On a typical day I only get 45 minutes, or 30. Or none. So honestly most of the time 60 seems near impossible, especially with a little one at home. But 60 minutes for what? To keep my brain, my heart, my soul alive. 60 minutes, taken in three chunks, to keep my sanity. I had gotten out of the practice of stepping back, away from my responsibilities and school work, to enjoy something that gave me life, something that would lend some perspective. But I’ve taken some steps towards balance over the past few months and I’ll explain why and how. And before you completely discount this post, like I would’ve, because I’ve already used the words “balance my life” and “perspective,” keep reading.
For the past year and a half now I have essentially been a stay-at-home mom with the caveat that I’m getting my masters online to be a nurse practitioner. In a few short weeks I’ll go skipping off to clinical three days a week and I’m sure I will miss my daughter terribly. I’m trying to soak up every minute that I have left with her this summer, knowing that this could very well be the end of my time as a SAHM, which is bittersweet for me. I’m looking forward to having a career and being a mom. A BOTH/AND situation.
But despite encountering the trials and joys of caring for a tiny person 100% of the time, I’ve always kind of laughed at the modern convention of “take time for yourself” as if this was akin to meditating for hours or using your “stressful” life as an excuse to splurge on pedicures and spray tans or go on golfing weekends. What mom has time for that? What working dad with a family finds this feasible? The terminology seemed frivolous to me; the ideas self-centered. I would gladly take the time to watch a show or read a book or, let’s be honest, simply take a shower, when my husband would offer but I couldn’t condone “putting myself first” on my own initiative if that meant neglecting some other duty (dishes, school work, laundry, phone calls).
But then something happened a few months ago that shook me up. It forced me to examine my patterns of behavior and thinking. And after some contemplation, I realized that while some of those patterns were productive, others were very destructive. Because of all of my denial of self, my masochist productivity, the giving up my free time for the betterment of those around me, I realized that I might actually lose my mind if I didn’t reorient myself within my day. I had lost the ability to get outside of the walls of my home and see the bigger picture. I had to change something. (As an aside, I think it may actually be MORE important for parents that stay at home all day with their children to do this as you never get a moment of your own. And, of course, the laundry will always be there so it can wait a few minutes, as much as that empty box on your daily checklist will haunt you.)
This episode of contemplation was essentially brought on by anxiety, by a culmination of stressors that poked me enough times in the side until I was forced to acknowledge it. It wasn’t even one big thing, just a compilation of small jabs that eventually festered into a wound that spread, infecting me with anxious thoughts and a depressed mood. I had to make some changes and that meant portioning out my time in small increments throughout the day to do activities that weren’t related to responsibility. 20 minutes in the morning, 20 minutes midday and 20 minutes at night. Hence, the total 60 mins.
I make my best effort to get up before my daughter wakes up. I attempt to sit on the couch, drink my decaf coffee that my husband made before he went to work, and spend some time remembering who I truly am. Sometimes this means reading the Bible, other times praying or journaling. Even a few times where I did nothing at all except keep silent. You can call it a quiet time or whatever else you want but it’s more than reading, more than learning. If I don’t remind myself of my true self- that I am a daughter of the King, that this world is at war, that God has called me for a purpose outside of solely being comfortable, happy and healthy- then I have already lost for the day. I will surrender to materialism and vanity, to productivity and anxiety. Although these shifts happen gradually and insidiously, they are vitally more dangerous and I have realized that without that 20 minutes in the morning, even ten, even five, then I am already running uphill and I will miss what God has for me.
My next twenty minute increment comes after I put my daughter down for a nap in the afternoon (or leave her in her crib for a few minutes if she refuses to nap). This is when I try to exercise and honestly I’ve been terrible at “making time for myself” in this area ever since my daughter was born. Some of it was health issues, some an insatiable need to do school work, but I realized that I didn’t need 20 more minutes of studying. I needed to take a break. So now I work out in my living room while I watch my stupid TV show and I try to let my body breathe, to exhale some of that anxiety that builds throughout the morning. Of course as a future primary care provider I highly suggest that everyone exercises at least a few times per week. There are endless health benefits as most people know, but they go beyond the physical. I had heard people talk about the benefits for mental health but I had never understood how vital that was until now- serving literally as my jolt back into the greater reality outside of what catastrophe will surely occur if she misses her nap today. I don’t have time to explain the physiologic ins and outs but exercise clears the head, suppresses anxiety, and energizes for the rest of the day. I have noticed that on days I don’t exercise, I feel apathetic, lethargic and irritable. Now, I can’t seem to go without those twenty minutes no matter what, like an addiction to something so good for me.
The last twenty minutes ends up somewhat fluid because this depends on our schedule and how tired I am but I try to reserve that time at night so do some reading or writing that’s not perfunctory. Fun reading. Fun writing. Stretching my creative mind, utilizing talents that threaten to go dormant, filling my soul back up for the next day. God without a doubt speaks to me through both reading and writing and it’s another way for me to communicate with Him during the day, just like exercise, just like my morning quiet time, giving the day a nice “full circle” feel. But really and truly, these things are essential to who I am. I can see my life more clearly; I feel like these are the moments when I really come alive amidst the daily chores and hassles. I look forward to it. I yearn for it. So I make time for it, even if that means taking a slightly later bedtime.
That’s it. It’s really not complicated and I don’t think there has been one day in the past few months where I have gotten the full hour spread out during my day. Life isn’t predictable and that’s part of the lesson- implementing structures that will be life-giving to you but also holding them open to whatever else God has for the day. Sticking rigidly to the routines will only worsen that anxiety that wants checked boxes and a clean house and this will spill over to your family, who ends up as the sad recipient of your dysfunction.
Call it “taking me time” or “a mental vacation” or whatever ridiculous terminology you want to use but it’s worked for me and I plan to continue it for as long as I can. And yes, sometimes that means getting a pedicure once in a while.
And just to nail home the importance of exercise, even twenty or thirty minutes of it, check out this amazing video on exercise. I think you’ll be impressed!