Updated: Jul 22
I know exactly how you feel... there's so much that needs to be done. The work, the kids, the partner, the extended family, the cleaning the washing, the tidying, the admin- the washing!! I had to take a deep breath just now as even writing it all down made me feel overwhelmed.
"I don't get any time for myself" I would say over and over- and it led me on a downward spiral... A spiral where I felt overwhelmed, overworked, and under-appreciated.
Mothers take on the majority of the mental load, and physical work of running a household, and raising children. Even the most balanced of partnerships and equal of households usually ends up with the Mum doing more- it's a bit of a default position really.
Add to this the fact that many many Mums feel guilty at doing even the smallest of things for themselves (I'm talking even just peeing or showering when you need to!), and it's a perfect storm for a stressed, depressed, cranky, and resentful woman... Not exactly the mother I'd set out to be!
So how to we get more time for ourselves? Let's get creative, utilise our multitasking capabilities, and explore the opportunities:
1) Get up earlier- I know, I know, I resisted this too- for years. But once my kids started going to bed later, I found there was actually no time in the day for me. The only option was to get up early and boy was it a game changer! My kids still get up at all sorts of times, so if I know I want some time where I definitely won't be interrupted- I set the alarm for 5.30 am and have a delicious hour of peace. Even getting up 30 minutes before you think they will wake gives you a hot cup of coffee in peace. I find that I am no more tired when I get up earlier than before- try it!
2) Multitask- When you get a minute- think about the things you could do for yourself while you are doing other things- Could it be listening to music or podcasts while you do the laundry? Taking a book instead of scrolling on your phone while you wait at dance or gymnastics class? Even practicing mantras and meditation (with your eyes open!) as you supervise kids at the pool? My huge advice here is to invest in a pair of noise cancelling headphones- it's totally changed my experience of laundry and cooking dinner!
3) Build in a Commute- You don't need a whole hour, 15 minutes will do... Have a look at your day- could you schedule a 15-minute time before you pick the kids up from school, to go for a quick walk, meditate or do some yoga to fill your cup and shift into Mum mode? I work from home, so there's no commute, and I struggle to switch out of 'work mode' when the kids get home. Building in a Mindset Shifting Commute to my afternoon is the next thing on my list to try in working towards being more present with my kids when they get home from school (rather than just worrying about all of the work that I didn't get done while they were there!)
4) Recognise it when it happens- When you do get some time, how often do you truely notice, be grateful, and recognise that you got time to yourself? When I first started on this journey, I was so wrapped up in thinking that I "got no time for myself" that I didn't even recognise the small moments that I did have throughout the day... so I ended up feeling like I'd had no time for myself, even when I did get some!
I've since made a conscious effort to be more mindful, notice when I get a moment of peace, or time to myself, thank myself for taking the time to do something for me, and the support team of people that helped it to happen. Actually recognising and valuing the time that you get is just so critical in getting the most out of the time that you have. The bonus to this strategy is that this recognition becomes more automatic over time as you develop new neural pathways around these thought patterns!
5) Remove some expectations - The expectations on mothers to do it all are crippling. There are multiple levels at which we can reduce these.
- Societal level: Notice how much time you gain when you consciously decide what aspects of the 'perfect mother' you are not going to subscribe to any more... Like having home-baked goods in perfect lunchboxes!
- Community level- try pushing back on some aspects of your work that you took on, but don't enjoy, and aren't really part of your job description- what can you hand over, or hand back (preferably an admin task, and preferably handed back to a man!). Then start to look at your village- what could they do that would help you out? Are there any Mums that could share the pickup/drop offs for after school activities? Could you have a regular alternating playdate to give you some time every fortnight?
- Family level- What mental or physical load could you delegate (which means hand over completely!) to your partner? Make sure they have all of the information, context, and resources that they need to complete the task, and then let it go- let them do it in their own time, and in their own way. Don't keep it on your list of things to check up on, or it is still adding to your mental load!
Helping you reduce the work, and gain time for you isn't just about the things that you DO- it's about what you are not going to do any more, and the way that you recognise and value the time that you do have.
I'd love to know if you have any other strategies or examples of how you create time, share the load, and use the time that you get constructively to improve your mental health. DM me on my instagram @drzaliyager
If you need a reminder to take time for yourself, and you want to hear more from me about creating and using time for yourself to feel better, pop your email in the box below and choose one of the 4 phone wallpapers that I've made with Mamas in mind.
Dr Zali Yager is a researcher in the area of maternal mental health and body image. After 15 years in academia, Zali has started exploring opportunities to get all of the best research and information around body image, mental health, and wellbeing, out to the people who need them, including mums.
You can follow Zali on Instagram @drzaliyager.