Before becoming a mother, I heard all the sayings—You won’t ever feel like yourself again! Get ready to give up your freedom! Say sayonara to “me” time!—and I believed the parents telling me such things. I mean, they had first-hand experience, right? I, on the other hand, had no clue what I was getting into. But those conversations left me bummed out, overwhelmed, and honestly, a little bit afraid of parenthood.
Then I had my son, Ezra, and while those initial months with a newborn were equal parts awe and anxiety, I also realized motherhood wasn’t one-size-fits-all. Welcoming a child into our lives, and our family, meant major logistical, emotional, financial and practical adjustments . . . but not everything changed. My husband and I still grabbed a beer at happy hour, albeit babywearing. After trudging through postpartum depression and returning to work, I finally felt like a version of the woman I used to know. And once I began to carve out little moments to write, go to yoga, or meet up with friends regularly, I found myself to be a better mom, partner and person in general.
So why does the rhetoric around feeling guilty about “me” time still persist? To be sure, I only have one kid versus the demands of more children, as well as benefit from the privilege of a two-income household and a supportive spouse. But early on, I heard moms around me wax poetic about how they never had time for themselves, as if it were a badge of exhausted honor. And I simply opted out of that line of thinking.
The thing about parenting, in my opinion, is that there’s an element of sacrifice, always and forever. There will be periods when you can’t remember the last time you showered, ate or worked out. And as a mom, those moments when you cannot devote any time to yourself are real and frequent—when your kid is puking or screaming his head off in the grocery store parking lot (true stories!). So when you do have short openings to practice self-care, consider it an investment for future you.
Basically, I don’t think there’s a need to, like, overdo it on the mother martyr front. Even if it seems like you’ll get a prize for being a “good” mom by being at the beck and call of your little one, the reality is, you’ll also end up completely spent, wondering when your gold medal will show up. Instead, please believe me when I say you have—and you deserve—five or ten or twenty minutes to yourself most days to refill your tank, sans guilt. Here are some suggestions to do just that.
1. Going…Anywhere, Alone
My son is two now, and I will still occasionally go to Target by myself and spend the first few minutes walking around the store just thinking about how quiet it is, and how heavenly it feels to browse unhurried. I don’t even have to buy anything! I can try on five things and put them all back! Nobody is tugging at my hand or pulling all the fruit snacks off the shelf or racing down the aisle! Literally, anywhere you go by yourself as a new mom feels like an utter luxury, so don’t be afraid to hit up errands alone.
2. Enjoying a Few Interrupted Sips of Coffee or Wine
When you have a tiny infant requesting your attention at all times, you end up, um, distracted. I remember heating up a single cup of coffee at least four times in a two-hour period one early morning, before throwing in the towel and switching to iced coffee. Or the second we’d lay the baby down for bedtime, I’d be juuuuuust about to relish in a freshly poured pinot noir with my husband on the couch, only to jump up at the sound of cries on the monitor. Such is life with a newborn, and that’s why those times when you do have five minutes to just exist as a person with your favorite beverage (or snack, as it can really be anything you love)? Glorious.
3. Watching an Episode of Your Favorite Show
Confession time: one of my favorite parts of maternity leave involved the amount of television I suddenly had permission to watch while hanging out with my baby. As much as babies are adorable and snuggly, they’re also kind of . . . boring? (Yeah, I said it.) They sleep and eat and “play,” aka flail around their little arms and legs around, and then repeat. Which makes it pretty easy to multitask when you’re with them, to some degree. (Obviously not suggesting you ditch your kid in favor of the tv!) But go ahead, sit on the floor while they do tummy time and put on a documentary that makes you feel like you’re using your brain again for something other than sleep schedules, or indulge in an entire season of Parks and Rec that makes you laugh so hard you snort.
4. Using Naptime as an Excuse to Do Nothing Instead of Chores
I honestly think some women (and I’m including myself here) come up against a pocket of free time and then immediately feel overwhelmed by the number of ways that time can be spent. When my son takes a nap, I generally have this moment of: Ok, he’ll be down for an hour or two. Do I clean up the kitchen? I should really catch up on laundry. Ugh, look at these floors. I’ll just wipe them up real quick. And then maybe start dinner. Who left these socks here? When did the dog last get a walk? What’s my next freelance deadline? Before I knew it, naptime was over and I got a lot of shit done, but also am exhausted.
Now, I just sit down. Sometimes I look out the window, or I journal for a bit or watch tv or read a magazine or take a bath or make a smoothie. The point is, I try to avoid doing housework, because most of the time, it can wait—and what I most likely really need is to reset my own button. If you’re constantly waiting for a “free” window after “everything is done,” you’re gonna be waiting a while. Spoiler alert: dishes aren’t going anywhere, but your sanity might be. Give yourself a break.
5. Take a Shower or Bath
When I asked my mama friends what they prioritized as “me” time with infants, there was a unanimous winner: take a shower every single day, if possible. It’s true; when you’re clean, and you’ve had two or five minutes to stand under hot water without anyone bugging you, you feel much more capable to tackle whatever comes your way. One time on a desperate day during maternity leave, I showered with the baby in his Rock ‘N Play in the bathroom. It was a two-minute shower, and he started fussing midway through, but dammit, I washed my hair and consequently felt like a human again. Or do as my friend Amanda did, which was treat herself to shower beer once her partner got home from work.
6. Go for a Walk or Run
The beauty of this one, once you’re ready to start exercising again, is that it really only takes 15-20 minutes to benefit from the natural endorphins of moving your body. You don’t even have to “officially” workout; you can walk the dog around the block and call it good. For me, I put a yoga class on the calendar a few times a week; I had an hour to focus entirely on myself, and then I came back calmer, more patient and relaxed, and could better parent my son and be a good partner to my husband.
7. Schedule a Massage or Weekend Trip
Absolutely much more of a luxury item that requires planning and schedule coordination, but if you’re at your wits end as a new parent, and you have the means, consider giving yourself a bigger “me” time moment—like a massage, facial, or adults-only weekend trip. (Note: for some moms, this choice might feel draining or stressful because it costs money and takes time, so definitely focus on what energizes you personally.) We decided to travel to Big Sur as a couple when Ezra was around six months old, and despite everyone expressing shock that we would go somewhere “so soon” (insert eye-roll here), it was a complete breath of fresh air. And after three days of hiking, eating and sleeping to my heart’s content, I was fully ready to return to my baby boy and be his mom at 100% capacity.
8. Buy Yourself Something Small That You Technically Don’t “Need”
Think of all the little things that delight you. For me, it’s a glossy magazine, a face mask I haven’t tried before, nail polish, fresh flowers, new notepads, a cold brew coffee and a blueberry scone. I don’t “need” any of those things, not really, but they make me super happy. I’m sure you’ve got your own list. When you’re spending the vast majority of each day deciphering baby code and changing diapers, trust me, it’s okay to do something nice for yourself that has no practical purpose.
9. Cook a Healthy Meal
Lots of moms I know mentioned missing cooking once a new baby came into the picture. I didn’t have that experience (#takeoutforlife), but I can definitely understand how sustaining, literally and figuratively, it could be to make something delicious for yourself and your family. I would recommend not overcomplicating it—but hey, if homemade gnocchi is really calling your name, I bet you can make it happen!
“Sleep when the baby sleeps” feels impossible IRL, but at the same time, I will most definitely endorse sleep as “me” time. Without sleep, I felt crazy; I couldn’t think straight, I wanted to burst into tears at every little challenge, and I constantly picked fights my loved ones. And then every time I caught up on sleep, I woke up feeling supported by a choir of heavenly angels. PSA: SLEEP, Y’ALL. Or as my friend Elizabeth says, at least lay on the carpet in front of the windows where the sun comes in and pretend like you’re on a beach. Hey, whatever works.
I’ll end with a story: a couple months ago, I ran into this woman who teaches at the yoga studio where I practice. She’s a mom of two, an artist, and an all-around badass person, devoted to her family and her work and her community. We made small talk, and I asked how she’d been. She said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about making some changes in my life, maybe teaching a little less. Then I got all worked up, thinking about all the people who need me. And then I thought—wait, I need me.” We both started laughing, recognizing how very true that sentiment is, and how hard it can be as a woman and a mother to honor it.