Getting Past the Guilt of Me-Time as a Mom

When Glenn Close won a Golden Globe for her role in “The Wife” earlier this year she said something in her acceptance speech that made me stand up in my own living room and say “Preach!” She talked about her mother, (who’d spent her life supplementing herself to her father), and who, in her eighties, told Close that she felt hadn’t accomplished anything because of it.

“… Women, we're nurturers, that's what's expected of us. We have our children. We have our husbands…,” Close said. “But we have to find personal fulfillment … We have to follow our dreams. We have to say: I can do that. And I should be allowed to do that."

Most moms I know and work with feel guilty taking time for themselves (many dads do too, by the way). As parents, we carry a belief system that raising kids is about sacrifice and any time we take for ourselves is selfish.  But is it? Or does self-care truly make us better parents?

Here are three reasons why Me-Time is the opposite of selfish:

  • As a parent, one of your jobs is to role model what it means to be a happy adult.  

  • To have the patience and energy to be there for your children, fueling yourself must be part of your equation every day.

  • You have interests and unique talents and skills to offer the world – and you should be able to share them!  

As it happens, the years we are raising our children happen to be the peak of our own adult development years.  No-one ever talks about that, but it’s true. While we are raising kids, we are establishing careers, cultivating marriages and adult social lives, and getting to know ourselves as people.  No wonder we feel those internal conflicts.

And if we ignore,  neglect or abandon those components of our being,  we feel empty and unfulfilled; we lose touch with who we are, and it’s that much harder to really be present for our kids.  

Most people nod along in agreement when I say this. But in the midst of all the other demands on parents’ time – work, family, health – can there possibly be enough time in the day?

The short answer is: Yes.

But it’s a different kind of time

it will look different from the long, wandering walks with friends or six-hour marathon dates you once enjoyed. “Time for yourself” when you are a parent has to take on a different form, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less restorative.

In my research for “Time To Parent” I discovered that what kids really need from their parents are short bursts of concentrated attention, delivered consistently.  That’s five or 10 or 15 or 20 minutes of focused presence, a few times throughout the day.

You need to do the same thing for yourself.

Start with just a couple daily 10-20 minute doses of self-care per day.  

Maybe you sit and eat your lunch (no phone in hand), and really feel the warmth of the tea in your cup and enjoy the taste of your sandwich. You might build in some time to craft or practice an instrument during the evening.  Perhaps you arrange to take a short walk, or talk to a friend for a few minutes on the phone. Work on folding those moments into the rhythm of your day and see how it makes you feel.

We all get the same 168 hours in a week -- try as we might, we can’t add more hours to the day. Time is finite resource. But being fully present, concentrating on just one thing at a time – and learning to deliver undivided attention in short bursts--whether it’s on yourself or your kids – has the effect of stretching time, making it feel like there is more to every hour. Try it.

Time for yourself is as essential to your ability to be a parent as all of the hours you so lovingly devote to your children.