enjoy a workout. I could go to bed and try to regain some semblance of a pre-mom brain. I could do a lot of things for me.
But, I don’t.
By this time, I’m literally so drained that it literally takes me three hours to talk myself up enough to shower.
My cup is empty.
It was empty yesterday, it’s empty today and it will be empty tomorrow if I don’t do anything about it.
The worst part about having a completely empty cup? Not only am I denying myself, but I’m not giving the best of me to my children because when you’re running on empty, you have nothing left to give.
I know this much: when I’ve gone too long without taking care of myself or feeding my own soul, I stop enjoying my children as much. This whole motherhood gig that I love stops being a calling and starts to feel like a job. My patience plummets and I get angry over things that aren’t a big deal. I start saying no far more than I say yes. I worry about looking silly when I do things like colour with them or perform in their amazing circus at the park, preferring to sit on the sidelines and just nod along. I start letting distractions dig their talons in to me, reaching for my phone more than I reach for their little hands.
But, with a little “me” time, things look very different. I’m present. I’m happy. I’m full of life. I’ll roll down hills and play tag with them. We’ll bake muffins and I don’t even care that there is a broken egg on my floor. I let them color my windows and we make shadow puppets while we camp in their rooms. I’m a better mom when I take care of myself. And I can pretty much guarantee that we’re all better parents and better people when we take care of ourselves.
It’s hard. We often automatically deny ourselves, not wanting to be too much trouble or seem selfish. We struggle to ask our partners for a much needed sleep-in. We make excuses when opportunities like a yoga retreat or a work trip arise. We “don’t want to trouble” anyone even though we’d really like that cup of tea. Our schedule never has a spaced carved out just for a little time to do those things that light us up. We become broken records as we say “tomorrow.”
So, I’m here to tell you this one thing, and I say it as much for your benefit as I do my own: YOU are worth the time.
It is not outlandish to ask our children to take a half hour of quiet time so we can meditate or enjoy a pedicure. We can appreciate an adult colouring book to focus our mind while our kids scribble in some princess colouring pages. It’s even OK to let the television babysit your kids for an hour if it means you can get in a sweat session or do the thing that makes your soul happy. And there is ALWAYS time for tea.
When you take that time for you, you teach your kids self-love and self-respect. You show them what it is to take care of yourself. In turn, you make yourself better for them. You’ll have more energy to burn, more laughter to spread and more love to give.
Fill your cup and you’ll be able to fill theirs, too.
Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, B.C. who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.