This week’s theme at my class has been Work-Life balance and Self Care. As parents of young children, we juggle a lot of responsibilities: caring for children, keeping up on housework, finances, relationship with our partner, and so on.
If you’re a stay-at-home parent, it’s also easy to feel overwhelmed by the never-ending drudgery of child care tasks (time to change another diaper… wash another bottle…), to long for adult conversation, to feel like your brain is turning to mush, and to feel like your personal identity is getting lost in your role of mom.
If you work outside the home, you’re also juggling all your work commitments and responsibilities to your co-workers. It’s easy to feel like you’re not managing it all – you may feel like you’re doing a crappy job at work or at home as a parent or both.
Is balance possible for parents of young children?
Some would say yes. I do know plenty of parents who are feeling pretty balanced. Actually, I’m feeling pretty balanced most of the time.
But many parents find it impossible to feel like they’re meeting all their responsibilities and getting what they want. Some of those parents feel like maybe that’s OK. That this is a short period in their life, and it’s hard, but in the long run of their life, it will all balance out. At the top of this post is a picture of the “Pie of Life.” This is taken from an idea by Ann Keppler, one of my co-authors on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn. Imagine this pie represents your life – 80 or so years of life. It’s divided into your childhood, your time before children, your time with children in the home, and your empty nest years. See the little tiny slice that’s shaded pink? That’s your child’s life birth to age 3.
This time of life that seems all-consuming and overwhelming is just so short in the big picture of life. I’m not going to be Pollyanna on you and say “Savor these years – they’re so short, and before you know it you’ll miss them…” That’s probably true. But I also know that sometimes in the moment, it’s just HARD to parent a little one. I totally get that. But maybe it still helps to get this perspective sometimes, or to remember phrases like “This too shall pass.”
But in the moment, how do you make it feel better and more manageable now?
How do we start to find more balance?
First, get a good sense of what your life is really like now. I recommend this pie exercise where you examine where you currently spend your time and energy, and where you would ideally spend your time and energy. Divide up the two pies into all the things you need to do for yourself and others, and all the things you want to do for yourself and others. Compare them. If your current pie is pretty close to your ideal pie, you’re in good shape! If they’re very different, then you can think about what you want to do to bring them more into alignment.
If you’re noticing that you don’t make any time at all to tend to your own needs, read about Making Time for Self-Care. If you have a hard time giving yourself “permission” for self-care, check out this article on living a balanced life. If you’re feeling guilty about work taking you away from parenting, check out this article and this one.
If there are pieces in your “ideal” pie that either don’t exist on your current pie, or are smaller than they need to be, think about how you’ll make the time and space for more of that in your life. Sometimes it’s a matter of deciding it’s important to you, committing to it, and putting it on the calendar. Schedule time to relax! If there are chores that nag at you that you never quite get done, schedule them. One of the joys of scheduling chores is that instead of fretting all week about the fact that X needs to get done, you say on all the other days “I don’t need to worry about X today, because I know it will get taken care of on Tuesday.”
Prioritizing what most nurtures you
If we have limited time for self-care, we want to spend it on the things that will help the most. It’s worth taking a few minutes to figure out what those things are!
I want you to think of the things that nourish you and make you feel that you have some control over your life, and the freedom to do things you enjoy. It may be helpful to think about it this way: are there things you miss from your life before children – things you wish you could still do, but can’t figure out how to do while caring for your child’s needs? (These might be big things, or might be little things that wouldn’t seem important to others, like “I wish I could read a Sunday paper without interruption.”)
- Make a list of four or more things they want to do (e.g. “I want to start exercising daily, I want to go on a date, I want to get 8 hours of sleep, I want to get together with my girlfriends. I want to read for 15 minutes a day.”)
- Now compare them to each other – if you had to choose between exercise and a date, which would you choose? Whichever one you rated higher, then compare it to the next thing on the list: if you had to choose between a date and 8 hours of sleep, which would you choose? And so on, down your list, always comparing your current top choice to the next thing on the list. When you’re done, you’ll know which thing you most want to do.
Now you just need to commit to making it happen. And, if needed, committing to asking for help to make it happen.