It’s an easy thing in this busy world to get so caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of life that we forget to take time. When your day has started with a fight between your two youngest at 6.00am, then you’ve dealt with a stressful deadline at work, done the after school run, taken one kid to cricket practice here and another to a swimming squad there, made dinner, eaten, been to a committee meeting, folded some washing, made some lunches and then fallen into bed, it’s really difficult to see where to squeeze out a little time for yourself, and impossible to see how you might fit your partner in too. Yes, you have a work-life balance, but where is the time for you?
No matter how busy you are, it is vital that you make time for yourself and your partner. For yourself, to keep your sanity, stay on an even keel, have the ability to stay positive and happy or to remain fit and healthy. For your partner because you cannot nourish intimacy if the only conversation you ever have includes “Please can you change the baby’s nappy/ pick up milk/ take some kids to the bath” and then communal snoring at the end of the day.
Start small. Write a list of things that you would do for yourself if you had unlimited time. My list normally starts with a pedicure, continues with a bath, getting fit and reading a book a day. There might be chocolate included there too somewhere. Now those things aren’t always practical or realistic with 6 kids, a full-time job and community commitments. But I have learnt to incorporate some of those things into my daily life, and am much happier for it.
I had a moment a couple of years ago where I realised that although I was doing a great job at my office, doing OK with finding time for my husband, and great with finding time for the kids, there was nothing for me built into my life. There is great satisfaction and great reward in being a good parent and partner, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong to take some time for yourself.
After my moment, I made a couple of small changes. The first is that once a month, I take an hour for lunch, walk to the local mall and have a pedicure. This is great for me, because I take a book (or not), have a short walk and break from my desk, and come back to work relaxed and refreshed and feeling pampered and groomed. For the small amount a month it costs me, it is money very well spent.
The second thing I do is that every night before I go to sleep, I try to read. Just for 5 or 10 minutes, but I read for pleasure only. Not a work article or manual, not a parenting book. Just something for pleasure.
The third thing I am doing is that I have started, in the last 6 months, to get fit. This was brought on by the realisation that when my youngest children are 10 year s old, I will be turning (gulp!) 50. At present, I am an active involved parent. I swim, kayak, play games, kick a ball around and rough house with the children. I still want to be able to do that with the small boys when they’re a little bigger. It’s easier to start now than in 5 years time! Most weekday mornings I am up at 6.00am doing an exercise DVD in the family room. I should say at this juncture that I am absolutely not a morning person but it’s the only time in the day I can guarantee that I’ll be able to make half an hour of time available. I am often assisted in my exercise by the 5-year old boys, or sometimes the 3-month old kittens, so I don’t always work out as hard as I could. At the weekends, I often walk with a friend first thing in the morning before it gets too hot. So I’m renewing my social connections and getting fitter at the same time. I’m also teaching my kids by example that it is a great thing to do regular activity.
These things didn’t all happen at once, but the benefits to me are huge. Just eking out those few minutes each day or each month give me a little breathing space that I didn’t have before. They remind that first and foremost, I am a person, and not just a mother, wife, friend, employee. My list won’t be the same as your list, but I think the key is to find things that refresh and rejuvenate you; that allow you to be the calm at the eye of the storm and that let you breathe through today’s crisis and prepare for tomorrow’s.
It is harder to make that time for my husband, because there are two people involved. But I think this is really essential. I learnt from a failed marriage that living in the same house and sharing children does not constitute an intimate, adult relationship.
My husband and I aren’t just parents. Before we were parents, we were two people in love. Two people in an adult relationship with time to spend together. Two people who had an intimate connection which we nurtured by talking, doing things together, playing and being individuals, not just parents. Being a parent is a wonderful thing, but it is a job or a role, and shouldn’t be the thing that solely defines you.
We haven’t got all the answers, but there are a few things that my husband and I do each day to try and scrape out some time and remind us that we are husband and wife and not just parents. The first thing is that we make a point of greeting each other, normally with a kiss and a hug and saying goodbye when we come and go at home. It may seem like a simple courtesy, but it’s one which is really easy to let slip in the mass of children and activity. And taking that small moment to acknowledge each other can make all the difference.
The second thing that we do is that we take a regular “Grown-up’s day off” – once a quarter or so. This requires a bit more scheduling and organisation, but is basically a day when the kids are in school or a holiday programme and we take a day off work to spend together. The rules are very simple – no chores, no household jobs and no kids. Just my husband and I, and no other commitments or agendas. We try and keep the day spontaneous and decide what we’re doing on the spur of the moment – not something we normally have the luxury of doing.
We also make sure that we have at least two nights a week most weeks where we have no other commitments. Even if we just sit and watch a TV show, it is still time spent with just the two of us. Now that our oldest is able to babysit the younger children, we may start making this a walk a couple of times of week, perhaps with a rule that we talk about things other than the children.
For each couple, and each individual, there will be different things that you do to make time. I would love to hear what others are doing – what are your suggestions?