For many moms, finding time for ourselves is a big challenge. We know we should take care of ourselves so we are better equipped to take care of all of those we love, but we often put our needs last. And when we hear and read that we have to make time for ourselves, we just don’t know how to squeeze one more thing in our busy day.
I’ve found that it’s not always a matter of saying “yes” to ourselves but more about saying “no” to others — no to things we don’t really want to do but feel “obigated” to do, no to things we think we “should” do, even no to things we think we “have to” do.
I was on a scout field trip with seven girls and two co-leaders recently, and after we had reached the water park and the leaders were chatting while the girls were splashing around, one of the adults revealed that she was glad that the outing was finally here and would be over soon. I looked at her perplexed, and she said it had been causing her stress just knowing that it was coming up. She wanted that stress to go away. This was a rare troop field trip that we had planned on our own well in advance, because it was a destination the girls really wanted to visit. Yet one of the leaders knew before the trip even happened that she would be “relieved” when it was over — so she could cross it off her list.
While I LOVE to cross items off my To-Do List, I don’t think of fun activities as something I’m eagerly waiting to cross off — so I can stop stressing about them. I may get a sense of accomplishment for completing a fun excursion just as I do for completing a productive day, but I don’t relish the idea of getting it “over with”; I relish the idea of “enjoying” the event.
I do believe my co-leader enjoyed the trip, but I was sad to know that she suffered stress about the anticipation of it. While I was simply thinking of it as something fun to do that weekend, it seemed like she had thought of it in the weeks leading up to the field trip as an ordeal to endure and get through. We were both attending the same event. We both had preparations to handle before the event. But we had different attitudes towards this looming field trip: I looked forward to a fun trip to a water park I had never visited before, but she looked forward to “getting through it” and crossing it off her list.
To me, I think that approach brings more stress to us and sucks up some of the enjoyment of the times we want to cherish.
When a special occasion or trip is coming up, I look forward to it with eager anticipation. Even if I know it’s going to be a lengthy process full of hard work, I look forward to the outcome. I try not to approach anything with the attitude that I just want to “get through it” — even a stressful day.
Do you “get through” each day or “have a blast” each day?
If you’re talking about a day full of taking care of kids, household chores, work obligations, volunteer duties — probably the former.
If you’re talking about a day attending someone else’s big picnic on a holiday — maybe the latter.
Perhaps we need to focus on a middle ground where we’re not just trying to “get through” the day but trying to capture the joy in each day — even if it comes in fleeting moments between the stress of hectic schedules.
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While I realize it’s pretty tough to look back on a typical, busy day of working, shuttling kids and coordinating family schedules as “having a blast,” I do think it’s possible for working, married moms to end many of those days drinking in “the pleasure” of that day by reflecting on the bits and pieces of thorough “enjoyment” that happened along the way.
We have to be in the present to catch those bits and pieces of enjoyment — a thrilling ride down a water slide for a minute here, a relaxing soak in a hot tub for a minute there, a fly-on-the-wall chance to hear seven pre-teen girls giggling over a game — rather than thinking about the work we should be doing at home while we are at a water park with our girl scout troop.
If you are dreading something, or very stressed anticipating it, or are just eager to “get through it,” perhaps that is something that you should have said NO to instead of YES.
Before my kids could even talk, I read a book instructing moms to try to never say “No” to a baby or toddler because it just promotes frustration and anxiety by both mother and child. The book suggested offering alternate choices; for example, if a toddler grabs the cat’s tail, instead of yelling “No,” you grab a few toys quickly and tell her, “That hurts poor Snoball, but you can grab the tail of your stuffed kitty or the big nose of the stuffed snowman. Here.”
The exercise is easier said than done, especially as kids get older when it seems we’re telling them “no” all day long — no to foods that aren’t healthy, no to toys they don’t need, no to movies that are inappropriate, no to bedtimes that are too late.
But when it comes to a request from adults, moms don’t use that word “no” often enough.
If someone asks you to volunteer for an event and it’s going to loom large on your calendar for weeks as you wait to “get through it” — all the while adding anxiety to your life — then that’s probably an activity to say “no” to. If you believe you will enjoy it and really want to do it, but the time or energy needed to prepare causes you great stress, then either get help or drop it.
Saying yes to whatever requests come from your kids, spouse, extended family, girlfriends, boss, church, school, and other organizations because you feel you are “supposed to” and not because you “want to” leaves you with no time for yourself.
Saying yes to everyone else means you are saying no to yourself.
By saying no to others, you will finally have the time to say yes to yourself to fit in at least some of the things in your life that you enjoy and that you want to do to be healthy — physically, mentally, emotionally.
Wouldn’t it be great for those of us balancing motherhood, career and marriage to learn ways to do that through a TV program for OverAchieving Moms?
If you have time to read books, you can get suggestions in “Real Solutions For Busy Moms.” Author (and famous model) Kathy Ireland talks about why it is important for moms to say no — not just to demands on your time, but also to purchases that add complexity to life. She gives the real-life example of how everyone in the family wants a new bigger, high-tech TV, but it causes you to have to rearrange the furniture, figure out how to mount it, schedule the delivery, figure out how to program it, and then take a part in for exchange when it breaks down in the first month. Did the newer TV really make life better or just add stress to your life? Ireland says we sometimes forget the value of simplicity when we have so many demands on our time.
She recommends learning to say no to things that will add complications to our lives, unless we really believe it will improve the quality of our life.
After you say no, then you can find the time to say yes to a new habit that you wish you had time for, such as exercising.
My trick to make exercise a habit is to tie it to a deadline that I can’t adjust — the sunset.
My favorite exercise is bike riding, and I much prefer to ride outside than on my stationary bike — because I don’t get the same emotional boost from the bike in the corner of my storage room.
My goal is to get on my bike and ride an hour every day while it is still light outside. As it gets later and later, I am maneuvering more and more to cut corners so I can get on my bike before daylight is lost. For instance, today I tried all afternoon to squeeze in a ride — but everything kept getting in the way. I had a work meeting that went long. I had no time between errands: picking up my daughter from school, dropping her off at dance class, picking her up from dance class, picking up my son from a tennis meet, and then home to cries of “We’re hungry” at 6:30 pm.
My time for my ride was ticking away, so I served leftovers for dinner instead of making a fresh meal. Served and eaten by 7:15 pm. I looked at the dirty dishes. I asked my husband to clean up, but he insisted he had to play guitar because he hadn’t played in days. I asked the kids to clean up, and they said they’d get to it later after homework (which they often don’t do). Instead of doing it myself, I said “no” to cleaning up. I left the mess, got on my bike, and squeezed in my ride before it was dark.
As I glided along, I felt happy and invigorated. The resentment I may have felt if I cleaned up while everyone else did what they wanted was not there, and any stress about the messy kitchen melted away. I thought about cleaning up first and riding the stationary bike later. I probably wouldn’t have exercised at all. I’m not as motivated to ride in a dark basement as I am to ride in a lush green park. That’s why I love the deadline of daylight. It forces me to say no to something, so I can say yes to my ride before it gets too late to go.
My intention is to go bike riding every day. Now that I am working almost exclusively from home, I have been able to get on my bike about three times a week. Even though I plan to go every day, if I ride every other day, I don’t feel disappointed — I feel grateful I get to go three days a week, because this is a luxury compared to a couple years ago when I couldn’t leave my younger kids alone.
When my kids were in elementary school and I was working 26 hours a week away from home and another 20+ hours from home, I got to squeeze in my beloved bike ride only once a week. Though I usually tried to go twice a week, it never worked out. But I made sure it happened at least once a week — by saying no to others so I could say yes to myself. I used to joke that my “one hour for myself by myself each week” kept me sane, and looking back on it I realize it was no joke. It really helped my mental health as well as my physical health — even just one hour a week. It was something I looked forward to and enjoyed in the moment!
What did I say “no” to? Baking class treats. (I bought them instead or didn’t bring them at all.) Making Halloween costumes (I bought them or got hand-me-downs instead.) Taking on more work days. (I cut extras out of our budget, like cable and clothes, instead.) Cleaning up. (Sometimes I just leave the mess until someone else cleans it.)
How did saying “yes” to myself help me? It’s not just the enjoyment of my favorite activity. While I am riding, I accomplish multiple guilty pleasures at the same time — maintaining my health by getting exercise, improving my mood by getting a dose of vitamin D, stimulating my senses by breathing in the scents of nature, enjoying a nice day by soaking up the sunshine, and boosting my knowledge by listening to books on tape.
If you are also trying to find more ways to balance your own needs while fulfilling the roles of mother, wife and worker, check out the TV program for OverAchiever Moms.
I challenge you to find something that you really want to do but haven’t been able to find the time. What is it that you really want to say “yes” to? What can you say “no” to in order to make some time and space in your life? It’s your decision, and you should start now. You’ll be glad you did!