Take Good Care of You - While You Take Good Care of Your Children
by Robert J. Nachshin, Esq.
Many single parents find themselves doing double-duty when it comes to handling the everyday needs of their child(ren), leaving them little time for a social or personal life of their own.
Most single parents work. And, when you figure that they typically hit the office at 8 a.m., and clock out around 5 p.m., they find themselves returning home to another full time job: that of taking care of the children.
That evening job means preparing meals, seeing that the children have done their homework, and getting them ready for and in bed. Immediately after completing those duties, many single parents take care of those tasks that might give them a head start the following morning, such as making lunch or packing the car with that oversized science project. Yes, getting the children ready for the following day can be equally as time consuming as the evening chores. Add to a busy business work-week a weekend full of activities—from soccer games to birthday parties—it is understandable why a single parent is unable to carve out even an hour or two for him or herself during any given week.
Studies, however, indicate that parents who do not take time for themselves are far more likely to develop illness and depression. And, children are often left to feel guilty.
I have counseled many a single parent as they move through their respective divorces, suggesting that he or she make time for activities that have nothing to do with the children. It is easy to get consumed with “all-things-kids” and even use them as an excuse or an escape to stave off the pain of divorce, but once the children are grown and gone it then becomes even harder for the single parent to establish a personal life that is meaningful and satisfying.
Because the demands are so great, the single parent has to continue to address what it is that nurtures body, mind and soul—those activities and interests that have nothing to do with the children.
Though it may seem impractical, it is still absolutely necessary for any single parent to tend to his or her own needs, yet often parents are running so furiously on that treadmill of activity that they do not take time to even think about themselves, let alone take active steps to care-give in a way that keeps them balanced and fulfilled.
With that in mind, I offer the following suggestions for ways in which a single parent can take better care of him or herself, especially for those types that constantly moan, “I just don’t have time for me.”
Set your own curfew in the evening: By that, I mean whether it is 8, 9, or 10 p.m. let the children know the rest of the evening is yours. If the children are young that should be easy. You simply stay on a bedtime schedule. If you have teens, make sure they know that 9 a.m., or whatever it time you set as the “curfew,” is the bewitching hour and that you do not wish to be disturbed. If you are “parenting” up until your kids turn in for the night, over time you will wind up grouchy and downright resentful. Part of every day belongs to you and only you. Optimally, two hours for you in the evening before you go to bed is recommended but even one hour can do the trick.
Rise earlier in the morning: If you arise at 6 a.m., try getting up at 5:30 a.m. Read the paper, practice some Yoga, watch the news, or clean out that bathroom drawer you keep wanting to reorganize. Simply meditating during your 30 minutes of early-morning-private time can do wonders for your peace of mind. Whether you start out the day or end the day with some “me” time, do it. Most importantly, do not take time only sporadically. Make this new routine habit.
Set “time alone” boundaries for those daytime hours when the children are awake and at home: If you have toddlers or little ones who seem to make demands on you every second they are in your presence, start a new routine where you let them know you need some quiet time for yourself, whether it is 15 minutes or an hour. For example, once the little ones have been fed—morning, noon or evening—send them to the playroom or simply tell them to keep busy with something they enjoy (playing with their toys, making art projects, etc.). They should be asked to remain with their activity as they sit across the room from you while you relax for 20 minutes to read the paper (or the Internet) while having a cup of coffee. The trick is making this “me event” a routine, just like those evening and/or early morning breaks. Soon the children will respect your “time-outs” (if it becomes part of your daily regimen) and they won’t bother you. This quick refresher can do wonders for your psyche and your soul. This is especially important during the weekend when you might be with the children 24/7.
Use your “off duty” time wisely: The majority of single parents who have physical custody of the children have every other weekend free; time during school, holiday and summer vacations and one night a week—those times when the children are with the other parent. If this is your arrangement with your ex, make sure that your “off-duty” time is used wisely. Most likely, you have responsibilities that have to do with you that need your attention so utilize those hours for those obligations that need taking care of. See if you can rearrange your schedule so that the “one-third” time away from the children is predominantly used for things you want to do. That might include social networking to meet new people, getting that neglected massage, taking that long-awaited dance lesson, painting the perfect sunset you have put aside for far too long, or soaking in a hot bath. A good portion of your “non-parental” hours should be spent on yourself. However, I know people who spend such hours cleaning the kids’ rooms or doing other chores they could do when the children are in the house. Take advantage of your non-custodial intervals. They provide a wonderful window for doing many of those things you do not have time for when the children are at home.
Time share with a friend: One way to ensure that you will have time for yourself is to set up an arrangement with a close friend or relative who also has children. Ask this person(s) if you the two of you can take turns—a few hours each week—to look after one another’s children. Your friend or relative may have the same issue: not enough time for him or herself. If the two of you can make this a weekly ritual, all the better. Sometimes just an hour or two a week is all you will need to rejuvenate. What is wonderful about this option is that if you set up your arrangement in a structured way, you can have something to look forward to on a regular basis. That goes for both of you.
Start a ledger for a “time-for-me” savings account: This choice has nothing to do with the traditional money savings account but rather an accounting of how you are spending your time. Since time is the commodity on which you are trying to capitalize, you can see your balance sheet in black and white—the one that itemizes your assets and liabilities. For instance, if you write down how many hours a week you spend on the children, but net zero time for yourself, you soon begin to see that you will soon go bankrupt in the “time-spent-one-me” department. The idea is to have your account balance out. Writing down these numbers—hours in your case—can wake you up as to how much time you are spending (literally) on “them” and not you.
Just say “no”: Even though you are tempted to take on one more duty for the children during those weeks when your schedule is already jam-packed and you have cancelled an activity you had planned for “me” time, just say no. You can reasonably explain to the children that his/her request will have to wait. For example, if he/she asks if you can bathe the dog on Wednesday evening after work so he/she can take it to school for share-and-tell on Thursday, do not buckle if it means you do not get that extra hour to yourself that you so deserve. Instead, ask your youngster to query his/her teacher for another such opportunity.
Robert J. Nachshin is co-author of the book "I Do, You Do...But Just Sign Here: A Quick and Easy Guide to Cohabitation, Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements." He represents many celebrities in film, television, music and sports. He is best known for the precedent-setting win in the Barry Bonds prenuptial case that was ultimately decided by the California Supreme Court, where he prevailed on Bonds' behalf. Mr. Nachshin currently serves as an Advisor for ParentRise.com. For more information, visit www.nldivorce.com.