For a long time, I devoted every minute of my day to my kids.
In some ways, it was really great. We read books, we colored, we did fine motor activities, we went to parks, we sang kid songs in the car (exclusively! I don’t think I listened to the radio for almost a year!), we went to the store and talked about colors and shapes and left vs. right and up vs. down and and and AND–!
I was crying constantly.
I was miserable.
I was a disaster.
I felt like I didn’t know who I was.
I put so much freaking energy into my kids. And a lot of that part was good!
But…a lot of it was terrible.
I think there is balance in all things, and I think one of the times in life that really smacks us in the face is when we become parents.
Repeat after me:
You are ALLOWED to be a real person.
You are ALLOWED to take breaks from your children.
You are ALLOWED to close the door and take some breaths and not deal with them for a minute.
You are ALLOWED to do things that you enjoy, even while your kids are awake.
You are ALLOWED to do things that aren’t kid-oriented, again, during the day while your kids are awake.
I am still often a night owl just to have those hours to myself, but it doesn’t have to be a I-can-only-be-myself-at-night thing. It’s so unhealthy.
Honestly? In a lot of ways, I think being an adult and showing your kids how you manage the fine line between work and play (even if that work is sometime them) teaches them a lot about balancing themselves. It teaches them that it’s okay to have alone time or take a break or do what you need to be mentally healthy.
Here are some of the things I started doing to feel like a real person again:
I started listening to the radio.
I know that sounds dumb, but listening to kids’ music all the time was killing me. I stopped denying myself the couple of songs in the car. They don’t seem to mind.
Would they be better off listening to kids’ music? Uh, yeah. It’s way more educational.
Do we still listen to kids’ music? Yes! Just not all the time.
Stop denying yourself all the little things you enjoy because it isn’t perfect for a kid.
Stop only watching kid TV shows. Stop letting them make you read the same book over and over and over again. Stop hiding in the pantry to snack on chocolate. (Well…okay, maybe keep up the last one, because I’m not sharing my chocolate any time soon either.)
Be human! It’s okay!
I started taking breaks.
I fell into the trap a lot of “well my husband is at work working, so if I take a break at all, I’m not working as hard as he is“.
That is a load of crap.
Don’t tell yourself that. Don’t believe it.
Obviously, don’t take breaks constantly, but stay-at-home parenting (heck, even just regular parenting) is a full-time job, and being with your kids 24/7 is WORK.
Take a break.
Your kids will play on their own, and if they don’t know how to already, they will learn quickly. Set a timer if it helps you keep on track.
Read a book, play a game on your phone, do some painting, whatever makes you happy.
And on that same line of thought…
I started teaching my kids what I loved to do.
I love to read, but reading baby books was mind-numbing.
So I started reading my kids chapter books. Does it hold their attention all the time? No. But occasionally they curl up with me and get a few snippets of Little House in the Big Woods, or The Phantom Tollbooth, or Redwall.
I love to paint, so I got my kids their own watercolor palette so we could paint with each other.
I love to bake, so I let them stand on a chair to watch while I work…and sometimes I let them help put stuff in, if I’m not feeling too particular that day.
It’s not perfect, it’s not alone time, but it combines both doing-what-I-want with doing-parenting-right, and that is okay to me.
I started doing something for my brain.
Make sure you always keep learning.
Some people go to the gym (yes, that counts as brain time), some people take a class online, some people learn a new language, some people watch the news, whatever works. Keep on using your adult brain muscles so you don’t feel stagnant and awful.
I often do puzzle games on my phone. It’s just enough for a brain stretch and doesn’t take too much time.
I also have an ongoing goal to read a biography of every U.S. president. I took a little break so we could move houses, but now that we’re settled, I’m getting back into the groove. I’m currently on Martin Van Buren. I’m a huge U.S. history buff, and reading is my thing, so that’s what I chose to do.
Maybe you could paint a new kind of picture every month. Maybe you could take a cooking class once a month. Maybe you could teach yourself programming. (Sorry for neglecting more science-y things, I’m just not inclined that way, so I forget…but there are some great things to do and learn that way too!)
Just keep your brain up and going!
I started spending time with adults.
I’m the extrovert in my friend group, so every once and a while I force them together for a game night. It makes them get out of the house and socialize, and I’ve gifted myself adults to talk to for the evening. Win-win.
I try to do a girl’s night once a month with my two best friends, who thankfully live in the area.
I spend time with the husband on date nights or doing movie marathons or playing card games with giant cards (which is hilarious, you should try it).
We don’t all have friends or family close by, which makes it harder. Get involved in your church, a local play group, or (again) take a class. Join a book club. We live in an age where things like that are more find-able than ever. Check your local library or Groupon for some fun classes. Reach out to local Facebook pages.
Look until you find people! We are social creatures! There will be someone!
(Also, friends are great babysitters. If nothing else, find someone to exchange babysitting services with so you both get breaks!)
I’m certainly not a perfect parent, but I’m better now that I have some ways to stay sane. We still read books, we still color, we still do fine motor activities, we still go to parks (maybe even more so now), we still go to the store and talk about colors and shapes and left vs. right and up vs. down–
We also listen to the radio. We take breaks from each other. My kids play one thing while I do another. I read books aloud and they sometimes listen and sometimes not. I read a chapter of my book during their naptime. We invite our adult friends over and my kids run around at their feet and we talk about manners and being careful of our guests, and set up a game for them on the floor while we play a more complex board game on the table. We get out of the house and our kids stay with other people and survive it.
Parenting is beautiful and wonderful and there are so many small moments of bliss, where you look at your kids and cry with happiness and are so proud of them you’ll burst.
But you can’t get to those moments when you’ve totally lost yourself, at least not if you’re anything like me.
Keep yourself healthy. Take a breather. And don’t feel guilty about it (as much as you can not feel guilty, there’s no magic wand for that). Just know that the healthier and happier you are, your kids will most likely follow suit, so it’s important to take care of yourself.
Stay sane, my friends.
I have faith in you.
We have totally got this.
What are ways you stay sane with small kids around?