The Importance of "Me" Time During Parenthood

Sometimes you have to prioritize a little time to yourself

Woman relaxing

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There are prenatal classes to prepare you for childbirth. There are parenting books to instruct you on feeding and sleeping routines. There are older family members just bursting with advice on the “right” way to discipline your child.

Why are there no directions on caring for yourself when becoming a parent?

Your Life Isn't Yours Anymore

New parents often are unprepared for the change that comes when bringing home their first child. Suddenly your life isn’t yours anymore. You’re sharing it with another little person who places near-constant demands on your time.

Gone are the quiet mornings with just you and your coffee. Gone are the hours on the phone with your best friend. Gone are leisurely soaks in the tub. You can’t even brush your teeth by yourself anymore.

The sudden loss of “me time” can be a shock.

Every Parent Feels It

Introvert parents, those who thrive on alone time, may struggle most at first. But even extrovert parents, those who thrive when socializing with others, will eventually feel the stress of parenting.

Any adult needs more of a social outlet than another round of Candy Land or an ongoing conversation about Legos. 

How to Find Relief From Parenting Stress

When parents come to me desperate for relief from their adorable children, here’s what I tell them:

Know That Nothing Is Wrong With You

Nothing is wrong with needing a break. It doesn’t mean you’re not a good parent. And it doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. Everyone needs me time—even though it’s not easy to come by in early parenthood. Enjoying occasional time away from your kids will help you parent better when you’re with them.

Schedule Some Time Off

Plan for your partner or another family member to take the kids while you take a break. Put it on the calendar. Even 30 minutes to stroll around the block (alone) or read a magazine is worth it. Knowing you have me time to look forward to can help improve your mood when parenting stress is high.

Make the Time Count

Don’t waste your alone time on activities that aren’t meaningful to you—like sorting through junk mail or watching whatever happens to be on TV. Do an activity that you really want to do, whether it’s going to yoga class, playing guitar, or scrapbooking. Otherwise, you won’t feel refueled when the time is over. Make sure your time is restorative. 

Let Go of Perfection

When you have extra time during your baby’s afternoon nap or your toddler’s favorite TV show, don’t run yourself ragged trying to finish your to-do list. It’s ok if everything doesn’t get done. Instead of pushing yourself to keep your house as tidy as it was before kids, embrace the chaos as part of parenting.

Be Present in the Moment

Rather than stressing about the work or other tasks waiting for you, practice mindfulness. Give your full attention to finger painting, making grilled cheese sandwiches, or folding laundry.

Release your mind from worrying about what you’re not doing so you can live well in the present.

How Much Do You Really Need That Time Alone?

Most parents would enjoy more time to themselves. But convincing yourself that you can’t live without alone time may make you feel worse. Rather than dwelling on how deprived you are, focus on how well you’re parenting.

Parenting is tough, so it makes sense that we need to toughen ourselves up a bit. There is no effortless path up this mountain. Remember, the 24/7 job of parenting is only for a season. As your children grow and mature, you’ll find more alone time returning to your schedule.

Dr. Bea is a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic. He specializes in cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and treatment of anxiety disorders.

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