You know the drill. We all know the drill. Little kids, lots to do, busy day, no time for you.
Noses to be wiped, food prepared and sometimes even eaten. Clothes, nappies changed, games played, toys picked up (and thrown down again). Playing games, chasing kids into clothes and out again.
Maybe you got a shower in. Maybe you got a coffee to yourself while the baby napped.
But the laundry looms, the dishes pile up, the dinner needs making, the bath needs drawing and the babes need scrubbing and it seems sometimes like an endless march of motherly duties until the countdown to bedtime (theirs, not yours) begins.
Maybe you love the cuddles and stories at bedtime, maybe today you're tired and read the words that little bit faster. Maybe you have one book or seven. Maybe it's a sigh of relief as baby nods off at the breast.
And you think...
" I could just lie down here right now on his bed and sleep."
"I could close my eyes, clothes on, collapse into the exhausted sleep of a new mama. ...and maybe I should".
But you don't.
Because now it feels like YOUR day begins. Duties relinquished. Time for you.
Alone at last. Downstairs you go.
A little work to put the toys away, reset the living room to the grown-up state.
Fill the dishwasher, wipe down the surfaces. Sweep the floor. Pick up the pieces of lego first.
Take a break then. Quick look at Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Whatever your poison.
Remember that you'd planned to do some yoga. Look for your mat. Decide to put on a yoga video. Realise phone battery is dying, go plug it in. Notice the forms from the preschool that you forgot to fill in. Search for a pen, go to the office to find one. Open your computer to check your email for something. Must reply to the email about that contract. Quick look at Facebook.
Form filled, a glass of wine, why not. Yoga and mat forgotten.
Netflix. All these shows there must be something good on, why so difficult to choose?
Pause. Remember you wanted to put a load of laundry on. Do that. Notice the cat's litter tray needs changing. Go to the bathroom. With phone. Quick look at Instagram. Where do those influencers get the time and how do they get their photos so perfect?
Pick up the bath toys.
Back to wine and Netflix.
Remember the yoga promise.
And you'd meant to do some work on that business idea. That work project you're behind on.
But now it's already 10pm. No point starting something now. You're feeling a little peckish so some tea and a snack before bed.
10.30 now. Time for bed. There's that book you'd wanted to read. But tired eyes close on a busy day now. Sleep to begin again.
Tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow evening you can have some quality 'me time'...
How familiar is this scenario? Those precious hours between baby bedtime and mama bedtime fly by, don't they? You're exhausted in the evening, but unwilling to go to bed. Sometimes it feels like the only way you can get those valuable chunks of 'me time' is by staying up way beyond what is a bedtime that will give you sufficient rest.
We all want to find meaning in our days. And while raising, minding our kids has the potential to bring us this, some days it feels much more like a struggle for survival. More fights than hugs. More tantrums than tickles. Even on a good day, many of us struggle with squeezing quality 'me time' into the hours between. There are endless chores to be done, paperwork sometimes, planning for school, work, activities.
The writer (on the exciting topic of time management!) Laura Vanderkam notes that
"People want a certain amount of joy or at least autonomous time in their lives".
From interview and time-logs with over 1000 working women, she discovered that many of the women she studied managed to spend appreciable amounts time in leisure pursuits, while also spending a lot of time with their kids and in work. But this wasn't always big chunks of time in one go; an avid reader for example, read books in the pauses many of us would use to check our phones; one mom would slip to a nearby nail salon in between baby bedtime (her duty) and three year old bedtime, which took longer (her husband's duty).
One of the problems, Vanderkam noticed is not necessarily an absence of leisure time (although this may surely be the case for some), but that "Leisure time appears and we are not prepared to seize it".
I've been there, you've been there. It's the 'Nap scramble', that paralysis that overcomes us when baby goes down for their nap. So many things you could do!
...so you drink tea, eat chocolate and scroll, and feel like you didn't really get anything done, anything of nourishment to the body or the soul.
I've been giving some thought to a strategy to overcome this. To make the downtime after my boys are in bed more meaningful. They usually go to sleep around 8 (ok, the little one is currently hyper at bedtime and it's closer to 9 by the time he has given his little dance of 'get out of bed, peek out the door, squeal, run back to his bed, let me pick him up and lay him down, him demanding one last hug'). And of course I'm usually only doing bedtimes every second night anyway...
So, here is what I've been finding works.
Track how you spend your evening time for one week. You might find you have more leisure time than you think- but non-nourishing, soul replenishing activities like social medial are swallowing up vast chunks of it. Don't give yourself a hard time about it- but notice where you could have spent time on a more enjoyable activity.
Make a list of short-time frame activities that bring you real joy. Make it a longish list. Say 20 things. Include the possible to the (seemingly) improbable. Split activities into ones that can be done at home while the kiddos sleep and ones that would require you to leave the house for a half hour-couple of hours. If any occur to you that which would require a much longer absence from home/much greater time commitment, note them too.
Take first the home activities. Decide that on certain nights this will be the priority. Not the dishes. Not the laundry. Ok, if you really need to tidy up the house, set an alarm, then get the dishwasher filled, get the washing on. Once the alarm goes, it's time for your priority activity. If you like, plan that alternate nights the soul activity gets priority; on the other night tidying can have first place (but do set that alarm- housework will expand to fill all available space).
Keep the accoutrements of that activity close at hand so that it's easy to make the choice to prioritise it. Make sure the yoga mat is visible, keep a pile of interesting books on the bookshelf ready to go, make sure the exercise bike is in a usable position.
Enlist someone else to hold the fort while you do one of the leave-the-house activities. One night a week might be enough. It could be as simple as a quiet walk by yourself. Maybe it's a trip to the cinema. A pottery class, a yoga class, a bike ride.
Take a look at the activities that require the greater time commitment. Is there any small way you could make progress towards this of an evening? You want to write a book? Write for a half hour, every evening. You'd love to go on a meditation retreat- is there a local meditation group you could go along to?
If you find it difficult to commit the time, keep it short. Time yourself (I love timers - you may have picked up on this). 10 minutes of yoga, reading, is better than no time. Tick the activity off your to-do list.
Keep the list somewhere handy. Refer to it as needed. Add to it as ideas crop up. Make sure you are always prepared to seize the leisure time as it arises!
Don't stress if you plan one evening's activity and it's doesn't quite go as planned. Equally, don't set the bar to high to start with. Set something realistic and achievable.