“I’m so exhausted. I haven’t had a minute to myself all week.”
“I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep in a month. I’m going to lose my mind.”
“There’s so much to do. I have to keep going or it won’t get done.”
“If I don’t do it, who will?”
Do those phrases sound at all familiar? Have you said something like them to yourself? Do you find yourself telling people that you’re too busy to sit down and eat a proper meal, take a bath, take a nap?
Then you, my friend, need those things most of all. You need to take some time for yourself.
I should start by saying that I’m telling you all of this from a place of privilege. My kids are 11 and 14 now, so I’m done with the minutia of making sure bellies are full and butts are wiped and clothes are picked out. Sure, I pack lunches and make dinner and keep the house more or less together—and spend a good bit of each day running my blogging empire (please note that I rolled my eyes as I wrote “empire”). But if you play your cards right, things get easier as your kids get older and start taking care of themselves.
But when my kids were little? That was a different era. My days were filled with my kids. For roughly five years, I was home with at least one kid, every day. I craved time to myself. I thought I would go insane without it. I’m an introvert, so spending all day around anybody is taxing for me, and little kids are just so freaking needy.
So I developed some survival skills. I would carve out little bits of “selfish time” here and there. Sometimes, when my husband came home from work, I would run out to a coffee shop and just sit quietly and read the newspaper for half an hour. I had a babysitting exchange going for a while with a couple of neighbors who had kids of similar ages to mine. I would drop my kids off and go have lunch by myself or run errands without needing to bother with a stroller or feeding times. I would get a manicure. I would take a nap.
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As the kids got older and both were in school, I was able to stretch the “selfish time.” A massage here, a long lunch with friends there.
Then I found myself with a business. If it sounds accidental, it was. I’d started writing online as a hobby, and without even realizing it was happening, I found myself filling my days with meetings, events, business lunches, writing, invoicing, researching and learning. I was trying hard to make money blogging, a thing that hadn’t even existed for very long. There wasn’t a roadmap I could follow. I put an incredible amount of time and energy into it.
And I was exhausted. I had to step back and return to the habits I’d learned when my kids were little. I started carving out time again. I literally scheduled it in. I would block off an hour or so a day and mark it “relax.” And during that time, I wasn’t allowed to run errands or fold laundry or work. I would read, watch TV, get a massage. And if anybody asked me to do something during that time, I would say without irony, “I can’t—I’m busy.” Even if “busy” was sitting on the couch eating ice cream.
While I saw people all around me surviving on very little sleep and running themselves ragged trying to be everything and do everything, I felt like I was cheating. I was giving myself permission every day to recharge, to enjoy myself, to opt out of the race to do the most and be the best parent—and yet, I seemed happier and way more relaxed than the people who appeared to be “winning” that competition.
If you’ve been playing the role of martyr, transitioning to happy person should be a gradual process. Start with scheduling in a bath once a week, where nobody is allowed to interrupt you for anything. Or a lunch. Or a book club that meets once a month. Build from there.
And just remember: The word “no” will be your best friend throughout this process. You don’t owe anybody an explanation for why you can’t do something. If you think that it will stretch you too thin, say no. And then forget about it. If you can do something to help other people out, that’s great. But don’t fall into the trap of feeling like everything is on your shoulders.
There’s no shame in wanting to put yourself first. Do it unapologetically. There’s no prize for who depletes herself the most in the name of doing everything for everybody. That person just dies exhausted and unfulfilled. Don’t be that person.
Amy Oztan is a freelance writer, blogger and podcaster. She can be found on SelfishMom.com, co-hosting the Parenting Bytes podcast or on her couch in Brooklyn.