It doesn't matter if you're a working mum, a stay-at-home mum, or a combination of the two. It doesn't matter how old your children are, if they are well-behaved, or if they are troublemakers. Being a mum is rewarding, but also extremely exhausting.
Parents deserve a break, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to take a break either. Whenever you start to feel bad about leaving them with the babysitter or dropping them at a friend’s house, or giving them control of the iPad, lose the guilt! Lee Sutherland, director of Fitness in the City, and Kylie Ostle, director of MumSociety, weigh in on the importance of setting aside some adult time every once in awhile.
Balancing family needs and work can seem like an impossible feat. Fortunately, no one is perfect and at the end of the day, doing your best is all that matters. Sometimes your best requires a breather too, and that's perfectly fine.
Australian society’s dominating work ethic and pressure to ‘do it all’ can make your shortcomings seem even more obvious. According to Ostle, she’s just like any other mum when it comes to feeling overwhelmed at times.
“I am extremely blunt on how challenging I have found these early years: the breastfeeding, the cooking, the cleaning and even getting from point A to point B with all children alive and fed, while juggling a busy business,” she says. “If I am outwardly giving off the vibe that I have it covered, it must be for my own benefit of survival because I am finding it a constant and daily struggle,” explains Ostle.
To add, Sutherland also recognises the fine line between the pressure society puts on mums and the undue pressure mums actually put on themselves.
“We strive to be super mums/super workers/super hustlers/super human … and I’m the first to put my hand up for doing this from time to time,” she says. “Sure, there may also be external forces coming into play (the social media stalking of other people you think have it together for one), but I think it mostly comes down to not wanting to be seen as wearing a single hat—to ‘just’ be a mum, to be ‘less’ than you were before. To prove that we’re over and beyond capable, more so now that babies are involved in the picture.”
Whether you’ve had a long day at work, have come home completely knackered and one small thing has you heading to a quiet room for a thirty-second breather, or your patience has been slowly burning all day, your personal limits change daily. It’s important to realise when you’re overwhelmed in order to establish coping mechanisms and plan. This could mean tag-teaming the kids with a partner, calling a babysitter or family member, or even handing over an iPad long enough for you to take a shower.
“At the moment, simply escaping to my new veggie garden, which is a nice walk down the long driveway, constitutes as a break,” says Sutherland. “It’s just far away enough not to hear the toddler tantrums, but close enough to sprint back when my husband yells for me when my eight-month old demands a feed.”
Whatever your limit is, listen to it. Your body, mind, and children will thank you later.
Parenting is a lot of work, mentally and physically, and it’s important to remember to take care of you, too.
“I am aware that our lives as a family will be more fulfilled if I am happy and healthy, so I try to justify my choices and alleviate at least a bit of the guilt,” says Ostle. “Many of the women I look to as leaders, don't carry guilt. They are confident in their own choices and needs. I think it comes down to space and time, creating space and making time for what you need.”
For Sutherland, exercise is one of her main kid-free outlets. “Exercise is always good. However, it’s also the first thing to get dropped when stressed, but also the number one thing to make me feel like me again,” she explains.
Parents don’t get to ‘turn off,’ so knowing when you’re running on empty and need to take a step back can make all the difference.
“I have this crazy notion in my head that, ‘if I get this, this, and this done, I can switch off'. The problem with my approach is that there is never an ‘off’ with small children, and eventually I burn out” says Ostle. “It's hard to prioritise yourself, it almost feels decadent when you do, but it is so worth it. It makes me a much better wife, mother, and person, to be honest.”
Parenting is an act of selflessness; however, it doesn’t mean you have to lose yourself completely.
“Good food and good wine,” she jokes. “Sometimes, all the space I need is to connect with hubby for an impromptu dinner.” She adds, “Solo, I love brunch with a notebook and pen and a giant brain dump. I feel cleansed when I do it.”
It’s okay to see friends, go out for meals, to an exercise class or even to the beach … without your kids in tow.
“If you don’t make time to yourself and things you enjoy, you might as well say goodbye to your identity, and hello to signs of depression and boredom,” says Sutherland. “Yes, family is 100 per cent everything, but don’t forget to put yourself first, too, sometimes!”