Why ‘me time’ is crucial for a mum’s mental health
I count myself lucky that I was under the care of the same midwife throughout all three of my pregnancies.
Not just because I’m a firm believer in continuity of care, but because this particular midwife was a very wise woman.
In fact she gave me the very best bit of parenting advice I’ve ever received. She told me it was important to make time for myself.
It is crucial, she said, to keep on doing things that make me happy. I shouldn’t sacrifice my own happiness just because I’m now a mother.
Did I take heed of her advice? Of course I didn’t. I was too busy listening to the shrill, nagging voice inside my head that was feeding my mum guilt.
It took me seven years and three national lockdowns to realise how wrong I was to ignore her.
I finally realised that ‘me time’ was vital for my well-being. It’s what’s saved me from a total mental breakdown when things got really tough.
The journey to reach that realisation, however, was not straightforward.
It probably should have been. After all, I did have a life before children, so knew how to make the most of my free time.
The problem was that most of the activities I enjoyed in my ‘old life’ no longer seemed enticing. Thanks to weaning, cooking had become nothing but a chore. Gym classes lost their appeal too - I was too bloody knackered all the time to even contemplate exercise.
Parenting had also affected my concentration levels. So many nights I would pick up a book and find myself rereading every sentence three times. The words just didn’t want to sink in.
In truth I had no real outlet, no form of escapism. I was in permanent ‘mum mode’ and it was exhausting.
In the end it was lockdown that saved me. I know a lot of people who have admitted the third national lockdown has been the biggest struggle so far. It was for me too, at the start, but it also produced a moment of clarity for me.
It happened one horrible day in January. Everything felt hopeless. We hadn’t left the house in days, my efforts to homeschool were proving futile, and the children were fighting non stop.
Something happened - I can’t even remember what it was now, I think it might have involved a homemade marble run - and I burst into tears.
Not just frustrated mum tears. These were big, pathetic, uncontrollable sobs. I’d reached breaking point.
Then an extraordinary thing happened. My seven-year-old ran upstairs to my bedroom and came downstairs with a book. He gave it to me and then said, softly, ‘Because I know reading makes you happy.’
At that moment, something finally clicked. I didn’t need to feel guilty about me time. My children want me to have me time. My midwife had been right all along. My happiness is a priority, because if I’m happy, my children are happy.
Me time is now part of my daily routine. Before the schools reopened, I’d make a habit of sneaking off after lunch with a cup of tea and reading a few chapters of a book.
The kids were more than happy with this arrangement. It gave them time to chill out too.
Although it hasn't made my life totally stress free, I’ve certainly noticed that I have more patience. I even have a lot more energy than I used to.
Embracing me time felt like my brain had been refuelled, and I vow to never let it run on empty again.