By Arlene Sanchez, former Boston Navigator
With the arrival of our daughter in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, my husband and I have had very little time for “self-care.” You know what I mean.
We’re both passionate about our full-time jobs that require attention and love. When we shut down the work day, we’re “on” for baby Zára, preparing dinner (hers and ours), washing dishes, bathing her (and if we are lucky maybe ourselves), and then it’s onto the bedtime “routine”—which really means doing whatever it takes to put the baby to sleep. This sometimes includes but is certainly not limited to passing her between Mom and Dad, serenading her, dancing, reading, and sometimes even a few tears (hers, ours) before she finally hits the sack. Then it’s time to clean up, take the dog out, prepare the baby’s middle-of-the-night meals, and get to sleep before we wake up a few times throughout the night.
So, I find myself asking, when is there time for me? How can I make time in a day that simply doesn’t have enough hours to take care of myself, my mental and physical health, and my spirit? I know, as a working parent—and especially becoming a parent in the isolation of the pandemic—that I am not alone. But knowing we’re not alone shouldn’t normalize not taking care of ourselves.
In our house, my husband and I have worked out a system on the weekends that responds directly to our need to care for and love ourselves. Every Saturday, he’s free of baby duties all morning until he decides to come and join us in the kitchen. On Sundays, I get to do the same.
On a recent Sunday, I slept in until my spirit told me to wake up, then cycled for 10 minutes (I had forgotten how to cycle, in fact, because it had been close to two months since I last sat on the bike). The feeling was magical. I soaked the moment in and let out the largest breath. I concentrated on my breathing and reminded myself through each pedal that I deserved this moment. I took a long hot shower, then closed my morning with some writing. By 11 AM, I felt energized and ready to take on the day. It only took a few hours and cost me nothing—but it’s amazing what a little bit of you time can do.
Of course, I’m privileged to have a partner to share the load with me and give me my morning “off.” If I didn’t have a co-parent to lean on, I’d have to look to my extended village instead—family or friends or neighbors I trust—to help me find that time for myself. This will look different in every family. But particularly after a year loaded with giving and not enough taking—a year that made us all ask the question, Am I doing a good job?—we have to try to care for ourselves as ferociously as we care for our kids. After all, isn’t this how we teach our children to love themselves—by modeling for them how we care for ourselves, too? Granted, it isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth investing time and energy in thinking about how to better take care of you.
So, to celebrate Mother’s Day this year, here are a few more of my favorite free or almost free ways to care for yourself as a working parent:
Be alone. Even if it’s just a walk around the block or a short hike. Hand the baby off and instead of doing chores around the house, take 15 minutes for yourself. (By all means, take more than that if you can!) If there’s no one to help with the baby, take that time for yourself while they’re napping. When they’re safely asleep in their bed, grab the baby monitor and sit in the sun on the front stoop or back porch. You don’t have to go far to enjoy a few precious minutes of having no one touching you, talking at you, or needing you. Yes, there’s stuff to be done. No, you don’t need to do it all right this minute. Trust that your mind and body will thank you later.
Connect with other moms. There is no other group of people that understands what you’re dealing with more intimately than other moms. Sometimes, what we need after a really hard day—or an extended growth spurt or sleep regression, anyone?—is validation. Reach out to other moms of children with similar ages and share stories, laughs, maybe a few tears, and you’ll soon remember you are not alone. If you’re ambitious enough, start your own local mom group that meets semi-regularly for commiseration.
Turn chores into relaxation. Okay, there’s laundry to fold. You know what else there is? TV to catch up on. Podcasts or audiobooks to listen to. Friends to connect with on Zoom or speakerphone. Pair your mindless household tasks with something you’re looking forward to, and suddenly the laundry doesn’t feel so onerous.
Run a fake errand. This is one of my personal favorites. You won’t be the only mother sitting in her car in the Target parking lot. I’m just saying, it could take you an hour to get milk. It is a guilt-free field trip!
Treat yourself. Have a favorite beverage? Ice cream treat? Smoothie with fresh berries and mint? Whatever you’re into, treat yourself to it (and don’t share with the kids).
I know it doesn’t sound like much—and yes, working parents deserve much more support—but when you’re strapped for time, it’s still possible—and essential—to claim a few minutes to care for yourself.