Stephanie Thomas

Confession: Most nights, my husband and I land on the couch—after bedtime stories and kisses and prayers and questions and answers and water cups and one more song, just one more, pretty please—and we say, “Gah, those kids are cute.” 

I mean, yeah, we’re exhausted. And sure, we don’t exactly know what we’re doing. But we’re parents. We can’t help but adore ’em. 

Still. We’re people too. 

Why then, does it take so much energy to lift ourselves back up off the sofa and do something we really enjoy with those precious nighttime hours? Can you relate? 

When it comes to my two boys, I’m all in. Not perfect, mind you. Not even close. More like doing the research, planning the adventures, and making sure their daily boxes are checked: 

  • Play outside: Yep.
  • Schoolwork: Done.
  • Free time: Plenty.
  • Parent time: You got it.
  • Fruit: Demolished.
  • Veggies: Offered.
  • Books: Read and reread.
  • Current developmental struggle: Aqaduately stressed over. 

Minimums met, I pat myself on the back and end the day with “The Office” and a load of dishes. 

But what about my boxes? What about yours? What about the things that are good for oursouls?

According to recent studies, parents spend five hours each day worrying about their children and just 32 minutes doing what they want. And those 32 minutes, for some folks, might include worrying about their children. 

Nevermind the fact that parents now spend more time than ever with their kids without reaping any real benefits. 

Staying home with my family for most of 2020 brought about plenty of sweet, cherished moments. But it also showed me just how much of a priority I put on my kids’ needs and how little I put on my own. 

The truth is: The less I care about myself, the less I’m able to care for them. It makes sense, right? When our kids move beyond our everything to our only thing, we risk becoming demanding, short-tempered, and self-loathing. 

As Ned Johnson and William Stixrud, authors of The Self-Driven Child wrote, “Other than showing your child love and affection, managing your own stress is the best thing you can do to be an effective parent.” Noted.

I had a bit of a wake-up call recently, walking through my living room, surrounded by quiet. The boys were busy drawing, my husband working, and I found myself in between tasks completely unnerved

What to do with this calm, quiet moment? I had no clue. Scroll through Instagram? Join my boys for some art? Pop a podcast in my ears and pretend the house was noisy again? 

I resisted. I sat and thought. Like really thought. The moment didn’t last long. Minutes later I found myself surrounded by construction paper and pride as I moved on to another item on my to-do list. 

But the seed was planted. The next day I said to my husband, “I’m gonna go for a walk every morning. Would you mind taking care of breakfast?” He agreed as I pulled on my shoes, walked out the door, and called my mom—free of interruption.

I made a stack of long-forgotten books and I’m plowing through them in 15-minute increments while I scarf down lunch. I pulled out my personal list of goals for the year and stared down THE BIG ONE. With a gulp, I committed to a time and place for chipping away at it. 

I ordered nail polish in an impractical color and trimmed my own bangs when I should have been cleaning the kitchen. I met a friend at a playground known for containing kids and we talked—for three whole hours!

I’m working on making time for my own boxes. I’m still nowhere near perfection. I still have so much learning and growing to do. I’m still getting things wrong.

And yet I’m finding ease in adding a few new boxes to my parenting checklist—boxes with a little more me in mind: 

  • Asking a kid to hang out just because I feel like it: well, that’s a nice change.
  • Setting boundaries on what’s expected of me: now we’re talking, mama.
  • Letting a long-term perspective—not present moments—guide my thoughts: ahhhh.

As I write, my husband sits on the couch next to me, playing his guitar through an amp. It’s a bit loud and I worry he might wake the boys. But I say nothing—he’s got boxes he needs to check off for himself too. 

5 Quick and Easy Ways to Take Time for Yourself

Wanna check your own boxes but aren’t sure where to start—or if you even have the time? We’ve got you covered:

  1. Take time to think. In the shower, on your stoop, on the way to grab groceries-—use these little moments to plan and dream. 
  2. Take time to not think. Exercise, set a timer and zone out, listen to music and sing from memory. 
  3. Take time to be alone. Go for a walk, go for a drive, send your family away for the afternoon, saying, with a smile, “I don’t care where you go, but you can’t stay here.” 
  4. Take time with someone you enjoy. Call a friend, plan a game night with your spouse, schedule regular socially-distant meetups with your favorite pals. 
  5. Take time for something you enjoy. Revive an old hobby, pick up a new one, pair a gripping audiobook with a boring chore. 

Go ahead and sneak a moment to yourself. Or boldly declare that you’re taking the day off. We’re behind you either way. 

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Waste is dumped into the ocean daily

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“We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be. The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.”

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Trash destroys the ocean biochemistry

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