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Life Coaching for parents: The importance of being good to yourself
by Maria Sweetman

Question:

I am a mum to two girls, a toddler and baby. When I have a minute to myself, I love to read magazines and find myself drawn to the articles that tell me that I should be balancing my daily schedule so that I have time for myself. This sounds wonderful on paper, but is surely impossible. Most days I am running around from morning to night: if I'm not tidying, it is feeding or cleaning or shopping and then I crawl into bed only to wake the next morning and start all over again. Is it just me, or is there a better way of doing this?

Answer:

I find it quite amazing how much we can juggle in our lives. We are adept at getting the kids to school on time, we have work shirts ironed for the next day, help with homework and have tea on the table by 5 pm, yet we find it impossible to have our hair done regularly or to meet up with friends. We are great at multi-tasking and burning the candle at both ends, but it is inevitable that something has to give, and it is usually you. Why is that? What is stopping you from asking for a piece of the day for yourself? If one of your daughters was running from pillar to post every day as you describe, would you not take her to one side to encourage her to slow down and get some support?

Of course, the answer is complicated. Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day to fit everything in, and the needs of your children, family and friends have to take precedence. However, this can go back to old habits and the belief that you are being "good" by putting others first. I very much believe that you reap what you sow in this respect, and that you will become less vibrant and energetic, and lose touch with what you are all about, if you don't make the time for yourself. We all need to recharge and gain more energy. Have you noticed how you feel after a treat, maybe a trip to the hairdressers, a drink out with friends or an unexpected half hour around the shops without the buggy in tow? That's what re-energising feels like; imagine it as a deep clean for your head, where you can find your groove and regained your sense of self.

Every few months I call a "mummy's day". I hand the kids, ironing, cooking, and cleaning over to my husband and do whatever I want. I catch the train to meet up with friends who live a touch too far away, get dropped off for a days shopping all by myself or even stay in bed with a book. The interesting thing is that I felt guilty, maybe even selfish, when I first though about doing it, but the family cope without me, and I am a new supercharged mummy who is ready to take on the world every time I give myself one of these days.

I am not suggesting that you jump in at the deep end and start commandeering days for yourself (well, not at the moment anyway), but you can begin to get used to safeguarding time for yourself. Here is a task to get you thinking on the right track - try making space for one thing just for you each day. Before you say that it is impossible, remember that you have to be realistic with the time available, and that an hour well spent can be a lifesaver. Also, remember that the idea of enjoyment is different from one person to the next. You may regain a sense of self after losing yourself in a film or a catch up chat with friends in a gallery. It is worth thinking about - what makes you happy - what makes your heart sing?

Then you need to make a plan so you are not just wishing but actively doing something about it. This may take some adapting for as much as my heart would break into song with a trip to Las Vegas, it isn't going to happen in the near future - so a night out with suitably flamboyant friends does the trick instead. If you adore going for long walks along coastal footpaths but can't see it happening with a buggy and toddler in tow, then plan a day out to the beach, get the picnic out and take your leave for an hour of solitude as your children are ably looked after by someone else. The only miracles are the ones that you create yourself, so think about what you can do in different ways so you feel that your time is well spent.

I have also devised the following ideas for you to consider as you find your way:

  • Share your thoughts - It is often assumed that everything is alright if no problems are aired, so tell people if you need something. If some time off is offered, don't brush it away but accept it gratefully and make the most of it.
  • Learn to be your own best friend - Be the voice of reason that says that you can't help out today because you have too much on, or that you need to ask for help. By looking after yourself you will learn to conserve your own emotional and physical energy for what matters. If you prioritise your own well being, perhaps by having a long luxurious bath instead of clearing out the cupboards, you are giving out a message about your own self worth.
  • Use your natural resources - We all need a little help, so think about family and friends that you can ask for time, or talk to other parents and organise babysitting or toddler groups that will allow not only you, but also other parents, to recharge their batteries. They will thank you for it.
  • Get back in touch with you - Parenthood comes with many strings attached. Step out of your usual routine and maybe have a night out with your partner talking about everything but children, or get in touch with long lost friends who knew you before you became a mum.

So, in response to your initial question, yes, there is a better way of doing this. Change does not happen overnight, but it is certainly possible. The key to making bigger changes is to take it slowly so you can really feel that you are reclaiming yourself. By realising that you are the only one who can make space for yourself, you are making a huge step forwards. If you let things slip and go back into old habits, you will be the one who feels stuck, and everyone else can quite rightly say they did not realise what you needed while you continue to burn the candle at both ends.

Be a fabulous example to your girls and show them how important it is for mum to be looked after as well. You are one of the lynchpins in your family so doing your own thing, even for a few hours, can help your family realise how much you do. By being a role model you will teach them to value their own time and, importantly, to value you.

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