Let’s face it; it’s hard to do anything for yourself when you have kids. We live in a go-go-go society and it takes intention to slow down and remember to relax and make time for ourselves. “Self care” seems to have become a buzzword on social media and for good reason: research suggests that taking time to de-stress, relax, and engage in non-work activities that are meaningful to us benefits our creativity, productivity, and relationships (National Register of Health Service Psychologists).
Self care isn’t just about preparing a bubble bath, throwing on a sheet mask, and pouring a glass of wine (though I’m all for that). It’s about getting rest and also making time to pursue the things that light you up. For me, family history research is a non-negotiable. Not only is it something I’m super passionate about, but it’s also something I value for both myself and my family. If I don’t write down my family history and preserve it for my children and potential grandchildren, who will?
Here are some of my suggestions for finding time to get your research in, based on what has worked for me:
Assess your time commitments. Everyone seems to have the goal of being more productive, but you have to be careful that you don’t aim for productive and accidentally get busy. Busyness seems to be a key feature of our culture. Anytime someone asks me how I’m doing, the first thought that pops into my head is “good but busy.” Busy is not a badge of honor.
There are some things that you just can’t avoid working into your schedule. Doctor appointments. Parent-teacher conferences. Work. Eating. Sleep. Aside from the essentials, think about how you use every single minute of your free time. Make sure that that time is spent working toward your goals and values. If watching every episode of the Bachelor isn’t on your list of top life priorities, don’t give it your time.
Commit to one day a week. It can be daunting to try to fit something in every single day. I’ve found a lot of people are successful when they commit to a specific day of the week. Figure out which day in your schedule has the most wiggle room, and add an hour of research into your routine. Write it on your calendar. Instead of waiting for when you “have time,” make the time by reserving a designated time slot for your research and sticking to it each week.
Put down that cell phone. Seriously. Technology is such a time suck. Being a mom is definitely a lot of work, and much of the experience seems to be about survival, but if I have to be honest, it’s not the kids getting in the way of “me time,” it’s technology. Often we are so exhausted that we just want to “veg out” with television or social media when we get a moment to ourselves, but how much more energizing and fulfilling would it be if we owned every minute of our free time to be the person we want to be? I’ve set aside specific times during the day to scroll my feeds and try to stay off social media during the in-between.
Get up earlier. I know most parents are already sleep deprived, but hear me out. My first baby was such a good sleeper. He slept through the night, aside from one “dream feed,” and would take long naps throughout the day. Baby #2 arrived last July, and nothing has been the same since. She naps, but her schedule is inconsistent. She wakes up to nurse frequently throughout the night, so I often feel like a train wreck in the morning. Every single day I would go to bed frustrated because the majority of my to-do list remained untouched.
It occurred to me that my only option was to get up before the kids in the morning. My husband and I try to turn out the lights by 10:30 every night and get up at 5:30. Since I’m breastfeeding, that 7 hour span isn’t completely uninterrupted, but I do pretty well. I use whatever time I can scrounge in the morning to work on things for myself, and twice a week I actually leave the house from 6-8 to get work done at a coffee shop while my husband gets ready for work with the kids.
Make nap time about you. Most little ones take two naps a day. If you need a nap, take a nap. If you can manage, however, try to use this extra time to do something meaningful for you: read a book, do some yoga, or whip out your latest family history questions and get researching! This is especially the time to watch out for technology distractions. There are genuine times when you need to “do nothing,” but I find that most of the time, I feel more energized and motivated once I have made myself do something I love as opposed to wasted that time scrolling on Instagram.
Work out a flip-flop schedule with your partner. After I started having kids, I quickly noticed how easily my husband handled making time for himself. When he wasn’t at work, you could find him playing his guitar, honing his programming skills, practicing drums with his band, reading books, or fooling around with a woodworking project. I found myself getting really resentful. How could he not be exhausted and sacrificing all of himself at the altar of parenthood like I was? Then I realized that the problem was actually me, not him. I wanted him to be spending more time taking care of the house/family and me to be spending more time taking care of myself, but I wasn’t doing anything about it.
Doug and I implemented a schedule so that he gets two nights a week to do things for himself and so do I. One night of the week I go to a coffee shop to work on anything I prioritize: actual work, family history research, education, etc. The other night I go to a yin yoga class to de-stress, rejuvenate, and work on my flexibility. Our activities generally fall between 7-9 p.m., so it doesn’t interfere with breastfeeding, and we still have enough time to read and spend a little time with each other before our 10:30 bedtime. We have the remaining three evenings a week to be together as a family. It is honestly one of the greatest decisions we ever made as a couple.
Simplify whatever you can. If you can take some of the guesswork out of your daily routine and minimize the distractions, you’ll have more time for the things you want to do. Houses that have less “stuff” in them are easier to keep clean. Laundry is easier to manage when you have less clothing. Setting up “systems” for any of the tasks in your daily/weekly routine will help you spend less time thinking about them and free up a few minutes here and there that will accumulate over time.
Get moving. It might seem counterintuitive to “waste” your limited free time exercising if you are looking to make time for family history research or other hobbies, but I have found that when I make time for exercise, I am more focused, more energetic, and more likely stick to a routine. Exercising reminds my body and mind that I am important and don’t just exist to care for other people.
I think that taking time for yourself is not only important for your own happiness. It’s easy to think that if we pour ourselves into our kids, we are teaching them that they are important, but really, if you think about it, our actions show that it’s more important to take care of others and neglect yourself. If you want kids who value themselves, value yourself. If you want kids that go after their dreams, go after your own.
You can do this! How do you make time for yourself? Share the ways you carve out time for your passions in comments.