For single parents, it can be hard enough to figure out who “me” is, let alone to build in “me” time. Having time to yourself, either with friends or alone, is crucial for your peace of mind, quality of life and self-identity. If you’re raising kids without a partner, you may be trying to play the role of mom and dad or good cop and bad cop with no breaks to refresh and regenerate.
It may be hard to remember sometimes, but you are more than just a parent. Here are some “from the trenches” tips to help you carve out some soothing, much-needed quality time for yourself.
1. Set boundaries
“Your bedroom is a sanctuary, not a family room,” says psychologist and single parenting expert Leah Klungness, who believes single parents should lock the bedroom door, guilt-free. “Once your children are beyond the toddler phase, it is a good idea to get a timer and teach your children to leave you alone for three to five minutes to start, giving you time to decompress with a quick shower or some breathing exercises.”
Intimacy expert, single mom and author of “The Reluctant M.I.L.F.,” Allana Pratt agrees. In order to create some much needed morning alone-time for herself, she gave her 3-year-old son a digital clock with the instructions, “If you let me sleep until seven-zero-zero, you’ll be my hero,” letting him know she was looking for patience and kindness, which she would return to him as well.
2. Dance the night away
The last thing you may have time for is exercise, despite its benefit to body and brain. Put on that iPod, select your favorite dance tunes and boogie your way through the dinner dishes. If your kids want to join into the dance, that’s fine. Leave them to wash some of the unbreakables while you take your private dance party into the living room. Who needs a disco ball?
3. Frequent a family-friendly gym
If living room disco isn’t your thing, check out one of the many health clubs and yoga studios that offers on-site child care. They often include fitness-focused time for the kids, a big plus.
4. Hire some help
Sometimes, you’ve just got to get out, kick up your heels and have a great night out. You never know who you might meet. This is when it may make sense to find child care, if you can budget it.
Hire a babysitter whose energy level and experience feel like a fit for your motley crew and negotiate an hourly rate that makes sense. If you need to catch up on paperwork (or take a nap!), babysitters can take the kids to the park or out for pizza.
5. Create bonding time with grandparents
Or with Uncle Mike, the family next door or your best friend from college who keeps offering help. If it feels comfortable, schedule occasional overnights or weekends away for your kids with the people in their lives who love them and you. Build in an oasis of time for yourself to do whatever you want, knowing your little ones are in a safe place, having fun and not missing you nearly as much as you thought they would.
6. Hide in plain sight
Even if you can’t get away from home, you can still carve out some fortifying “me” time. Beverly Hills-based single mom and marketing guru Donna Balancia finds great value in hiding in her own backyard. “Now that my child has hit 14 years old, I am actually able to leave him at home for periods of time; however, sometimes I just plain old feel guilty about it,” she says.
Her solution? “I bring my books and my work out to the backyard. Sometimes I even meet up with my girlfriends on the porch out back and sneak a little glass of refreshment. I appreciate the time I have and it may sound silly to hang out on my own property when I could be away, but it almost makes me feel rebellious to hide out in plain sight!”
Don’t have a backyard? Look up. “I have found that the roof of my house is a wonderful place to hang out,” says author and single mom extraordinaire, Jennifer Graham. “Not only does no one think to look for me there, but it gives me a perfect vantage point to see any misbehavior out in the yard. Also, I can get a tan.”
7. Let kids do their paperwork solo
David Bakke, a single dad to an impish, 5-year-old mischief maker, puts potty time to good use. “My son usually does his dirtiest work each day after lunch, so I make sure to decide what I want to get done during that 15-minute timeframe. That may not sound like a lot of time, but you can get a lot done if you have a plan,” he says.
8. Plan parent playdates
Kids often get along really well with their parent’s friends’ kids. Schedule family playdates with adults whose company you enjoy. Let the kids run around the park, have a popcorn movie fest or play games at home while you hog the kitchen or park bench for adult-only conversation.
9. Find a safe space
Lots of indoor playgrounds provide completely enclosed, child-friendly spaces filled with activities, other kids and fun. Find an indoor play space where you don’t have to keep your eyes on your child nonstop. Get lost in a great book, podcast or your needlepoint while the kids navigate their way through never-ending tunnels and mazes.
Your children won’t even realize their great day out was only a ruse to give you a much-needed break. Some such spaces provide a watchful eye for a nominal fee and a parents’ room off to the side, complete with complimentary coffee and comfy chairs to relax in.
10. Spend your lunch hour wisely
Rather than spending lunch time at your desk with a soggy sandwich, take a walk. Or a Pilates class. Or go shopping. Give yourself some time to daydream in the sun and forget about the world of work, kids, bills and every other stresses you may have. A solid hour or half-hour lunch break can be a valuable opportunity for you to close out the world and enjoy some solitude.
It’s more than just a cliché — you really do matter. Taking time for yourself will benefit everyone around you as well. You deserve as much gentleness, kindness and fun as your children do. But of course, you already knew that.