As a mother, it’s rare that I get time off.
As a single mother, taking time off happens more than it did as a married mother, oddly enough. My children’s father does regularly take our children for his visitation weekends, so I get approximately 48 hours out of 2 weeks without child care responsibilities.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I get to relax.
I usually take that time to do those things that are harder to do when my children are with me — like getting the oil changed on my van, or washing my kitchen floor.
Truly taking some time off is a lot harder. Even when my children aren’t physically with me, I’m usually doing something that will help take care of them – chores, laundry, planning, working or shopping. It’s rare that I will actually take time to take care of myself.
But that makes the few moments I do get to relax all that much more special.
Downtime for busy moms is difficult. Whether you’re single, or married, downtime often gets neglected. If you’re working outside the home or from home, homeschooling or running kids to and from school, or some combination of the above, downtime is necessary. \
Without downtime, we risk burnout. We can’t be the best mom (or wife or friend or employee) without having some time off.
What is downtime?
Downtime is time spent on things that are fun, relaxing and enjoyable. It usually has no other purpose than that enjoyment of the activity.
Sure, you may enjoy spending time with your kids and playing with them, but no matter how much fun it is, you still have the burden of ensuring they are safe, at the very least. It’s not time off.
You may actually have fun grocery shopping, but it’s still about taking care of your family. I like to do laundry — but it’s not exactly relaxing. The concept of “relaxing chores” is an oxymoron, no matter how much you like to clean.
A friend of mine used to claim that her best therapy for when she was stressed was to clean something. It helped her calm down and process her emotions, deal with the situation and even figure out solutions.
But to truly relax, she had to stop cleaning and go do something else – read a book, go out for dinner, or go dancing with a bunch of friends.
Why do we need to take time off?
There are 4 good reasons … and probably more, but these are my 4 main reasons for taking some time off from my regular routine.
First, taking time off gives a rest to my brain.
I can get so caught up in my to-do list, and what I need to do next, that it affects my sleep. I can lay there with my eyes closed, and just be going over my calendar… “don’t forget to get milk tomorrow” “need to call that client back” “mark L.’s history workbook” “pay the electricity bill” and on and on and on.
But if I take some time to just relax, I sleep better and I feel better. My brain gets a chance to recharge and reset. My memory improves, my problem solving gets faster, and my creativity skyrockets. I need to take time off to rest my brain.
Second, taking time off lets me indulge in a forgotten hobby.
We are more than just moms and teachers and friends and partners. We are women and we have interests outside of our children, relationships and jobs. Taking the time off to pursue those interests helps keep our identities firmly in mind, and makes us interesting people to know.
I love to follow baseball and watch my local baseball team play.. and it gives me topics of conversation besides my children’s latest funny saying or my newest work-related project. When I pursue my hobbies, it makes my relationships stronger and richer. I need to take that time off to indulge in my past times.
Third, taking time off gives me a change in perspective.
You know the old saying about the forest and the trees? Sometimes you’re so close to the situation, so connected emotionally, you can’t see the big picture. Taking the time off lets me take a step back and get a different perspective. In turn, that lets me see new solutions or emotional connections that I may not have been able to see before.
The change in perspective can take the anger out of an interaction with your partner, the hurt out of the passing comments by your client or boss, and the frustration out of the issue with your child. We need to take the time off to get that new perspective on things.
Fourth, taking time off helps me truly relax.
Relaxing is essential to good health! Doctors have been telling us for years that stress leads to heart disease, obesity, cancers and other major health problems. We aren’t designed to be constantly under stress. The hormones released in our bodies from ever-present stress can do damage if they are prolonged, similiar to the rust on a car’s body, when left untreated. Taking time off helps reduce those stress-related symptoms. It’s like getting a full car tune-up, making sure we’re ready to go on the road. We need to take the time to relax, on a regular basis.
Taking time off regularly can help rest our brains, improving memory and creativity; indulge in hobbies, making our relationships richer; give us changes in perspective, letting us let go of negative emotions; and truly relax, letting our bodies recuperate from excess stress. It’s a necessary thing, but it can be incredibly difficult to accomplish. Downtime gets neglected, especially when you’re a busy mom.
How can we take time off?
I have four ways to improve your chances of taking time off, and actually making it work.
1. Schedule it.
Downtime won’t happen unless you plan for it. Put it on your calendar. Let those who are part of your family and work circles know that you are taking some time off — or they may infringe on it. And if you have problems saying no, well.. so much for the time off. Make sure you put your time off on your schedule, and protect it!
2. Focus when you work.
The easiest way to make sure you have time to take off is to focus when you are working. Whether its on housework, spending time with your kids, or actually doing something you get paid to do, focus on it. You’ll get more done, faster — and being in the habit of focusing will make sure you don’t get work-creep into your time off.
3. Make a list of downtime activities.
So you’ve scheduled the time off, and you’ve made sure you have the time to do it by focusing on the work that needed to get done.. now what? Sometimes we neglect downtime because we don’t know what to do when we do get time off. So we go back to work stuff, or kid stuff, or house stuff.. never truly relaxing. Fix this by making a list of those activities that you truly enjoy — or would like to explore! It doesn’t have to be a long list. Maybe you’d like to see a movie, or try out painting. Maybe it’s picking up a new book by a popular author, or signing up for a yoga class. Or maybe it’s as simple as promising yourself a pedicure. Write down a list of 4 or 5 things you’d like to do the next time you get the time to do it.
4. Know what works for you.
Downtime is an extremely personal thing. It wouldn’t exactly be fun or relaxing for me to see a horror movie, but maybe zombies and ax-wielding maniacs are so your thing? I love baseball, but perhaps that’s a little slow for you — and you prefer the speed and excitement of basketball. While I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone and try new things, you know you better than me. Take time off, whether that’s a cold drink, a good book and a warm beach, or going for a run in the woods. Do whatever it is you find fun.
Downtime can be hard to do, but its so needed.
Take the time off – plan for it, focus, figure out what’s fun and go do it. Happy relaxing!