In Defense of Me Time

Once upon a time, I was "that mom".

You know, "that mom". The type of mom that you think you should be, but really, you're doing nobody any favors.

I did not have the best childhood in so many ways. I can't get into the reasons why here (among many reasons, I have a policy to not talk badly about anyone on my blog), but I decided that when I would become a parent, I would be the best possible parent. Be the perfect mom. Give my child everything that my kid needed. No matter what.

Do you know what happens when you try to do that?

Life happens. You realize how demanding and needy children are. And when you stubbornly insist that despite what you originally thought, parenting was much harder than you assumed it would be, you still give them everything and put yourself on the back burner. Come hell or high water, you will be the perfect parent. You can't do anything less.

And then, instead of just being a "normal" parent, you go to the opposite extreme, to try to compensate for what you didn't get as a child. And if that means that you're a wrung out rag, who cares, because your kids come first.

When that means that you nurse your kid round the clock every 45 minutes, day and night, then you do that. Even if it means that you can never, ever, ever get a break. Not even at night. Even if it means you need to quit your job working from home in the evenings, since you couldn't do it with fifteen minutes out of every 45 minutes spent nursing a baby.

It means that since you kid went to sleep for the night at 7 pm, you were effectively tied at home from 7 pm, since you had to be there every 45 minutes to nurse from that point on. It meant that you never had a single date night without your kid. And even your tenth anniversary vacation was with a nursing baby in tow.

Oh, and when the kid is 2 years old and still wakes up multiple times a night to nurse, you're still stuck at home in the evenings, so you turn down basically every socialization opportunity because by that age people don't let you bring your baby along, and most socialization happens in the evening.

And then you have more kids, and they have special needs, and are really demanding, and they refuse to go to babysitters also. And you won't let them cry because leaving a baby to cry is basically torture and ruins their brain and increases their stress level and teaches them that the world isn't a safe and trustworthy place.

And then you homeschool your kids because you think that that's what's best for them, and that means that you never, ever, ever get a break. Because the kids are with you every single ding dong second of the day.

And then when your kids tell you that they don't want you to work, because they miss you those few hours a week you leave the house without them, and you tell them that if you don't work, you won't have money to get treats for them, and they say you'd rather stay home and then they'll go without treats, you do that. Because you want what's best for your kids.

Yes, I was that mom.

Do you know what happens when you are "that mom" for so many years?

Things slowly start disintegrating. And even though you try to be the perfect mom, years without a break, without any breathing room, without any self care, without even going to the bathroom without a baby or toddler in the room with you, they change you. You can't be the perfect mom. No one can.

Especially add in years of doing this, and kids with special needs, and any other difficult life circumstances.

You try to give things to your kids like one on one time, trips, homeschooling, etc... but you can't do it as calmly as you want to. You lose it with your kids. You snap at them for things that are age appropriate. You have all these ideas of what perfect parenthood looks like, having read all the books, but you can't implement it.

You can't pour when your cup is empty.

I remember when people were telling me this when I was a few years into my homeschooling journey, that I should leave them with a babysitter occasionally and go out and do something fun. I told them that it wasn't fair to the kids, they needed me.

Let me just tell you this.

I was wrong.

Very wrong.

I thought I was being the perfect mom, but I couldn't be perfect when I wasn't taking care of myself. Oh, and perfect doesn't exist. I couldn't even be as good of a mom as I wanted to be and possibly could have been if I didn't totally negate myself and my emotional needs for years. So in the quest to do everything for my kids, I ended up doing less than I would have been capable of had I not tried to be perfect.

I thought that by just "being positive" and "thinking happy thoughts" I'd be able to be the perfect mom even without taking care of myself. But that doesn't work, especially for longer periods of time. Your veneer eventually cracks.

Not only that, but by negating my needs for the sake of the children's, what I was doing was teaching my children that parents aren't people with emotional needs, and that they don't deserve to be happy. My children deserve to believe that when they are adults, they also are allowed to be happy and also allowed to have emotional as well as physical needs. I can't teach them something that I myself am not modeling.

Fortunately starting therapy helped me realize that I needed to take care of myself. I started with little things, like buying myself a necklace that I was eyeing that was in my budget. Letting myself have things that I don't need, just want. Learned a lot in therapy that by denying myself my wants, they eventually became imperative emotional needs. That if I didn't take time to take care of myself by my own choice, my body and brain would make it non negotiable. And of course, all this negating of my emotional well being for so long meant that my mental health issues came out at in full force, forcing me to take care of myself. (And if you want to go to therapy but don't think you have the means to pay for it, click here for an affordable option.)

The first time I booked a vacation without the children, without anyone other than myself, a trip to Poland for a week, I was freaking scared. I felt so guilty for spending money on myself, for leaving my children. But my psychiatrist and therapist both said that I definitely should go, that that is exactly what I need.

And you know what?

That trip was the first time I felt deliriously happy in so long. Riding a bike down hills in this pristine rural location was heavenly. I needed that. And no, my entire trip wasn't like that. Mental health issues don't go away just by changing your surroundings. But it definitely helped a lot.

And each time I planned a trip, I realized how much the planning stage excited me, gave me things to look forward to, made me feel like my life was worth living. And when you're battling depression, you need things that bring you joy and make things feel brighter.

Since that first trip I took to Poland 3 years ago, that first bit of actual me time for more than just a few hours that I had in years, I've been on 3 more trips abroad alone (and one more with one kid). And each time I come back from my trips invigorated, being a better mom than I was when I left.
Sometimes I feel a little guilty, because the first day back I am tired and am not in perfect mommying mode, but that's just because of understandable exhaustion.

However, I have noticed regularly that not only have I been a much better mom to my kids since I have started regularly having me time, but in the few weeks after I'm back from my trips, I'm as close to the "perfect mom" as I ever am, so much better than when I was "giving my parenting my all" as I did the first many years of being a mom.

Not only that, when I first started going on trips alone, when I saw people going on vacations with their family, I felt bad for them. Didn't they need a break? Why would they subject themselves to whiny vacations with their kids when they could just do it alone?
But now that I've taken care of myself enough, been on enough trips without the kids, I actually am excited about going on trips together with my kids, even without another adult! We went on an awesome vacation within the country last January, then had an amazing camping trip on the beach for a week in August, and now will be going on a 9 day trip abroad in December and I'm psyched.
Something I definitely would have been dreading, and definitely would not have considered had I not first taken care of myself.
You know that saying about putting on your own oxygen mask first, before putting on your kids? More than any vacation as a family, your kids need parents that are happy and healthy, or as happy and healthy as they can be. My kids might be jealous that I went on trips without them, and that's ok. They're allowed to be. They aren't adults and don't understand the deeper reasons for my going on trips alone and how it affects my ability to parent them better. But I do, and as they get older, they'll see this for themselves.

I regularly get called out on social media for my selfishness on going on trips on my own and not taking my kids with me on my vacations. I haven't found the need to defend myself because I feel absolutely no guilt over what I am doing, because I know that I deserve to be happy, and that being "selfless" ends up hurting my kids more than my being "selfish" by going on trips alone.

The reason I finally decided to post this is because I wanted to help others learn from my experience.

I feel like all too often we are encouraged as parents and especially mothers to be martyrs, to try to give our kids our all, even at the expense of our sanity. There are so many examples of that in popular culture. I have recently seen rewrites of the popular book "The Giving Tree" which is a perfect example of martyrdom, and how it should be rewritten.  This article about the problems in the book "The Giving Tree" is the other thing that inspired me to write this. I'm so glad people are talking about the problems with parents not setting boundaries with their children, and parents not taking care of their needs.

I also wanted to add that having been extreme martyr level for years with my kids, I at this moment am going the opposite extreme, to help myself heal. Yes, I'm not saying every parent should be taking as many trips alone as I do, and I don't think I'll travel alone with this frequency forever. But after so many years of neglecting myself and my emotional needs, just taking a one day trip somewhere once would do nothing, since I needed to undo years of serious self abnegation. Not to mention the amount of work it is to be a single mom, which might make my "me time" more necessary than another person's me time.

But my point isn't how you must self care, and how you must spend that me time. My point really is, don't think you're doing yourself or the world a favor by neglecting your needs. You matter. And you're teaching your children wonderful things by teaching them that you matter. Because then they also learn to take care of themselves.

Do you believe in me time? Were you always like this, or was it something you needed to discover after going the opposite extreme? What do you do for your me time?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I started to believe in me time soon after my first baby was born, a colicky screamer who never slept. I went back to work part-time when he was three months old which saved my sanity. Then when he was a year and a half old, we left him for five days with his wonderful babysitter and went to the Bahamas where I rediscovered my former self before I became a mom.
    I continued to believe in me time throughout the child-raising years, my youngest is now 16 and a terrible teen but he is quite independent and even cooks for himself!
    So good for you and continue to take time for yourself.

  2. I would add in that our kids need to learn and know that, while they are VERY important, they are not the be all/end all of the universe. And that their needs and wants are not always the top priority. That sometimes, other people come first. And exactly what you said - that their parents are people too, with their own needs and wants. So important.

    1. That's what I was going to say.. Not to shame anyone for their parenting approach because I don't believe anyone has the RIGHT answer that works for everyone, but this approach can be very damaging. Your life absolutely changes when you have kids and you make adjustments to be the best parent that your children need. But you can't let them dictate your life. You are the adult. They are the children. You make the decisions based on what you think is best. Not based on what the 2 year old thinks is best.

  3. My parents went away every year for 10 days. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. They always left us with a competent warm babysitter. When they returned it was always a love affair between them and us kids for weeks afterwards. It is not only good for the parents, it is also good for the kids to have space away from their parents.

  4. The oxygen mask principle is, to my mind, the most important thing for any new parent to learn and internalise. Yet hardly anyone ever tells you about it.

    Another very important thing to bear in mind is that not everyone is the same. Extraverts recharge through being with other people, so they will need less alone time. Some people can genuinely spend most of their time in the company of their kids and thrive. Introverts need alone time as much as they need oxygen, and the amount of alone time am introvert parent needs just to survive may well look ridiculous and selfish to an extravert. So no one should judge.

    And yes, some kids are harder than others. I had a friend who had six kids and found them a walk in the park, almost, being a natural earth mother and extravert herself. And then the seventh was on the autism spectrum, and she didn't know what hit her. So again, if someone finds it easy and another finds it hard, it does not mean that the one who finds it hard is rubbish, or unsuited to parenting. So they should not judge.

    Also, some kids will be introverts too, and THEY will need alone time, without necessarily knowing that this is what they need. So it's down to the parent to give them this option, and if it turns out it suits them, provide the regular opportunity.

    So bottom line, no one should judge :-)

    1. So interestingly enough, I'm an ambivert, with both extrovert and introvert qualities. Even if someone is an extrovert, I do think they still need some adult time without kids. The question is really how much.

  5. This is a beautiful post and deserves to be spread far and wide. I think the fundamental problem is the idea that mothers are solely responsible for how their kids turn out. It's a horrific amount of pressure, and creates so much guilt when, as you say, life gets in the way.

    We are so sure that if we do everything right, then things will turn out the way we want them to.

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  7. Preach it!

    I am the mother of three kids, one of whom has very serious disabilities. They're older now and the really tough years are behind me, but I remember those days well. One of the challenges of special needs parenting is that even you though you KNOW you need to engage in self-care, it just isn't possible. My kid could have a seizure while I was in the bathroom - forget about a shower. And 8-hours of sleep - a fantasy.

    There were two bits of advice I received very early on in my special-needs parenting journey that made a huge difference to me. 1) Choose your battles wisely, because there will be injustices everywhere and you won't have the energy to deal with it all. And 2), to survive you will need to have a selfish streak. High needs kids are so, well, high needs, that it will drain your energy (your cup) and you will crash. There will be NOTHING left. If you don't selfishly engage in self-care and "me-time", you won't effectively parent.

    Society has such high expectations for mothers in general, and mothers of special needs kids in particular. The expectation is that we are sacrificial saints with few to no limits - which is ridiculous. Add in the reality that special needs parenting often happens in the privacy of the home so the public at large doesn't really understand the demands.

    I cannot emphasize how important it is share stories like yours. Thanks for telling yours.

  8. I am so so happy to read this post. I've followed you for a long time, since Ike was a baby and I always felt you took way too much on yourself, particularly in regard to natural parenting. I'm proud to see you maturing as the years go on and you and your children grow.
    It hurt me to read how you really hurt yourself in your quest to perfection. It actually took me a few days to write this response. You quit your job (was it for the magazine you used to write for) to nurse your toddler every 45 minutes for 15 minutes! It hurts me just imagining doing that with an infant. I am so sorry you put yourself through that and I hope you continue to take care of yourself.

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