Debbie Granick is a parent/childbirth educator and freelance writer. She received a Masters in Social Work and a Masters in Public Health, specializing in Maternal and Child Health, from the University of North Carolina. Her previous work includes counseling adolescents and their families in a substance abuse prevention program, teaching tobacco education and reproductive health in a school setting, and consulting with local child care staff on toddler discipline strategies.

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Me Time for Real Life

Trying to find “me time” is giving me high blood pressure and making me cranky. According to the media, and a few delirious friends, I need more focus on ME! A self-actualized mommy has spa days and girlfriend getaways, goes to boot camp and meditative yoga.

But escape comes with a price. The calls and instructions for the sitter, the cries as I walk out the door, the visions of three kids eating corn chips and cookies for lunch, the chores that await my return.

It also messes with my psyche. Why do I feel this desperate need to get away from the kids I love? Where’s the happy mommy who finds joy with her kids, not just when she gets out?

I’ve adopted a new strategy: Don’t evacuate. Integrate.

The ad with the family whooping it up as they play Cinderella Scrabble is not my reality. I don’t like kid games. Before applying my new strategy, I forced myself to play Barbies and waited until bedtime to do what I enjoyed. As my kids, ages six, eight, and ten, stayed up later and later, that got harder.

My new goal is to carve “me time” into family time and routine chores. I take care of myself while taking care of everyone else, not as a separate activity. It doesn’t erase the periodic need for time alone, but it makes it less urgent and consuming.

Here’s how it works: When I’m anticipating hours of errands or driving kids to their activities, I concentrate on where I could carve out some enjoyment for myself. Small changes make a big difference. I bring my favorite tea when I head out for carpool. I’ll walk the dog or read People during soccer practice. I wear an ipod and munch something yummy while at the grocery. I put far-off friends on speakerphone while I cook mid-week meals.

I’ve made bigger changes, too. I used to wait anxiously for my husband to get home before embarking on a much-needed jog. By the time I transferred care of the kids and responded to six more rounds of “mom, wait,” my stress would be through the roof. Now I let the kids scooter while I jog. I eliminate the stress of getting out the door. I meet my needs with the kids, rather than without.

I used to wait until the kids were asleep to curl up with a book and then fume because I lasted ten minutes before dozing off. Now I skip a chore and curl up on the couch next to them while they watch a movie. It’s a new world. I make their TV time enjoyable for me, too, rather than just get frustrated that their brains are turning to video-induced mush.

I also make more efforts to find relaxing mommy time at home when the house is calm instead of waiting (and waiting) for that spa day. The world does not end if a few chores are postponed. On a recent quiet weekend morning, the kids were busily making a fort. I dashed upstairs, ignored everybody, and battled my mail pile for an hour. Productive? Yes. Precursor to a really bad mood? Yes. Turned out I missed the only opportunity that day for an undisturbed shower and a romantic rendezvous. All went to heck and a hand basket from there.

At this stage of parenting, a good opportunity for personal hygiene or marital bliss should trump mail pile in all but the direst circumstances.

It’s a compromise. If they’re on scooters, I can’t zone out while I jog. I can’t always skip chores. The kids won’t always play by my rules. Today I scrapped my “I’ll enjoy scrap booking while you guys craft at the table” plan because one needed help with homework and two whined so much it wasn’t worth it.

But it works overall.

With my new strategy, I get more needs satisfied without having to change everyone’s routine and stress myself out. Fewer days drain my energy.

When my brood is in their teens, they won’t need me as much. I’ll have endless opportunities for chores or hot baths while they do their thing. But for now, they’ll hang with me any moment I offer. They adore me. They need me. So I may as well get it while the getting is good.

“Don’t evacuate, integrate,” isn’t perfect. My house is too messy and marathon training will have to wait. But my blood pressure…through the floor!

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