If you are a parent of a child or children who live at home with you, I’m going to take a wild guess here and say: You need a break. And no, a break does not constitute one masked-up hour in a grocery store, trying to limit the number of things you touch (I mean, unless you’re really into that sort of thing — everyone is different).
Real breaks, however, are so few and far between these days that when we do get them, we often panic. We want this time to ourselves to be perfect — it may never come again! Or we want to accomplish all the things we haven’t had time for in the past year and we try to cram too much in, leaving us more frazzled than when we started (if that’s humanly possible at this point). But with a little planning and forethought, you can get a bit of time to yourself and enjoy it.
Usually the moment we realise we really need a break is the exact moment a break is impossible. It happens when the baby is colicky and Nothing Is Helping, or we’re solo-parenting and everyone is melting down at bedtime. It’s when we wake up to the realisation that we have to balance our working-from-home and their learning-from-home yet again and, good lord, enough of this already. It would be great to take breaks before we crack completely (highly recommend!), but it’s often the actual cracking that finally gives us the permission we feel we need to take a breath.
Even if you can’t take that breather now, you should start planning for it. Sometimes having something to look forward to is enough to get you over the hump; this is why I plan summer beach get-aways in January or February. Pull out the calendar and sit down with your partner — or, if you’re a single parent, start looking at childcare options or make plans for when the kids are in daycare or school. If you can find a whole day to yourself, that’s obviously ideal, but even planning chunks of time here or there is a good start. (Don’t forget to schedule some time for your partner to get a break, too.)
Especially when the kids are little, some solid you time is probably only going to happen if everyone is clear well in advance that this time is to be protected at all costs.
If you’re working from home with kids during These Times, you’ve probably already read 379 articles with tips for how to continue doing so while also staying sane. They tell us to lower our expectations. To take advantage of early mornings or late nights. To ask for help, to practice...Read more
Think about what you need
My favourite self care exercise is to go to my city’s Main Street, with its vast array of quaint shops, and browse through all my favourites, ending with an appetiser and a glass of sangria at the Spanish restaurant in the centre of it all. (This isn’t even specific to me living in this area; I did something similar when I lived in Arizona, except it involved shopping for turquoise jewellery and then grabbing a beer in a saloon.)
By contrast, I have a friend whose idea of a perfect day is finding the peace and space needed to completely clear her to-do list. I want fresh air, the ability to meander at my own pace, a sunny table, and a chilled beverage; she wants productivity. It doesn’t matter what your thing is; it’s just important to identify what you, specifically, need. As Tess Brigham, a therapist and life coach tells Scary Mummy:
“While it may seem like taking a long bath or reading a good book is a ‘good self-care thing to do’ if it isn’t what you want or need — don’t do it! We all have different ideas of the perfect vacation, perfect partner, ideal dinner, which means you get to define what is ‘self-care’ for you,” says Brigham.
Having time for yourself is so precious — especially now — so the time needs to be spent doing things you want to do and not what you think you should be doing. “If you end up doing that as opposed to laying in bed all day, reading and watching Netflix because that seems ‘too indulgent’ or lazy you’ll just feel resentful and even more fatigued,” Brigham warns.
It’s interesting how much we used to talk about the need for work-life balance, back when things were actually kind of balanced. Sure, many of us were stressed and spread thin in pre-pandemic times, but there was a set time for work and a time for family and a time...Read more
If possible, get outside
While recognising that everyone’s self-care looks different, if at all possible, getting out of the house for a bit is probably something we could all use right about now. That could mean hitting your favourite hiking trail or sitting outside on your best friend’s deck, enjoying a socially distanced cocktail.
But I suggest we define “outside” loosely here — it can also mean hitting the drive-thru and scarfing down a burrito in peace (with the car windows down) like that satisfied lady in the photo at the top of this article. Or, in the case of my friend, maybe taking the slower, more scenic route between all those errands she’s crushing. The fresh air, combined with whatever naturally recharges you, will maximise the mental health benefits of this time to yourself.