It’s so hard to find time to look after ourselves, but here’s how we’re gonna try

Both the adults in this house are really experiencing a health and wellbeing backlog at the moment. We’re run down, depleted. Our baseline is too low to support extra stress without bickering or feeling totally exhausted or retreating into solitude or exploding – even minor stress like kids being sick and needing a few days off creche. Not surprising, it’s been a huge four years with very little chance to prioritise looking after ourselves.

To some extent this will self-correct as B gets older, and as the weather gets better – the end of July of the second child’s first creche winter is probably a low point. But there are things we can maybe do in the meantime to try and prioritise the related goals of looking after the mental and physical health of our little family and living our life in a way that supports the connections between us.

1) Taking a pause on caring so much about some things

There are things I just don’t care about, I don’t think about them and that frees up mental space. For example I don’t care about make up. Not a thing in my life. I don’t care about our garden. I don’t care about having a nice car.

There are other things I care about but I don’t have time to devote as much attention as I’d like, so the caring turns into a nagging sense that I’m not doing enough. But, you only have so many hours in the day. Unlike make-up or a nice car, these are things that are important things in my life generally, but for now, they have to take their place in the queue and they’re behind the cut-off line: no more room in my mind. I’m recording things that have already slipped, the difference is that I’ll be more sanguine about the deprioritisation.

  • My career: I really like my job and I need that counterpoint to parenting and home life. That said, I don’t want work stress to spill over into general life when I find life with two preschoolers is emotionally draining anyway. Also, I believe – strongly – that too many of us generally prioritise paid work at the expense of health and connection. If I believe this, then I need to live it. Take my lunch breaks: walk around the harbour on a sunny day, go to yoga, meet up with a friend. Leave work on time. It’s been a long hard fight for unions to negotiate good working conditions like I have in my job, let’s not see them slowly erode because we feel like bad Employeebots when we take advantage of them! And let’s remember that over-performing in your role is a classic prisoner’s dilemma. If you’re the only one who exceeds expectations you win, but if everyone exceeds the expectations, they become the norm and you all lose. The expectations should be that you go to work and do a good job and also have a life – so work to those expectations (especially if you’re lucky enough that you can!)
  • Saving money: we are still paying off maternity leave debt. But we’re also buying things that have been deferred from last year. We are both in dire need of new clothes. I feel like we should save more money, but that’s kinda an arbitrary aspiration. Probably borne of articles berating millennials for eating avocados. We’re living within our means and we’re paying bills as they come in with a bit left over so actually I should totally chill out about this and accept that for now, it’s ok to buy lunch out most days because that creates a bit of much needed slack in our lives.
  • The house: both maintenance of the house and tidiness generally. We only clean/garden/fix things when things look like they really need it. Maybe that’s not an issue? Instead of wanting the house to be always tidy-ish I should be happy it’s not always totally dire! I think it’d also help make things relaxed if I back myself to get stuff done when it needs to, because ultimately I do (or worst comes to worst, it can wait til the cleaner comes on Tuesday).

2) Look after ourselves

There’s no replacement for a good mood, and you can’t be relaxed and easy-going when your baseline needs aren’t met – especially sleep. Also exercise. And for introverts like me and my husband, some alone time works wonders to make us calmer in the face of the vagaries of parenting. But we also need to spend time together so we feel like a couple and not like colleagues in a really shoddy childcare centre.

Looking after ourselves is as much a matter of priorities as habits: once it’s a priority, you can think about how to give it effect.

For example, I think we need to have more of a routine for the weekends, one that allows us to recuperate without feeling like our needs are in competition. I think we need to bite the bullet and accept that the only way to fit in exercise is to take turns going out in the evenings after the kids are in bed (worth a try at least, even if we only do it once a week).

3) Identifying stress points, and one by one, doing things to ease the stress points

Some stress points are: lack of one-on-one adult time for D, lack of quiet time in the house for each of us, lack of time for us to hang out with each other without the kids, lack of time socialising with other adults, difficulty managing the clamouringness of both kids when there’s only one adult, lack of quiet time for B in a hectic house.

One thing we can do fairly easily, to start with:

  • D to have some one-on-one time out of the house with each parent on the weekend during B’s nap, while the other parent gets alone time in a quiet house. We can do whatever in that time – even nap ourselves. We both find that doing almost anything, even chores, in a silent house is relaxing compared to the go-go-go-noise-noise-noise-interaction-interaction-interaction demanded by the kids when they’re awake. It’ll also mean B can get some quiet time at home when he wakes.

4) Make plans for the future

Next year, screw Wellington winter, we’re gonna save up for a holiday somewhere warm and sunny.



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