Mum's the word: The importance of taking some me time

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For new mums, saying “hello” to motherhood often means saying “goodbye” to me time. Once you give birth, your own needs come last. Massages and manicures get replaced with bottles and bedtime stories, and nappy changes take the place of date nights.

Yes, your laser-like focus on nurturing your little one is vital to his growth and development, but carving out some “me time” for yourself is just as essential to the health and well being of your family.

Learning how to take time for yourself is important. It’s a balance and a process for mothers to knowingly take what they feel is appropriate.

Lisa Bahar, licensed marriage and family therapist

Why mums avoid me time

There is no doubt that raising a child is one of the most rewarding, challenging and exhausting experiences a woman can have. Yet, the day-to-day routine of keeping a tiny human happy and healthy can put strain on any mother.

A mother’s desire to control her child’s upbringing is often what creates guilt about taking time for herself, notes Lisa Bahar, licensed marriage and family therapist. “In general, there is a feeling of needing to be in control and to make sure the baby is safe, and of learning how to trust even spouses and that they are making the 'right' decisions,” she explains. New mothers may be concerned about their babies getting ill and feel that other caregivers wouldn’t offer the same level of protection. The demands of nursing, nappy changes and sleep training all can add to guilt over a mum taking “me time,” she says.

Banish the guilt

On average, mothers take only about 3.6 hours of “me time” a week, according to the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC). The SIRC’s 2011 report, “The Changing Face of Motherhood,” estimated that women are involved in their child’s care at more than twice the rate of their spouses or partners.

Mums, it seems, often feel guilt about taking time away from raising their children to focus on themselves. “Learning how to take time for yourself is important. However, biology is forcing you to be in ‘baby time' versus ‘me time.' You yearn for the baby. It’s a balance and a process for mothers to knowingly take what they feel is appropriate,” explains Bahar. Women may feel uncomfortable having me time, especially if you're spending time alone at home while the baby and dad are together in another room, she adds. Despite these biologically driven instincts, it’s essential that mums learn to take time for themselves.

Humans need periodic solitude to maintain a healthy state of mind, according to Psychology Today; quiet time helps you unwind, reboot your busy mind, increase productivity and enhance your relationship with others – including your baby. An incessant focus on your little one's needs -- without setting aside time for yourself -- can wreak havoc on your marriage and significantly raise your stress levels, notes research referenced in the Wall Street Journal.

Finding me time

Even if you crave downtime, finding it is an entirely different matter. Whether you work outside the home or you stay at home with your kids, finding rest and relaxation time can be challenging, if not an exercise in frustration.

The key is to schedule your downtime and be flexible to make the process flow more easily, advises Bahar. “Scheduling is reasonable – yet unreasonable – so blocks of ‘potential’ me time can be scheduled,” she says. Also, Bahar points out, me time seems to be more effective if the mother goes outside of the house at her own comfort level. “Avoid forcing it, which just creates resentment,” she explains. “In my practice, new mothers are very sensitive to others telling them how to do it or what to do.”

Husbands and partners can certainly help with this process. “Husbands ideally can learn to step back,” says Bahar. “When a mother calls for help, be there and available. Offer to get her food, or to help with the clean up. Be there for her when she needs to shower, and so on.”

Simple ways to find me time

• Schedule it on the calendar, just like any other activity. • Call a friend for a lunch date. • Take a walk by yourself at a local park. • Go to the library or bookshop and read. • Join a gym or start taking a regularly scheduled exercise or yoga classes. • Ask for help from friends or relatives.