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In the course of researching my book on modern motherhood, I interviewed hundreds of parents and pored over data reported by nearly a thousand American mothers. But one woman’s observation stopped me in my tracks. When I asked about how she made time for herself, she paused, scratched her head, and studied the floor. A moment later, it came to her. “The dentist’s office!” she said. “I get some quiet time there.”
I could relate. When my children were small and I was working too many hours without adequate child care, a trip to the dentist seemed like a mini-holiday to me. With the perspective of time, though, I realized that parents need more than stolen moments to recharge and recover from the fast-paced lives that so many of us lead. We’re better for everyone — our employers, our spouses, our kids — when we feel good.
In other words, it’s not selfish to take care of yourself.
For me, delegation was the solution. I couldn’t change the task list. No matter how much I lowered my perfectionist standards, certain things just had to be done. But I didn’t need to do them all by myself. Here’s where I began:
Delegate To Your Kids. We often see our children as helpless babies for far longer than they really are. Even preschool-age children can perform small tasks that will save you time. In my house, we started small, asking our preschoolers to take their plates from the table into the kitchen. It wasn’t much, but it was a start, and they loved “helping” the family. Now, at 9 and 6, they make beds, straighten their rooms, feed the dogs, load the dishwasher, and carry out the garbage. And we don’t even have to pay them!
Delegate To Your Friends. This source of help (and time!) is often overlooked. Our current culture seems to dictate that parents ride a merry-go-round of post-school activities — and some parents feel guilt and regret if they miss a single one. But think back just a generation ago. Parents dropped their kids at activities and picked them up after. If two kids were going to the same place, they carpooled. I try to remember this as I ask other parents to share driving and watching duties with me. The upside is great — while a friend is taking care of my child, I get some “me” time. And the next time, I can return the favor.
Delegate To Your Spouse. Despite the gains we’ve made as a gender, some habits die hard, and moms seem to have a particularly difficult time delegating traditionally female tasks to male partners. Unfortunately, this perpetuates an “expert” parent cycle in which one partner assumes most or even all of the responsibility. Though some moms are reluctant to give up any power to their partners, the rewards are great. To give it a try, look at each parent’s strengths, and divide accordingly. For instance, in our house, I manage the finances because my husband doesn’t want to. He’s better at trip planning and organizing, so I let him. Again, ladies, this only works if you’re willing to share the power! But consider it, as it will open up that “me” time you’ve been craving.
Delegate To Others Who Can Help. It’s not a sign of weakness to need help in your home. We’re working an unprecedented number of hours, and some things may be better left to experts. In my house, the windows would never be washed and the floors would never be swept if I didn’t have help, so I don’t feel guilty about outsourcing the cleaning. Also, since my older child was an infant, I’ve hired a weekend babysitter so that my husband and I can have a date night alone. (We cut our budget elsewhere to make this happen.) I always come back energized and happy to see my kids.
You get the picture. To thrive as a parent, you need alone time beyond that dentist’s chair. Delegate without guilt, and the people you love will love you for it.
Hollee Schwartz Temple is the co-author of Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood (Harlequin, Spring 2011). A professor at West Virginia University College of Law, she focuses her research on work/life balance.