Carving Out Time for Yourself

For busy parents, especially at this time of year in the crazy run up to Christmas, it can be so hard to find time for yourself.

To show yourself a little bit of love that you wouldn’t think twice about bestowing on others around you.

To take time to stop and breathe; move away from the relentless to do list and instead do something you enjoy, an activity that nourishes your soul.

To reframe it from being selfish to focus on your own needs into being an essential part of demonstrating to your children the importance of self-care.

To treat time developing yourself as a necessity not a guilty luxury, an investment that is valuable to your health and happiness, and thus that of your family too.

I’m far from being an exceptional role model in this regard, but thanks to a few important changes this past year, I’m slowly getting better at taking time to nurture my own passions.

Back in January, I made two key changes that have profoundly affected my life: 1) I started running for the first time (and went from a running critic to a running obsessive/bore!) and 2) I joined an Introverted Moms literary life coaching community.

More on both of these later, but fundamentally what they’ve taught me is that I feel at my very best and happiest, when I spend a good balance of time across the week in the following three areas: 1) cultivating creative pursuits, 2) building physical and mental health and 3) developing social connections.

1. Creative Pursuits

As a homeschool mum (or indeed any parent), we are pulled in a multitude of directions each and every day. It seems that a million different needs demand our immediate attention, from teaching physics or Spanish lessons, to driving to a child’s cricket or dance practice, to organising birthdays, to supporting our parents, to cooking nutritious meals, to arranging play dates, to sponsoring worthy causes, to stewarding at church, to cleaning the house, to reading to the children before bed, to ordering those art supplies.

The list goes on.

All important tasks: activities we are lucky enough to perform for our loved ones around us. And I have no doubt that one day, in the not too distant future, we’ll desperately miss being so needed.

But if we don’t also take the time to fill up our own cups, to spend time pursuing creative interests of our own, we’ll ultimately drain the very essence of our beings.

And if this means losing some of the less important day-to-day tasks we get sucked into, so be it. Be brave – I’m trying to be (thanks to the amazing support of the women in my Introverted Moms group) – push back, simplify and accept help whenever you can.

For me, creative time includes writing, planning the children’s education, reading and devising crazy family adventures.

Walking a marathon on our endurance week (one of my crazier ideas!)

But for you, it might look like painting, crafting, learning a new language, playing an instrument, sewing, nature journaling, upcycling furniture, diary writing, redecorating, baking, photography, knitting, carpentry, writing poetry, making face creams, quilting, creating jewellery or whatever else it is that floats your creative boat.

It doesn’t have to be a big project, nor do you have to produce an exceptional piece of art. This is for you; time and space to follow your passions and interests.

I promise, you will feel so much better when you do, even if it’s an hour or just ten minutes a day. Take that time.

For me, it works best to create as early in the day as possible, without distraction (the kids call it my Introverted Mom time!), before I’m too tired from all of the other tasks that I must complete in a day. But you may be a night owl and more creative in the evening. Schedule the time for whenever works best for you.

2. Mental and Physical Health

We all know the benefits of building our physical and mental health, and yet do we always make time for it?

In the past, I’ve tended to go through splurges of getting fit by going to the gym or doing workout videos, and then hitting winter and turning into a bit of a couch potato! Healthy eating has followed pretty much the same rhythm of boom and bust.

And as for my mental health, until this year, I’d never done anything to actively manage it. Instead, I’d carry on regardless until I either burned out, worried endlessly or ended up at the cardiologist with stress-induced heart palpitations.

I don’t know whether it’s because I turned 40 last year, but this year I’ve made some long-term changes for the better.

Regular Exercise

Firstly, encouraged by my husband, I started running. On Christmas Eve, I huffed and puffed my way behind him to slowly (agonisingly for him) complete a three-mile run. Afterwards, I felt amazing- the post running high! Everything that day felt a little bit better, so I did it again on Boxing Day, and felt just as good.

In the New Year, I kept it up, going twice a week for a run around our village. And then, I went a little bit further and a little bit more, until eventually I’d managed to complete a half marathon distance in one go, without stopping. It nearly killed me, but I did it.

Since then, I might have become a little bit obsessed, running long distances each week. Most of the time I genuinely love it. Some days, it’s extremely hard to get up and out the door. The reason I continue: the impacts on my mental health have been profound, probably more so even that the physical benefits. My stress levels have plummeted, anxiety and depression are non-existent and any worries I have are much more manageable.

I would encourage everyone to give running a go. I genuinely believe anyone can be a runner and it’s free, easy to fit in around the children, plus you get to spend time outside in nature. What’s not to like?

But I appreciate it might not be to everyone’s taste. And if that’s the case, take some time to find your own exercise love, be this cycling, walking, playing team sports, hula hooping, dancing, paddleboarding, kayaking or whatever you enjoy that gets the heart pumping and your muscles moving.

Again, as with the creativity, you don’t have to do it for hours on end. In fact, as mentioned in Josh Davis’ Two Awesome Hours book, research shows that “exercise has the effect of amplifying positive moods and emotions (like joy, elation, vigour or enthusiasm), not just alleviating the negative emotion of anxiety. Positive emotions reliably increase after low or moderate exercise (between 21-40 minutes), but, surprisingly, not as much after more intense or longer sessions of exercise.”

So, plan in that little bit of exercise every day, even if you have to work it in around the children. Go for walks or bikes with them, play football or cricket in the garden, jump and giggle on the trampoline like a big kid, try frisbee in the park, do some skipping games together or just run around and play with them.

Alternate the cardiovascular exercise with strength-building, particularly your core, through activities like yoga, pilates (I’m a member of the Zebra Club, an online movement programme designed for those with hypermobility, EDS or chronic pain) or weights exercises.

Time for Reflection

As busy mums, each day we’re overloaded with what feels like hundreds of simple tasks that all need doing right now… It’s difficult not to get pulled into a rhythm of doing, doing, doing – piling through our to-do lists to get to the end of the day and then promptly collapse with exhaustion. Sound familiar?

But are we making efficient use of our time? Do we really have to do everything on the list? Could we simplify our lives? And how about finding resolutions for those meaty worries or problems that are always pushed to the bottom of the list, but may profoundly impact our day-to-day lives?

Joining the Introverted Moms community has encouraged me to lift my head out of the every day madness of family life, stop and take time to ponder on those big questions, like: How do I stop feeling afraid to step outside my comfort zone? What’s the next right step for me to help overcome my negative self-talk? How can I help my child with their worries and anxieties? How do I overcome feelings of guilt?

With some beautifully selected books and using Jamie’s literary life coaching techniques, I’ve explored these topics as I’ve read slowly alongside the other mums, each of us supporting the other with their own reflections and questions. Through this process, I’ve delved into my past, realised some vital discoveries and consequently made some profound changes to my attitude, behaviour outlook to life. And I’ve made some lifelong friends along the way.

Alongside the life coaching, there are forum events; live author and personality expert chats; a read-the-world 8-part summer global study for your kids; and weekly videos, audios or meditations about topics related to introversion, motherhood or homeschooling. I can’t recommend this group highly enough – it has quite honestly been life changing for me in the most positive of ways. If you’re interested in joining, enrolment reopens here in December.

I’ve also been using this reflection time to draw closer to God. Another recommendation from the IM group, a daily devotional called Jesus Calling, has been instrumental in improving my relationship with Him.

For example, I was having a difficult day on Monday (a non-running day!), worrying about some ongoing health concerns, so I turned to the devotional and read this:

“Sit quietly with me, letting all your fears and worries bubble up to the surface of your consciousness. There, in the Light of My Presence, the bubbles pop and disappear. However, some fears surface over and over again, especially fear of the future. You tend to project yourself mentally into the next day, week, month, year, decade; and you visualise yourself coping badly with those times. What you are seeing is a false image, because it doesn’t include Me. Those gloomy times that you imagine will not come to pass, since My presence will be with you at all times.”

And in that passage, I felt He spoke right to my heart, making me lighter, more positive and able to cope.

Clearly there are many other aspects of managing your mental and physical health other than the two I mentioned above, such as nutrition, vitamins, drinking enough water, getting sufficient sleep, the amount of alcohol we drink etc.

However, I’ve found that by taking time to build proper exercise and time for calm reflection into my week, my overall health in those other aspects has naturally improved. I need to eat and drink properly to fuel my body effectively through my exercise regime and consequently, my sleep has improved too.

3. Social Connections

And last but not least, making time to find and stay connected with your tribe, the people that bring joy to your life, is essential. It’s equally important whether you’re an introvert and prefer one-on-one opportunities to socialise or an extrovert who enjoys larger groups.

It’s particularly vital for us homeschool mums, who, always on the lookout for good social connections for our children, need to remember our own needs in this regard too.

Many of our experiences through the initial lockdown have shown us how critical maintaining this contact is for us humans. We’re a social being, craving connections with others.

Once again in lockdown, our socialising opportunities have been curtailed, but not stopped! Make time for that walk with a friend; take a flask of tea and some cakes to share down to your local park, plonk yourself on a bench and get your chat on with a buddy; pick up the phone and call or message your friends; take time to really bond with your children and husband; have a Zoom party; connect with online support groups; write a letter or card (who doesn’t love to receive one of these!); or set up what become weekly treasured new rhythms, like a weekly family quiz.

Realistically, there’s no way you’re going to have time to do everything on this list each day.

But, for me, getting a good balance of time across the three areas over the week, making sure no one part suffers at the expense of another, makes for a happy mummy and by proxy, a happy family.

And at the same time, I’m demonstrating crucial self-care routines, which hopefully my own children will use to good effect one day when they’ve flown the nest.

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