Putting Yourself On The Shelf? Parental Permission To Get A Life!

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Don’t expect any alarms to go off when you turn your back on the things you once loved now that you have children. Most parents are unaware of any conscious decision to put their pre-parenting dreams on hold.

It’s easy to ignore the persistent tug at your heart as you rush past the tennis court, pass open mike night, or pack away manuscripts. You may excuse your slightly quicker temper or ignore your dwindling patience, refusing to connect the dots between neglecting yourself and the negative consequences that follow.

Reprioritizing or dropping “frivolous” dreams and pursuits is the natural response to growing obligations. Shouldn’t family be fulfilling enough? And can’t solo joys be revisited once children are older and careers more solid?

Experts say that smart parents who spend even small amounts of time pursuing their own individual happiness enjoy immense benefits for both themselves and their families. Taking time for yourself, they say, is not a selfish act, but one that’s necessary to be a fulfilled, happy parent who demonstrates self-care and doesn’t tell her children to follow their bliss while ignoring her own.

Define, Acknowledge and Incorporate Bliss Into Everyday Life

It may be hard to remember what set you on fire way back when. But what (other than your children) makes time literally stand still? You’ll know when it crosses your mind because the mere thought of it will bring on strong emotion. “We let our dreams lag because our overcommitted lives make them seem impractical,” says life coach Laura Berman Fortgang, author of  Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction.

This thinking seems logical but is limiting: filling your to-do list with only items you have to accomplish leaves little time for what you really want. Such backward thinking can lead to a life of monotonous desperation lived by a grumpy, even resentful parent – the exact opposite of what you want for your children.

Once you’ve defined what’s missing, take small steps to incorporate those things into each day. Remember that time spent on yourself will be immensely beneficial to those you love. When inevitable thoughts like “I should be using this time for something productive” start to invade, know that “self” time is, in fact, very productive and can lead to more energetic enthusiasm for your family and for everyday tasks like preparing dinner or leading a meeting at work.

Revise Your To-Do List

No one thinks there is enough time in the day, but almost everyone has somewhere from which they can borrow time. Maybe you flop in front of rerun TV shows after putting your children to bed or are on countless overlapping committees. Perhaps you’re schlepping kids to extracurricular activities neither of you enjoy, out of habit instead of desire.

Ruthlessly re-evaluate every single thing on your to-do list and question whether each deserves its place there. Which really enhance you and your family’s life and long-term objectives? Which truly necessary items must be done by you alone?

“Realize that you cannot do everything and be everything for everyone. It’s perfectly ok to let go of some things so that you have time and energy for what truly matters,” explains life coach Hueina Su, author of Intensive Care for the Nurturer’s Soul. She assures clients that asking for support is not a sign of inadequacy, but an act of self-respect that both parents and children should master.

While you’re re-evaluating, explain to your family that you’ll be taking daily time for yourself. If you sense a bit of resistance, reassure them that they won’t be abandoned or negatively affected. Once they witness how much more cheerful, patient and loving you are after filling yourself up, they’ll understand that caring for you benefits everyone.

Stay the Course

Many people find that over time, saying yes to yourself and no to unworthy requests becomes easier. Still, it’s common to feel a sudden urge to start adding back more commitments out of guilt. Resist getting back on the treadmill to nowhere. Instead, build on your successes. For example, if you’re a photographer who’s enjoying your camera again, consider entering contests or being published. Keep moving forward by doing more of what’s already working.

Remember that recharging your spirit and defining yourself as something other than parent, spouse or caregiver helps you to be a better, more authentic version of yourself. “We lose ourselves because we are afraid of being selfish, but when we turn around and take care of ourselves, we actually become much happier and more generous,” says Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way.

And a parent who demonstrates the necessity of pursuing one’s heart’s desire in the face of everyday commitments is teaching her children a life-defining lesson. Your family deserves one hundred percent of the real you, not just part of you rushing around to accomplish things that aren’t truly important.

If you’ve been putting off pursuing your own interests, thinking this denial is necessary for family life, accept that this assumption may not be serving you or your family. Instead, consider discovering and following your bliss, knowing that your children will benefit and likely follow suit. 

Five Ways to Take Back Your Time

Get Organized and Calendar Yourself First: Having one central place for your daily and future obligations (with a section for each child) frees your brain to think about other things. Once you’re organized, schedule time for yourself before committing to anything else. You’ll get a clearer picture of how much “extra” time is really available for additional commitments.

Curb Your Web and TV Time. Studies show that most people waste approximately 20 percent of any given day on television and internet usage. Write down which television programs are genuinely worth your time, calendar them, and watch only those. List specific research you need from the internet and search only those topics.

Delegate and Then Lower Your Standards. Even small children and busy spouses can help with small tasks. Of course, their work likely won’t be perfect, but be grateful for their efforts – it means one less task for you.

Learn to Stall and Say No. When undesirable requests arise, ask for time to check your schedule before giving an answer. Take the time to honestly evaluate whether the task is worth your commitment. If not, be direct and say you’re sorry but you just aren’t available this time.

Pre-schedule Future Fun: Order a book you’ve been wanting to read, or plan an enjoyable weekend outing. Having something else to look forward to makes turning down requests that will interfere much easier.

Shannon M. Dean
About Shannon M. Dean

Shannon M. Dean specializes in writing about families. Her son recently enthusiastically replied “Cool mom!” when she confided her dream of writing fiction.

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