Self care 101: How to take a mom break when you can't get away

Social distancing, shelter-at-home orders, school closings, and new telecommuting routines have tested mamas in ways few of us could have imagined at the dawn of 2020. Routines have changed. A lot has changed.

One routine that disappeared for most of us, is “mom time.”

It’s definitely not the most dramatic change, or the most difficult upset, and at first I hardly felt its loss. But three months later, I am definitely feeling the strain of not getting away by myself. You?

Personally, (indulge me a moment) I miss my local craft donut shop. Most Saturday mornings, my husband takes our boys out for wilderness adventures, and I used to take my laptop and my donut budget to a cozy little booth, next to an interior brick wall, in a very bustling little storefront. I would blare music through my headphones, work on my pet projects, and smile at cute toddlers overdosing on sugar. *sigh*

Whatever your “mom time” looked like, it’s likely gone, or become more irregular, and if you are feeling the strain of it—that’s okay.

Getting some time to yourself (preferably away from the house) is not selfish or trivial. It’s a vital piece of self-care, which is important for your whole family. 

But how do you do that with everything closed or drive-through only? Admittedly, even our best efforts won’t be the same, but it’s important to make some kind of effort to get the best mom break you can. 

Here are some ideas.

1. Adjust bedtime.

Depending on how old your kids are, and how their sleep works, shift bedtime to give yourself and your spouse some grown-up time. If your kids are little, that might mean bumping bedtime up a little bit, so you can get some time in the evening before you crash into your own bed.

If they’re a little older, and early bedtime means early rising—and you’re a morning person yourself—maybe push bedtime back and let them sleep in longer. 

Imagine drinking an entire cup of hot coffee before anyone spills something …

Baby bed time

2. Make time by teaching the kids to do chores.

We talked about this last week. I know I said that it would take time to teach them and make sure they’re getting it right—and it does.

But there are some chores they don’t have to get right for now, and there are some you can supervise from a semi-recumbent posture. Example: Cleaning up dinner.

I started this with my 5 and 7 several months ago. It did take a week or two of demonstrating, instruction, reminders, and close supervision. But it’s not that hard. 

Now, after dinner, I can sit at the table and finish a beverage or read a chapter of something while 5 clears the table and counter, and 7 loads the dishwasher. I’m still there to answer questions, offer guidance, and supervise, but I can relax for a few minutes.

It’s not all-to-myself alone time, but it’s a well-timed break. 

3. Make time by simplifying dinner.

If you labor over a complete meal every night, know that it’s okay to take the easy road once in a while.

I don’t really enjoy cooking, but I do enjoy eating—and I enjoy feeding my boys healthy food. So I cook dinner every night, and sometimes it’s time-consuming. 

But I recently had a very busy work week, so I gave in and planned a couple of quick dinners—homemade sliders on Hawaiian rolls, or something—and you know what? Everyone survived. 

I’ve since repeated a couple of those quick dinners and found myself with a little extra time in the evening.

4. Monitor your own screen time. 

I’m not telling you to put down your phone—because you’re an adult, and because this is about getting time for you. But be aware of (1) how much time you’re spending on social media and news feeds, and (2) what it’s doing to you.

If you’re spending too much time scrolling your smartphone—so that other responsibilities pile up and then you’re stressed—it’s time to turn off the phone. If the 15 minutes you spend on the latest news, or your Facebook feed, mean that you spend the afternoon hopeless or angry—it’s time to turn off the phone.

But if you manage to orchestrate 30 minutes for yourself after the kids are in bed, and scrolling through Instagram or building a Pinterest board about your future house is relaxing for you, then go to town and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.

5. Start a quiet hour.

If your kids are too old for naps, try establishing a quiet hour whenever you need it most. If you are not a morning person, maybe it needs to be first thing in the morning. If you’re working from home and find yourself at your wits’ end by mid-afternoon, maybe it needs to be then.

Some tips:

  • Explain it a couple of days before, in whatever way is most appropriate for your kids. Plan to start on a Monday, for example, and begin seeding that idea on Friday or Saturday.

  • Make it the same hour every day. It should become a consistent part of your schedule.

  • Establish a few clear boundaries/rules ... but not too many. Shoot for two or three that explain where your kids should be and what kinds of activities they can do.

  • Collect some special items that only come out during quiet hour. A basket of magazines, activity books, etc. can be something to look forward to, and the novelty will keep them occupied longer.

6. Create a sanctuary.

Set up a space where the kids are not allowed. Maybe it’s the master bathroom, your bedroom, or a corner of the yard. If it was some place that the kids were allowed before, explain that now—for a little while—they’re not anymore.

Then, set it up for you. Get the kids’ bath toys out, assemble your favorite flowers or pillows, spring for a nice lawn chair … whatever you need to make it easy to relax. Keep all the stress, worry, and work out of that space, and let your brain start to associate it with calm.

7. Design a self-centered evening routine.

What helps you unwind at the end of the day? Plan for it. 

It’s so easy to lose our evenings—even after the kids go to bed—to one more load of laundry, one more room to pick up, one more pet to feed, etc.

Pick one day of the week when those things just aren’t going to get done, and plan your perfect evening (at home) instead. Make yourself a drink, pull up that movie you’ve been saving, dig out the book you started two months ago, the pedicure kit, the bath salts—whatever. 

If your spouse is able and willing, he can pull off those evening chores once a week, but even if not—the sun will still rise over dirty laundry the next day. And you’ll probably be more energized to tackle it after a pleasant evening and a good night’s sleep.

8. Get a hobby.

I know this seems like the opposite of finding time for yourself, but hear me out: You are more than a mother.

Mothering can be the biggest part of who you are. It can be your favorite part. All good. 

But so often, we get so busy being Mom that we lose sight of the other people we are. Are you an artist? A writer? A kniter? A baker? A crafts(wo)man? A scholar? A star-gazer?

If nothing comes to mind, what have you always wanted to try or learn? I know it feels like now is not the time to pick up a new hobby or learn a new language, but sometimes the best way to “get away” when you can’t really get away is to remind yourself that you’re more than a human Kleenex.

Motherhood is glorious and wonderful and lofty, but it’s also largely invisible and thankless and draining. Try spending 20 minutes in the early morning, or after bedtime, on something you enjoy that has nothing to do with your kids. 

Mama’s Me-Time

It’s okay to want some time to yourself, and it’s okay to take steps to make it happen. Your family (and your coworkers, if you have them) need you at your best, and that means taking time to rest and recharge.

If you used to have that me-time, it’s probably gone, but there are ways to get some of it back. 

Which of these suggestions seems like the easiest to get started for you, in your family? You might want to start teaching your kids how to do a chore that will create some extra time for you in the near future (when they get better at it), and also try something with an immediate effect—like simplifying dinner tonight.

In a few days, start talking to your kids about the quiet hour that’s going to start next Monday.

You do a great job taking care of your family. Take care of you too.


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