Have you ever tried to keep a teeter-totter in motion without someone on the other side to balance you out? Well, that’s what it feels like sometimes as a mom, especially as a single mom. Balancing my roles as a parent, a professional, and an individual feels a little like running back and forth between two sides of a piece of playground equipment just to keep it in motion!
As a parent who has made some pretty child-centered parenting decisions such as opting not to have a crib and allowing her toddler to nurse until the almost age of three, the majority of my non-working and waking hours have been literally devoted to parenting. In addition to working days, I also work some evenings; I don’t have a partner to tag team with; and I usually go to sleep at the same time as my child.
Given these circumstance and parenting decisions, I have become quite creative in finding ways to get the time that I need for myself and in maintaining my identity outside of parenting.
Below are some of the strategies that I have found useful in regaining some of the “me” that gets lost during parenting. I have somehow managed to find ways to fill the nearly “on-empty, adult-me tank” that occasionally gets low on fuel.
And these tips are not only for single parents: Anyone who knows the challenges of parenting may find them useful.
Make Your Free Time Meaningful
What do I think of when I first think of free time? Let’s see…vacuuming the living room, unloading the dishwasher, and grading papers. How much of that is restorative to me? None! I am the master of getting everything done before giving something to myself.
What I have learned in finding ways to balance the responsibilities of parenting with restoring myself is to deliberately schedule activities during my twenty-four hour free time that are meaningful to me.
For instance, on Sundays I started going to a mediation class for an hour. It’s only an hour and it feeds me spiritually and emotionally. It’s like McDonalds for the soul! I also started running with a friend on Sundays. To save time, I suggested a location that is extremely close to my house. With this arrangement, I can do something that is meaningful without spending my precious free time traveling. Perhaps running around a lake further away would have been more slightly more scenic but it would have meant one less hour that I would have for myself.
Break the Rules of Parenting Occasionally
Taking a hot bath or even a quick hot shower is a luxury for me these days. It is quite relaxing and restorative, but hard to do with a toddler in the midst. So how do I gain some me time? By breaking the rules! Tonight my daughter wanted to eat her evening snack at a late hour so I made the decision to let her take her snack upstairs where she could eat it while I snuck in a quick bath! I felt ever so slightly guilty as I watched her happily munching away on her avocado while wearing her Elmo bib in the bathroom, but for a few minutes I got to relax in tub thus bringing some balance into my life.
Work Meaningful Activities into Your Daily Routine
One of things I love most is to ride my bike. A year ago I decided to move out of my townhouse and into a single family home so that my child would have a nice backyard in which to play. My house of choice was deliberately chosen because of its proximity to daycare and my work. The location of my house allowed me to ride my daughter to daycare on my bike. This has turned out to be a wonderful bonding ex[erience for us, as well as a centering and peaceful activity for me. We have watched the seasons turn, have observed the flowers growing, and keep a close eye out for dogs. At the same time it is me at my happiest. After dropping her off I am able to bike to work and then do the same in reverse at the end of the day. Instead of commuting in a car an hour a day, I am on my bike doing something I enjoy.
Network with Other Parents
Spending time bonding with your child are special, happy moments, but from my perspective, there’s still a self that needs to be fed. By forming social relationships with other parents, you can plan and enjoy activities that are child-centered but that also allow you to engage in healthy adult-to-adult communication. Coffee shop play dates, trips to nature centers, eating out: These are all activities that can include your child, but at the same time you are able to find ways to connect with adults and explore the non-child side of you.
Find People that Care about You and Your Child/Children
Going out for ice cream is so much more fun with another adult. If you are a parent that does most of the hands-on work, it is so freeing to have another adult around who can clean up that spilled water or take the child to wash her hands. A loving adult who cares about you and your child can be a gift that you can never repay. And the best thing about it: That other adult is FRESH! They are likely in a good spot mentally spot and probably have had a good night’s sleep whereas you may have been wakened multiple times by a child calling “momma.” Going out with another adult allows you to continue to bond with your child, but at the same time you can get that break you might need. And, hey, have a hot fudge sundae while you’re at it. You deserve it!
Find Ways to Save Time
A friend of mine jokes that I have hired a husband for most everything. I have retained the services of a doogie-pooper-cleaner-uper; I pay a woman who cooks amazing macrobiotic meals and drops them off at my house once a week; and the several inches of snow that fall on my sidewalks are blown to the side by a snow removal service. Yes, these things all cost money, but if this leaves me more time to take care of what is really important; i.e., me, then it is completely worth it!
Sign your Child up for Activities You Enjoy
My little girl is enrolled in mama-baby music classes, mama-baby yoga classes and swimming lessons. Each of these benefits me in some way. The music class is fun. I get to sing and dance and wave scarves around. Yoga is one of my favorite ways of keeping fit; during momma-baby yoga class I’ll sneak in a few extra vinyasas for myself. Swimming lessons? After the 30 minute swimming class I get to hit up the hot tub. She sits on the side while I loosen up those achy muscles. Score!
Don’t Pack Too Much into Your Free Time
I have found that when I have an evening free I want to do all of the things I enjoy in one evening. I want to go to a movie AND go out to dinner. I’ve learned over the past couple of months to pick one of the two and to savor the luxury of not rushing to and from different activities. By only going out to dinner I have a leisurely hour to get to the restaurant and a good couple of hours after my outing to do whatever I want at home. It makes for a more relaxed and enjoyable evening. Plus, I can get a 20 minute nap in before I go out if I so desire!
Balance isn’t about a fifty-fifty split between being a parent and nourishing the self. As a parent with lots of hands-on parenting time, balance means being creative about finding ways to maximize the free time one does have and about being intentional about what is being gained during that time. It’s also about finding ways to bring yourself into the parenting process and to secretly gain something for your own self while you are parenting. Happy parenting and remember “nourish thyself!”