The first time I ever heard the phrase “me time” was when I was six months pregnant sitting in my obstetrician’s waiting room. The woman next to me was newly pregnant with a toddler climbing on her. “Enjoy your ‘me time’ while you can,” she said wistfully, gesturing to my stomach. The idea of savoring time to myself was foreign to me—all of my free time was “me time,” after all. And while that beleaguered expectant mom with a toddler was the first to tell me to enjoy time to myself while I could, she’s not been the last.
There are articles about it, classes and retreats devoted to it, entire experiences that revolve around this magical thing known as “me time.” Wine and paint parties, girls’ nights at the club or the movie theater, sumptuous brunches, an afternoon of Netflix and a nap while someone else watches the kids. It all sounds so good, right?
When I was single, and then before I had kids, there was no need to carve out time for myself. I didn’t have to schedule a movie date with friends a month in advance and if I wanted to spend time alone with my husband, we just spontaneously did it. Imagine it, if you can, because I can’t anymore.
Like every other mom in the history of motherhood, spontaneity went out the window when I had kids. And so did my time to myself, despite my best efforts to make sure I maintained my friendships and interests. Oh, they didn’t disappear entirely. But becoming a mom changed things—and it’s something every mom knows, no matter how much we try to maintain our pre-kid lifestyle.
Gone are the days of long leisurely lunches and coffee dates with friends. When you’re a mom, you eat as quickly and efficiently as possible and drink your coffee on the go. Sure, you can get a babysitter for a few hours, but childcare isn’t cheap. Money is tighter than it once was when you’re buying diapers and baby food, and it doesn’t get any cheaper when the kids are older and need new sneakers every six months. Lunch is a luxury and coffee is something to drink at home, standing up in the kitchen while you wonder what that wet spot on the floor might be.
I didn’t call it “me time” before I had kids because I didn’t know anything else—my life revolved around my own interests, and then it revolved around being half of a couple where the other person was completely capable of managing on his own without me, should I choose to leave the house. Then we had children and suddenly everyone was talking about how important it was to carve out the all-important “me time” for myself.
It was strictly a mom thing—no one was concerned I wasn’t getting enough time to myself before I had kids. But had they always been talking about it and I just hadn’t noticed because I wasn’t a mom yet? Was this some hot new trend spawned by celebrity moms who were trying to market wine and yoga retreats? I don’t know when the term came into use, I only know I haven’t gone a week since I had kids without hearing it, thinking about it or being directed to take it by well-meaning friends.
It’s not like I don’t try to plan time for myself, I do. But it has long since started to feel futile. I wonder if I am trying to schedule “me time” because I really want it or just to prove the point that yes, I am a mom, but I still have a life beyond my kids. Once, in a week-long process of trying to coordinate a get together with two other mom friends who also had busy schedules, I realized it was literally taking us longer to plan our girls’ night than our girls’ night would actually last. Spoiler: the girls’ night never happened because we were never all available at the same time. See what I mean about futile?
That’s what it’s like to be a mom—sometimes you desperately want and need some time to yourself, but by the time you get to the time, you’re worn out from the logistics of planning something that seems as complicated as a NASA mission. The thing is, I didn’t really miss that girls’ night as much as I think I was supposed to. Apparently, I am a failure at both scheduling “me time” and actually wanting it.
I know on one level that free time is still important even if I have to work at it. It’s a way of recharging and recentering after having my focus turned outward almost all of the time. But between work and kids, house and pets, I just don’t have the energy to invest in planning an outing that will likely get cancelled at least once before it happens, if it happens at all. I’m grateful for the occasional date night with my husband and a quick (often accidental) coffee date with a friend between errands.
Sure, I still sometimes miss the free time I used to have to do whatever I want, but no matter how many spa days, paint nights and weekend getaways I might plan, “me time” feels like an illusion. It’s me trying to turn back time and be the person I was before I had kids. Which isn’t possible—and I don’t even want to be that woman now.
Sure, it’s nice to get a break from all the momming sometimes, but even when I’m supposed to be focused on myself, I’m still carrying my kids around in my mind. I’m thinking about what they need, wondering what they’re doing and jumping whenever my phone rings because even when I’m getting my “me time,” I’m still on mom duty. It never stops, it never goes away and they are never out of my thoughts because that’s what it means to be a mom. And, really, I’m okay with that.
It took me awhile to realize that being a mom didn’t just mean I had a couple of extra people in my life. The cliché is true: once you become a mom, your life is changed forever. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a different reality. And while there was a time when every free hour was my own, I neither need nor want that to be my life right now.
These days, I’m happy with an hour of grocery shopping alone or sitting in the coffee shop drinking a mocha while I read a magazine or a book that’s grown dusty sitting on my bedside table. I’m not scrambling to fill a couple of free hours with social time; I’m not planning couples’ vacations and lining up babysitters. My free time isn’t what it used to be before I had kids, or what it was when I was a new mom, desperate for some sense of pre-kid normalcy. Now I see that “normal” is the life I’m living and “me time” is however I choose to spend those few hours I get to myself. To be honest, it’s nice to simply be alone sometimes, no matter how boring it sounds.
As much as I love who I was before I had kids, I love who I am now even more. Missing them and feeling guilty about being away from them are a part of my life now and it’s not always easy to find room for everything I want to do, or muster the energy to do it. My life is full, and that’s pretty wonderful. But just like my life before kids, this time while they’re young and really need me around won’t last forever either. It’s another stage of my life, one where my “me time” is simmering on the back burner while I focus on and take care of them. The time will come, probably sooner than I would like, when they’ll be running off with their friends, getting their own “me time” (even though they won’t call it that). I’ll still worry and think about them, but they won’t need me as much and my time will once again be my own.
I’m looking forward to reclaiming my free time one day, but I’m really in no rush to get there because my time is filled with some pretty great things right now.