Before you have children, I think it’s impossible to comprehend how all-consuming parenthood will be. No matter your intentions, it will alter your life inexplicably. They will take over your every waking moment (and most of your sleeping ones too). Even when you’re not with them, you’re thinking about them, or worse, talking about them. Pre bed chatter with the spouse nowadays just involves me relaying the follies and foibles of our day (“…and then Ralph poked her in the eye…” etc); and discussions of explosive nappies is about as dirty as our talk gets…
Parenting is constant. It truly never stops. Whether you’re a stay at home parent, or a working one; your day, your week, your life (!) will revolve around your offspring. Who’s doing the school run? When did they last have a drink? Am I going to be late for nursery pick up? Was the doctor right when she said that rash was nothing to worry about? Because I am worrying. All. The. Time.
Five months ago, my eldest turned three and started pre school. At the same time, I made the decision to send my youngest to nursery for six hours a week. It was a difficult decision and I felt guilty about it. It felt somehow wrong to be paying for someone else to look after him, when I would just be returning home alone. But I realised that, in three whole years, I’d only ever had a day without them. With no family living nearby and a spouse who works away all week, the opportunities for any child-free time were practically non existent. And it becomes much easier to take something for granted when it is the norm. I no longer really appreciated time spent with my children. I never experienced the excitement of rushing home to see them, because I was never away from them. (Not even at night time, eh Ralph?!) I’ve never really had the chance to miss them.
And now I do. I drop them off and tick down the hours until pick up because even now, five months down the line, it still feels strange not having them with me. I look forward to seeing them, and am excited about the time we get together. But I’m also excited about the time I get with myself. The opportunity to just go about my daily business for a few short hours, like me, the human and not me, the mum. It’s the small things. Being able to go to the supermarket without the agony of dragging a screaming toddler around with you. To sit down and drink a tea – hot! To tidy the house without it feeling like I’m running up an escalator the wrong way. Nothing major. Nothing that would seem remotely exciting to someone without children, but for us, it’s freedom. For three hours, twice a week (term time only), someone else is responsible for keeping them fed, watered and happy. Handing that responsibility over was a wrench, I can assure you. Passing over the two things that are more precious to me than anything else in the world and trusting that someone else will care for them, the way that I do. That’s hard. But necessary, I think, for my own sanity.
Because even though, from the minute you become a parent and your own needs cease to exist on the scale of priorities, you still need to look after you. Giving 100% of yourself, 100% of the time is never going to end well. So ignore the tuts of disdain in the park when you fail to notice that your child fell over because you were checking your phone, you’ve been there for the other 57 times it’s happened today. It’s ok to tell them “not now” or “no more”. You’ve already spent 3 hours playing hide & seek. The EU says your entitled to a 15 minute break, alright! If eating a biscuit of indeterminate age that they found under the sofa will keep them happy for a minute, then embrace it! That’s a a full minute of flicking through Instagram! Don’t feel guilty for striking a balance (and by balance I mean holding back 1% for yourself). However you do it: taking the scenic route on your commute; utilising family who live locally; having your nails done on your lunch break; paying for childcare; neglecting housework for a few nights a week – never feel bad for checking yourself out of parenthood and into “me time”.
So pop the kettle on, sit them in front of Peppa Pig and give yourself a minute (or ten).