My husband, Jason, and I recently went on holiday for a week without our 16-month-old son. Some of my friends seemed surprised that I wanted to leave him for that long, and while I did of course miss him, I was enjoying reading books and drinking cocktails far too much to pine over him excessively (although we did FaceTime most days)! I did feel like I had to explain myself though, not that I felt judged, but more that I felt guilty for wanting to prioritise my happiness for a change. Our son wasn't even unhappy, far from it! He stayed with his grandparents, who he loves (Grandad ranks above Mummy, Daddy and even the cat in terms of favourites!), but I still felt as though I was being selfish even contemplating leaving him for more than a couple of days. My boss hit the nail on the head when we were discussing my upcoming holiday and I went straight on the defensive, explaining where he'd be and why we weren't taking him; she said, "Lauren, you don't have to explain anything. I think it's great that you're making time for yourselves and each other. You have nothing to feel guilty about, so stop apologising."
Why do we do this I wonder? Feel guilty for daring to think of ourselves for a change. Is it because, with the current trend towards attachment parenting (I'm looking at you crunchy mums!), those of us who might choose not to be attached to our child every moment of every day start to feel that we must love our children less than them? I would like to posit a different theory: we do love them just as much; we just know how to love ourselves too. Becoming a parent doesn't mean you need to suddenly become a martyr or a slave to your children and forget about your own happiness. Social media might have us believe that if we aren't playing barefoot outdoors every day, baking from scratch, growing our own organic produce or managing not to let our children have any screen time (seriously, if you've achieved that I want to know how!?) then we're doing it wrong, but there is more than one way to parent and looking after ourselves in addition to our children is not selfish.
Does it mean we don't want to give our children the best? Absolutely not! But as they say on aeroplanes, put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. You are no good to anyone if all your energy is depleted, so it is of the utmost importance to take care of yourself and make sure you are healthy and happy as this will have a direct impact on those around you. In fact, I was lucky enough to listen to an amazing speaker recently who talked about the ripple effect of our own happiness. She said that our mood has a knock-on effect of up to three degrees of separation, meaning how we ourselves are feeling can have an impact not only on the people we interact with but also the people they then go on to connect with later. This really resonated with me, and I definitely don't want to be spreading negativity out into the world, so I think it has made me reflect more on the way I relate to others and got me to think about what ripples I want to send out.
A couple of weeks after returning from our holiday, I was invited on a spa day with some old friends in London. I'm lucky enough to be able to take one wellbeing day a month, as the company I work for really takes care of its employees, so I booked the Friday off work and took the train into London. A train journey by myself - something I used to take for granted, but now it was like the ultimate luxury! I could go on my phone or read my book in peace, and no one asked for any of my snacks or drink! The spa day wasn't until the next day, so I checked into my hotel and for a moment just enjoyed sitting in the quiet. I suddenly realised I'd forgotten to pick up a bottle of wine, but then I remembered that I could go back out. I wasn't held prisoner by a sleeping child; I rejoiced! Off round the corner to Waitrose I went, bought some wine and nibbles, and then was back in my hotel room in no time enjoying my aperitif and appetizer before ordering a pizza and watching a chick flick on BBC 3. Bliss! The spa day was lovely too, but in a more obvious way - the sheer joy of some time just to myself (because even when my son isn't there my husband is - he works from home), was an unexpected tonic and in a strange way that evening in a hotel by myself refreshed me even more than my spa massage and facial. It could be partly because my train was cancelled and it took me an extra hour and a half to get home, but you can't have everything. Now I need another spa day just to get over the stress!
So when you're writing your next wish list, rather than "stuff" why not add things like:
- a bubble bath in peace and quiet without the children trying to climb in
- a morning in bed reading a book with a cup of tea
- a walk by yourself, with no dogs or toddlers to worry about
- a trip to the shops (and no, not the supermarket, but to buy something nice for yourself!)
- an evening in with your favourite takeaway, watching what you want to watch on TV for once!
For me, the biggest benefit of me time is coming back refreshed and able to be more present with my family because I've taken that time for myself. I know how hard it is just to find time to "do life", so I get it when you use that precious half an hour to get on top of the laundry or to cook a meal for later. I also know that if ever the stars align enough to grant you a precious child-free evening, you might be tempted to use that time to go on a date night with your significant other (and that's important too!) However, before you worry about the state of your washing basket, the lack of nutritious meals for the kids' dinner, or even your relationship, I urge you to think of yourself first. We're not used to doing that, kids or no kids; it's the human condition to think of others first and stretch ourselves so thin that we end up completely knackered on a Friday night and in bed by 9pm. But if you do one thing this week, make it something for you - take that bubble bath, read that book, put on that oxygen mask. No one else is going to do it for you.