Parenting: What About Me?

July 28, 2011

Magazines stack on the coffee table. I just finished cleaning emails from two years ago out of my inbox. I often find myself up, way too late, watching back episodes on the DVR.

And then there's the "Should Have Done" list. Shouldn't the basement and hall closet be organized by now? Why are the baby pictures, let alone wedding pictures, unorganized? Shouldn't I have written a few short stories or come up with a book idea by now?

Sometimes it takes outsiders to gently nudge me back to reality. Last week I interviewed Gilles Paquet-Brenner, the director of "Sarah's Key" and father of a toddler daughter. He adapts books himself, including an upcoming crime thriller based on a book by a former journalist I know. "You want to do this?" he says in his breezy French accent. "Yeah," I say guiltily about writing. "Ah no, not now. You do this. And you have a baby!" he says laughing.

My friend, Philadelphia author Lorene Cary, recently echoed that. Women are different than men, she soothed. There's a difference in what it means for life to come out of you, and need you to sustain it. Be kind to yourself.

And as most writers know, the only way to progress is diligence. You have to write. Everyday. Waiting on the muse to hit is a prescription for a book never written. But perhaps that diligence is something I need to first apply to myself, and that sphere of me time. Perhaps before I can commit to the pen, I need to find a way to make sure that 30 mins a day are not about errands, appointments or catch up, but enjoyment.

A quick browse through the websites shows I am not alone. Moms of young ones can barely keep their eyes open, let alone get a regular time for themselves, it seems. So how to do it?

Here are some of the best ideas I found:

  • Get up early or go to bed late. A lot of moms report that extra hour before the kids get up or after the house settles down are their most productive of the day. And insist to yourself, this time is about you.

  • Schedule it. Leaving it to squeeze some time into the day almost guarantees you'll drop into bed with barely a bathroom break. Set a regular time, or start your day looking at your agenda and planning it.

  • Say no. This of course applies to requests from others. But most of all, it may apply to you. Cleaning a bathroom is great; the whole house today? No. A few loads of laundry? Fantastic. All the laundry? No. That last set of errands that means you'll be on the road till it's time to get the kids? No? Leave half for tomorrow. Lunch with a friend? So nice. Lunch every day with someone? You'd might as well mainline caffeine.

  • Be realistic. I am currently reading the George R.R. Martin "Game of Thrones" series. Each book clocks in at hundreds of pages. I'm addicted, but swallowing the books whole, like I would have in pre-baby days, just can no longer be the rule. Instead, I read a chapter or two a night. It'll take months at the rate. But the epic of medieval power struggles and magic is worth savoring, rather than being yet another taxing thing on the list.

  • And finally, give yourself a break. One day, I will write a book. But today I'm going to consider it a victory just to take time to read one!

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