Negotiating me time can be a tricky task that we face as parents. There are both blocks within us, and also in our immediate circles and wider society that affect our ability to procure fulfilling time to ourselves- and even our choice whether to have it or not.
I have witnessed in myself, and many of the women I work with, a domineering sense of the need to justify me time, and a plethora of reasons why it, ironically, just becomes too much effort! Sometimes, with babies or young children (or even older children), finding the time, in between all the regular and irregular tasks of parenting, and the immense presence required to raise our children, is a logistical challenge we are not yet able to face.
Or perhaps a lack of support- either as a single parent, or not- is the prohibitive factor. And if you have a willing person to mind your child, do you actually inherently trust them to do the best thing by your children, understanding their unique needs and rhythms?
In a two parent household, conflicts over division of time can become a major source of angst and resentment between couples. Penny Burrows, childbirth educator states: “How time is structured between the couple, how much time to themselves each person has and how this time is used is one of the most common sources of argument between any couple.”
Furthermore, it is difficult to balance me time with pressing tasks and other peoples needs- although it may help here to ascertain the urgency of the other tasks and needs and their importance- what is urgent isn’t always important, and what is important doesn’t always need to be done straight away.
And, perhaps most concerningly, is a view that sometimes verges on dogma, that me time is an indulgence, and is not complementary to attached, responsive parenting.
I would like to pose a question to the readers of this blog, so that this can be an explorative conversation we all engage in. Post your thoughts as comments below. How do we frame me time as individuals, as the ‘conscious parenting movement’ and as wider society? Where does this picture of me time come from, and what need within us is this view- both the dominant cultural paradigm and our own- meeting? Whose truth are we speaking when we choose to have time to ourselves, or choose not to have time to ourselves?
My own mothering has been guided, to some extent, by the archetypal Great Mother. Along with the media (which is somewhat a modern day archetype system, or at least, it’s antithesis!), this collective view of the qualities a mother should encapsulate- deep love, intuition, self sacrifice and patience, can be a pervasive influence on how we choose to mother, and specifically in this case, how we choose to manage and balance our own needs with that of our family.
Shari Thurer, in her book The Myths of Motherhood states: “To confess being in conflict about mothering is tantamount to being a bad person; it violates a taboo; and worse, it feels like a betrayal of one’s child. In an age that regards mothers’ negative feelings as potentially toxic to their children, it has become mandatory to enjoy parenting.”[i]
As resonant as the archetypal unconscious is to me, I would like to challenge how we may choose to interpret these images. Archetypes, at least, in this case, are ideals. Ideals are something we can aim for, but will never achieve. We can take wisdom from the Great Mother, and inspiration, solace and guidance. But are we misusing the archetype by taking the qualities on to the same degree, and using it as a basis for self judgement?
Having time to yourself- in an appropriate balance to your child and family’s needs (and of course, this is the challenge)- can be beneficial in ways we do not often think about.
Time away from parenthood allows us the time and space to reflect on our experiences and intergrate the learnings we have had, both consciously and subconsciously. As a result, we continue to grow as a parent, and as an individual. Without this, the more negative parts of parenthood- perhaps resentments, fears or anger- get locked away and manifest in more bewildering and confusing ways.
Additionally, Jennifer Louden, author of The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book, states that time for self allows a mother to role model healthy views of women as worthwhile; it allows parents to model healthy boundaries; and facilitates for greater alertness and responsiveness when returning to your child. Furthermore, in extreme cases of self sacrifice, a codependant relationship with your child may be formed, restricting them from developing their own identity and path, and that of yourself.[ii]
Self renewal- that is, time to ourselves, undertaking the activities or lack of activities that nurture us on a deep level- is our greatest responsibility, and one only we ourselves can undertake. In fact, acknowledging and acting on this responsibility appears to be one of the greatest challenges of renewal itself. So consider, why is taking responsibility for our self renewal so confronting? What does it say about ourselves, and our place in the world, and our experience of life?
[i] Shari Thurer, Ph.D. (1994) The Myths of Motherhood: How Culture Reinvents the Good Mother Houghton-Mifflin
[ii] Jennifer Louden (1995) The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book Harper Collins: New York