Whenever someone asks me what the hardest part of being a mother is, I feel like they want me to talk about the baby poop. Or maybe the infant-induced insomnia. In truth, what I have found most difficult about having two kids under 2 is the lack of me-time for moms. After all, moms are meant to hold everything together. Moms are supposed to look after everyone else before taking so much as five minutes for themselves. Moms don't get to be selfish — to do "selfish" things like take a day trip into the nearest city, or dance all night with friends, or drink a load of fruity cocktails, or have long, child-free bubble baths while someone else changes diapers for a while.
I'm lucky to have a supportive partner who encourages me to make time for myself; to pursue my hobbies, to call a babysitter when I'm feeling overwhelmed, or to designate as many chores to him as I'd like. Even so, the desire to do as much as I can by myself is ever-present. I'm perfectly willing to admit that this is a symptom of both cultural conditioning (the kind that suggests that a mother's job is to be the caretaker of everything and everyone) and my own anxious perfectionism (a result of my upbringing, I'm sure).
Whatever the reason, this has meant that I've taken the back seat of my own life since having my eldest daughter nearly two years ago. I have prioritized my kids before myself at almost every turn, even when this has meant skipping a shower, a meal, a good night's sleep, or some time in bed to recover from illness. Me-time has never seemed as important as having dinner on the table, or vacuuming the rugs, or making my kid's soup. After recently realizing that my anxiety and forlornness were on the rise, however, I began to wonder whether it was more important than I'd been telling myself.
When a friend recently asked me what the last book I read was, I realized that I couldn't actually say. For as long as I can remember, I've prided myself on being an avid reader — and yet, there I was, totally unaware that Haruki Murakami had even released a new book.
In that moment, I realized how much I missed, well, myself — how much I missed the person I was, and the things I did, before having my daughters. It wasn't that I regretted my new life. On the contrary, I felt an overwhelming desire to enrich this new, wild, beautiful life with elements from my previous one.
'Me-time' would be a completely child-free hour (or more) during which I could do whatever I so pleased.
And so, I decided to undergo a little experiment. For a week, I'd force myself to get at least an hour of me-time each night. My husband and I decided that we'd do this when our toddler was asleep (after 7 p.m.), at which point he'd watch our 3-month-old so I could do my own thing.
"Me-time" would be a completely child-free hour (or more) during which I could do whatever I so pleased. I wanted to prioritize being by myself (something I've long valued as an introverted person), but if the mood struck, I figured "me-time" could involve other people, too. So long as those people were not my babies. Here's how it all went down.
Because this experiment was inspired by the tragic realization that I hadn't picked up a book in nearly two years, I thought it appropriate to begin with a novel. I had recently purchased a copy of The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth, knowing that the story about a teenager's experiences in conversion therapy would be suitably grim and captivating (I'm fond of a dark story, OK?).
Unfortunately, my first hour of total alone time was an anxious one. Try as I might to focus on the book (which was so obviously very, very good), I couldn't stop thinking about everything else I could be doing. I knew my husband was watching the baby, but would he also clean the kitchen? Would he preemptively make pancakes for the next morning (one of the only things our picky 22-month-old actually eats)? Would he hang the laundry up to dry?
I found myself having to re-read every line of the first chapter several times in order for the words to really sink in. All in all, I got about 20 pages in before the hour had passed — and once it had, all I wanted to do was get back to my baby. She probably needed to nurse, right?
On Day 2, I decided that reading wasn't the best idea. I was new to this me-time business, so maybe I needed to focus on activities that kept my mind a little busier than sitting quietly with a paperback.
Much like I couldn't remember what the last book I read was, I couldn't remember when the last time I shaved my legs was. Judging from my chipped polish, it had been a while since I painted my nails, too. Although I don't believe either activity is a "requirement of womanhood," I find a little aesthetic pampering quite enjoyable on occasion.
So, I shaved my legs, I painted my toenails and fingernails a season-appropriate dark green, and I put on the first episode of Maniac on Netflix.
My mind was on the bottles that needed sterilizing.
By the end of the hour, I still wasn't itching for any additional me-time, but I had definitely enjoyed the opportunity for some grooming.
Encouraged by my success in doing "relaxing" things the night before, I thought I'd try watching some more TV. The second episode of Maniac wasn't doing it for me, though. Once again, I was restless. My mind was on the bottles that needed sterilizing and the paperwork I should be putting together in order to apply for our baby's passport.
I turned off Netflix and decided to organize the contents of my vanity: all six drawers of it. I had been wanting to tidy my socks, tights, hair accessories, and PJs since we moved into our house two years before. Although the process wasn't necessarily what everyone might want to dedicate their precious me-time to, I really enjoyed it. Honestly, I'm just a sucker for an organized drawer.
I know some mothers who seemingly manage to balance being parents, daughters, friends, employees, and partners. I am not one of them.
Since having my kids, the majority of my friends and family members have been abandoned. I have tried not to feel guilty about this, knowing that nothing could've prepared me for how full-on being a mother actually is. Still, I often wish I had more time to answer my personal texts, or Facebook messages, or emails.
On Day 4, I did precisely that. I texted my sister-in-law for a while (it got very existential and very funny). I responded to some Instagram messages from kind followers. Then I called my big brother, who, despite also being a parent of two, was miraculously free.
It had been so long since I felt like I'd made my loved ones feel... loved — and I deeply appreciated every minute of it.
On Day 5, some of my previous me-time anxieties had returned. I knew I had a bunch of work emails to respond to, and I really wanted to get on top of my application for a potential job opportunity.
I decided to tune out the internal noise with a little bit of external noise in the form of a hair dryer. I almost never blow dry my curly hair because it takes so damn long, but hey, I had an hour to kill.
I began to wonder whether me-time should become a permanent fixture of my routine.
Much like my day of nail painting and leg shaving, it felt good to dedicate some time to personal grooming. When you have little ones to care for, the minutia of everyday living — like washing your hair, or drying your toes after a bath, or getting a little dolled up at the start of the morning — can be too easily abandoned. I realized that I was actively reacquainting myself with the small things that made me feel good, and I began to wonder whether me-time should become a permanent fixture of my routine.
For several months (probably since the first trimester of my second pregnancy, TBH), my dear friend and I had been talking about having a "moms' night out" as soon as I could drink again. Both of us have toddlers, which means neither of us gets many opportunities to party (unless it's like, an Elmo-themed party, that is).
We danced, we belted out the songs of our youth, we drank (a lot),
On the sixth night of my experiment, we finally had our night. Although we'd initially planned on getting dinner and drinks in town, the evening had other ideas in store for us. We ended up hopping on a bus and traveling to the closest town with a club scene. There, we made the rounds until finding a venue that played predominantly '90s and early 2000s tunes, with a bit of classic cheese thrown in (both Bon Jovi and part of the Grease soundtrack definitely made appearances).
We danced, we belted out the songs of our youth, we drank (a lot), and I texted my husband sometime around midnight to let him know how much fun I was having. At his encouragement to take my time, I ended up partying with my pal until about 4 a.m. When I finally got home, I was exhausted, and sweaty, and smelly, and fully aware that I'd only get a few hours of sleep before my toddler was awake, but I felt more spirited than I had in a long time.
By some miracle, I didn't actually feel all that tired, or sick, on the last day of my experiment. It was a Sunday, which is usually the day my family and I designate to PJs and takeout anyway, so I didn't feel any pressure to "get things done."
I'd been quite appreciative of how encouraging my husband had been through this whole experiment (which shouldn't have really been surprising because he's always a naturally encouraging person), so I wanted to spend my me-time with him.
My in-laws were happy to babysit while we went out for dinner. Even though the conversation gravitated towards our children more than once, I was reminded of the importance of couple time. It's all too easy to feel disconnected romantically when you're spending the vast majority of your time working, or looking after children, or taking care of the house, or paying the bills. Taking time to just be together, as you perhaps were before all these other responsibilities came into the picture, is arguably the quickest way to reconnect.
By the end of the week, I was actually grateful not to have to force myself into me-time anymore. Although taking time for myself (and my interests outside of parenting) was undoubtedly beneficial, I found that the pressure to do it every single day was no different to other pressures I face the rest of the time.
The way I was doing things before (that is, almost never making time for myself) wasn't the healthiest path.
In the moments that I could tune out my anxiety, it was absolutely blissful to spend a little time taking care of myself — even if only in the form of tiny things, like painting my nails or drying my hair. I was also reminded of how much I enjoy catching up with the people I love, or dancing all night with one of my closest friends.
What I have gathered from all of this is the knowledge that the way I was doing things before (that is, almost never making time for myself) wasn't the healthiest path. Not for myself, or my children. In fact, I could feel myself being more present and in the moment with my babies when I was actively setting aside time to be on my own.
I won't be making me-time a set hour every night, though, purely because (as with all of parenting) flexibility is crucial. You need to allow space for your schedule to change every single day, depending on both your kids' needs and your own at any given moment. I will definitely be giving myself more time to do my own thing. It just won't be a "rule."
There are no rules to motherhood, after all.