The last time I had some alone time I found myself loading the dishwasher, changing over the laundry, and mentally taking inventory of what groceries we needed for the week. The truth is, I don’t know how to ask for or take time for myself without feeling guilty about it. While no one has directly told me this, I believed if I wasn’t doing something for my child or my husband, I was being selfish. This mindset has, unfortunately, led me down a really slippery slope of overwhelm, resentment, and even depression.
Before I got married, I was in a long-distance relationship with my now-husband. With about two travel hours between us, every moment I wasn’t with him, I was likely texting him and planning our next trip to see one another. We had a lot of fun trying new restaurants, breweries, and making Instagram-worthy Sunday brunches together. Yes, there were even times I’d get emotional because I didn’t want to have to leave him and wait another few weeks to see him again.
Then, we had our son and our lives were changed forever. Not only were our moments together as just a couple few and far between, but my own alone time drastically dwindled. I knew a baby changed your life, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how I’d feel about it, even now, 21 months into motherhood.
Even though I can take time away for myself, I feel guilty for wanting it in the first place.
See, pre-motherhood, while I loved the time I spent with my partner, the reason I felt so strongly about seeing him again was because of the built-in reset I got during our time away. Those moments in my own apartment were blissful. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and I could focus on myself. Now, those resets feel just outside of my reach, and I find myself frustrated time and time again because, even though I can take time away for myself, I feel guilty for wanting it in the first place.
About a month ago, on the brink of some very difficult life decisions, I decided to take a few days away by myself. When I told a few people about it, they were shocked I’d leave my almost 2-year-old son with his very capable father for four days. “I could never leave my kids, even for a few days” or “I’m surprised you did that, I didn’t leave my kids until they were much older” were just a few of the comments I got. And so, the guilt piled on.
I struggle with asking to sleep in on a Sunday morning or saying I want to spend my son’s nap time alone reading a book rather than cuddle up with my husband. And I feel like a terrible mom when I’ve been missing my son all day while at work but then looking forward to his bedtime. So yes, I feel guilty about taking time for myself, and if you do too, here are some of the mantras I’ve been telling myself to help.
1. I can love my kids and love their bedtime
I texted my friend awhile back about my guilty feelings, and this was the mantra she texted back to me. It sent a tingle down my spine because it rang so much truth. No matter how much you love your kids, there is no denying how much work they are. Add a full-time job (especially if you’re a stay-at-home mom) on top of it all, and it’s no wonder you look forward to bedtime sometimes.
For me, it’s a sign I need more alone time when I’m watching the clock to strike 7 p.m. night after night. Most of the time, I have a blast with my son, but sometimes I realize my own energy tank is running low, and I’m eager for him to go to bed. I still feel guilty for feeling this way, but knowing why helps put it in perspective too.
2. Being a loving wife starts with good self-care
My husband and I got married two months before our son was born, so we didn’t get a lot of time together just the two of us. And sometimes, my husband feels like we rarely get time to focus solely on marriage without being interrupted. That being said, I know couples who’ve been married for way longer than us, and they also felt this shift when a child was introduced into the mix. At the end of the day, I know I’m my best self when I’ve had some time alone to recharge.
There are no best wife (or mom) awards in this world, so I’ve found it’s best I don’t give away every last drop of energy at the cost of burning out. What my husband and family need is a happy, healthy, and present person, and if a few hours to myself get them that, then it’s worth it to me.
3. You deserve your love and attention too
Allow me to rant for a quick second when I say men rarely feel guilty about taking time away. Yes, they are now helping out more around the house and with their kids than in past years, but when it comes time to go golfing, turn on the game, or go for a run they’re mostly unapologetic about it. This is because they know—and whole-heartedly believe—they are deserving of this time away. And they are, there’s no doubt about it.
In Michelle Obama’s documentary on Netflix, she talked about being resentful towards Barack because he’d say he was going to the gym without a second thought. She goes on to say she decided to stop being mad and start going to the gym herself. Ever since I heard this, it’s resonated with me that I, too, deserve the same love and attention I give my family.
4. Just do it anyway
Imagine you know naptime is coming up, there’s a long list of chores to get done, and your partner would like some time with you. In this scenario, you may feel guilty about choosing yourself and taking some alone time—do it anyway. Asking for time alone is a muscle that needs to be constantly strengthened. It will feel hard some days, and easier on others, but it will almost always pay off.
The balance of alone time and family time will look different for everyone, but allow yourself to feel a twinge of guilt and selfishness and take the time regardless. If you find yourself still struggling with it, schedule it in your calendar as a recurring meeting with yourself. Whatever you do, don’t give it up due to guilt.
I’m not quite on the other side of burnout yet, and I’m also not completely comfortable with advocating for excess time away (though if you need it, take it). But the guilt has lessened over time. I’ve noticed the more I ask for it, the easier the asking gets.
Becoming a mother and a wife was never in exchange for losing myself. I am a woman before a mother and a wife, which is why I, and every other mother on the planet, deserve to take care of themselves just as much as they take care of others.