Cramming work, life, family and household together – plus the rise of intensive parenting – means “we” time crowds out “me” time, or obliterating it altogether. But experts say it’s more important than ever that we invest in ourselves. Why do we struggle to invest in “me” and what can we do?
Why the struggle? Let’s start here: what does it mean to be a “good” parent today? There’s a popular societal image of the “perfect parent” – a largely unachievable standard that has never been higher. Some believe intensive parenting (which is child-centred, expert guided, emotionally all-available, labour intensive, and financially expensive) was driven by parents’ economic anxiety: a fear that our children will fall behind economically compared to previous generations. The idea was that through intensive parenting and extracurriculars, we could set our children up for greater success.
Of course, social media has helped to fuel it all. We get rapid, repeated and consistent messages that we integrate and process in our core: What’s right. What’s wrong. What do we need to fix. What happy kids and families look like. It prompts many to question themselves…
“Am I a good parent?”
We internalize that a good parent is 100% self-sacrificing. We put everything away to focus solely on the role of being a parent. So, “me” time, if you can find it, can come with conflict: Shouldn’t I be spending my free time with my kids? If I take time on the weekend for me, will I be less of a parent?
Yes, we love spending time with our kids and caring for them. And because we work, we can feel extra pressure to devote our non-work time to them. But it can also be true that we need to invest in ourselves and stop putting ourselves last.
For expert wisdom on the topic, we turned to psychotherapist Karen Shanahan:
What To Do (Bites)
Silence the “shoulds”
Our minds are brilliant things, and they actually speak to us – those are our thoughts. And they’re pretty automatic, so we have to deliberately challenge them.
In large part, our thoughts are shaped by what the world is telling us: Like “to be a good parent means being selfless creatures” or “if you take 30 minutes, one hour, or a day for self-care, you’re selfish.”
Be deliberate and challenge these thoughts when they arise. But we have to do that cleverly since our minds will naturally fight against the idea that time for self is okay. So try these strategies:
Step outside of yourself to see your experiences and your needs more objectively.
Ask yourself: would you tell a friend or loved one that taking time for themselves is selfish? That refuelling their tank isn’t necessary? Would you suggest to someone else that work, kids, sleep, food, and air is enough? Likely not.
And embrace this reframe: Instead of thinking “I want to be a good parent, but I really need a break” reframe it to “I am a good parent, and I need a break.” You are and you do.
Recognize the need for investment in self and our own emotional fitness
Living in a productivity-oriented culture where we valourize supermom and superdad means we’re trying to swim upstream if we pause, break from multitasking and recharge.
But mentally and physically we need to refuel ourselves. It’s well documented that the absence of self-care takes a toll. It impacts our wellbeing, contributes to stress, exhaustion, burnout and threatens our mental health.
If we doubt that, investing in ourselves is even more difficult.
Of course, it only makes sense; if we don’t invest in our own self-care, we are less able to care for others. We often hear that message. Especially now, when physical and emotional wellbeing is top of mind.
But allocating time to invest in our own identity – apart from that of parent, worker and partner – matters too. Finding things that restore our sense of self are mentally healthy – for us and our children.
As you begin your journey to investment in “me,” remember that can and should include investment in what makes you, you.
Find your music
Having dropped into the valley of kids/work/kids/work, many of us can’t remember what makes us thrive, what sparks us as individuals, or what we would do if we had time to ourselves. Our identities are so tightly wound with our role as mom, dad, worker, provider – even daughter, son, sister, or brother – it’s hard to remember what fuelled our sense of self, and what restored us.
Let’s compound that even more. We are so guided by “Supposed To’s” and cultural expectations around what personal wellbeing looks like. Because of this, we can easily turn to things like fitness as our primary means of wellbeing. If you’re quick to jump to,“but I Peloton every morning!” guard against that knee-jerk reaction. Your wellbeing is multifaceted, and it can go beyond just physical activity.
See tips below.
I find women in my practice struggle to identify self-care options for themselves that are truly for themselves and not others. It’s a struggle to identify but so worth it.
Don’t diminish activities that aren’t goal-oriented (what our experts call “means end” oriented). Does it feel okay to take an hour run on the weekend if you’re training for a half-marathon, but not okay if you want to take an hour to go to a coffee shop and read? If so, here’s why: as a society we place a higher value on things that have an outcome that feels productive – that’s goal-oriented. So reading a book for entertainment doesn’t carry as much “value” or doesn’t feel as justifiable as reading for a course, or even a book club.
If you know that bias exists in your mind, say it out loud. Ask yourself: is that legitimate, or is that a convention that doesn’t make sense? You’ll begin to accept that investment in you as an end goal is enough.
When you have trouble remembering what your music is, ask yourself:
- Was there something you used to love to do that you no longer have time for?
- Is there something you’re doing now that you enjoy, but don’t have enough time for?
- Is there something you’ve seen or heard of that you wish you could do?
People often tell us that it’s the things they did in the decade before kids that they want to get back to. As you go through your days, be aware of what excites you. If you listen for it, you’ll find it.
Be forthcoming and tell your loved ones, your friends, and your support system that you need a window of time just for yourself. They’re not mind readers.
You may feel guilty asking for help from others because we feel like we “should” be with our kids or we “should be” doing something else. We may even feel like they’re believing those ideas, too. That’s called “cognitive distortion” and it causes us to project our feelings onto others.
But remember, these are loved ones, or people who care about your wellbeing. Try not to think of your request for personal time as an inconvenience to them. The reality is it’s likely something they’re happy to provide to you.