September 10, 2015 § 1 Comment
It occurred to me yesterday as I was chatting with a good friend over the most delicious chai tea latte I’ve had in months, that I have discovered a secret that not every stay-at-home parent knows. Naturally, I have to share it with you.
Backstory: During our family’s “newborn years” (we have four children, so this lasted for roughly a decade), there was one argument trap my husband and I would repeatedly fall into. You may recognize it from your own newborn and infant years, and it goes a little something like this:
Parent 1: “Hi honey, I’m home”. <slowly takes in the home environment noticing that it looks like a tornado went through>. “Um, so, what did you do today?”
Parent 2: <already exhausted and amped up at the same time because the day has been long but the reinforcements have arrived> ”Hi honey,” <huge exhale>, “Geez I don’t even know, it’s just a blur most days.” <wondering why the reinforcements have draped their coat over the chair instead of hanging it up and are sitting down instead of reaching to take the baby from your hip while you are preparing supper>. “How was your day?”
Parent 1: “I don’t know why you always ask how my day was. It’s always busy and it’s always hard.” <sighing deeply as Parent 2 passes the baby over>
Parent 2: <feeling like they have made a monumental effort to be interested in Parent 1’s day as it’s the last bit of energy they have left to give to someone else; feels like the edge is near and it’s time to tag out>. “Oh-kaaaaay. Well, I’m exhausted from [insert long list of play-by-plays arising from the day at home that seem trivial to Parent 1 but represents a huge amount of work for Parent 2]. Oh, and don’t forget I have my dentist appointment this evening”. <secretly grateful to have even a few minutes to themselves even if it does mean fluoride and teeth cleaning>
Parent 1: <feeling the barometer rising because their mind is already overloaded with stuff from work, and their brain just can’t take any further items today; they just need a break> “Ugh, ok. You couldn’t have booked that during the day? I’m exhausted. You get so much time at home, and I’m at work all day, then I gotta come home and watch the kids – I get no break!”
Parent 2: “Are you kidding me?! YOU get no break? You have it so much easier. At least you get to pee alone, and shower peacefully every morning without children banging on the door! You get to have lunch hours and speak to adults regularly and use your brain!. I’M the one who is exhausted!
Parent 1: “You get to stay home with our children. I would trade you that in a heartbeat. You have no idea what I do at work or how hard it is. Have you seen my calendar?!”
And close scene.
The argument goes on from there with each side trying to “convince” the other of who has it easier, only the joke’s on them because neither one of them have it easy. There is no winner. Alas, they won’t learn that until later when they have entered the “sweet spot” (the stage where the all the kids are out of diapers and sippy cups, but not yet teenagers).
You may have noticed that much of that argument was in italics. That is because there is a lot of underlying emotion influencing the situation that neither of them can appreciate because they’ve never walked a mile in the other’s shoes. More on this later.
I don’t remember the exact date I figured out the secret. I feel like it was more of an evolution as I gradually gave myself permission to use it. But here is what it comes down to.
Most work days, legally, consist of 8 hours. A lot of professions demand closer to 10, but at some point you get to leave work and go do something else. Maybe it is family, sports, relaxing, or whatever. The work day ends, and your personal choices begin. Speaking of personal choices, for many working parents, they have probably chosen a job/field that is challenging, rewarding or fulfilling to them in some way (some working parents have not, and to that I say, go find a job you love cause you spend more time working than you do anything else and if you aren’t loving it then it isn’t worth it). Bottom line, the work can be demanding, but in most cases you have chosen it because it fits with what you love/are good at, and you get fulfilment from that.
Same goes for stay-at-home parents. They also have chosen what they do because they love it. They love their children, caring for them, and experiencing amazing childhood moments with them. And they get fulfilment from that. That doesn’t mean it isn’t demanding, just like above, but they have chosen it for a reason, just like above. Where the difference lies, is that the stay-at-home-parent’s day DOES NOT END. From the time they wake (which is often through the night when you have newborns), straight through to supper time, dishes and bedtime, the work day continues. If you’re lucky, you still have a little energy left to spend with your spouse between kid’s bedtime and adult bedtime, but you consistently have that lack-of-energy/sleep fog that never seems to end.
So what’s the solution? What is the secret to the stay-at-home-parent’s sanity and energy saver? What is the magical answer that allows you to feel yourself (not just someone else’s caretaker) and allows you to appreciate your working spouse instead of resenting them for being able to sit down at their computer with a coffee and read their email without interruption? Quite simply, you give yourself permission to have a break. A break for you. You find a time during the day that has the least resistance with the kids (nap time, TV time, whatever) and you create “me time”. And you don’t feel guilty for it. Here’s why.
If you are going to work from sun up to sun down, you need a break. If you take that break when your working spouse comes home, that builds resentment because they haven’t yet walked that mile in your shoes. They don’t see all those italics. So you take your break when your body is telling you to. You know exactly what time that is. Early to mid-afternoon, when your body starts feeling sluggish, your head is feeling heavier, and you think to myself “man, I need a coffee”. So get one, grab that book that’s been waiting for you, or your journal and pen, or better yet, meditation cushion, and start your break. Commit to it. Don’t just justify it as a well-deserved indulgence, own it as time that is rightfully yours.
I still practice this secret today! I’m out of the diaper and sippy cup stage, but my evenings are now filled with soccer practices, girl scout meetings and drama rehearsals. My day starts at 6:30am and doesn’t end until 9pm (even later if hubby needs a knot rubbed out of his shoulder). If I don’t take my “me time” in the afternoon, when my body starts telling me it’s needed, then I am not nearly as fun to be around in the evening.
You know this stuff.
The better you are to yourself, the better you are for everyone else. “Me time” is the opportunity to connect with yourself, which allows the highest good to flow through you when you do interact with your family members. Do you really think they are getting the best of you when you are strung out exhausted, feeling like you lost the contest of who has it easiest? Of course not.
Don’t live your life in the italics. Be free to be yourself.
With light and love. Namaste.