Monday, September 7, 2009

Avoiding "me time": Letting guilt go too far?

I went in to work crazy-early the other day, so that I could leave crazy-early and meet up with an old friend whom I hadn't seen in far too long. A coworker stopped by my desk as I was packing up, and so I explained what was going on.

She gasped. "You're... actually doing something FOR YOURSELF?"

I immediately felt a little guilty. And sheepish. Until I looked her in the eye and saw that she was actually cheering me on.

And then, a confession: She had hired a sitter to come over after she picked her baby up from daycare, so that she could go out and use the spa gift certificate her husband had given her for Mother's Day four months ago. It's been sitting there, unused, because she hadn't felt like she could carve out an hour or so to do something for herself after work if her child was awake.

Working moms talk a lot about guilt: how they don't feel guilty about having their kids in care, or how they kind of do but know they're doing the right thing for their family. But, as I explain over at The 36-Hour Day, this isn't a guilt thing. Well, it is, but it's not a guilt-about-having-your-kid-in-daycare thing. It's feeling like you spend so much time at work that, when you're not at the office, you want to spend time with your child -- and if you don't, you feel guilty about it. Doing something for yourself just doesn't seem as important.

But sometimes it is. Or, at least, it should be.

Take a moment to think about what you'd normally be doing with that time. Me, I would normally be rushing to beat the preschool clock, but my husband was working from home that day -- couldn't he pick the kids up from preschool instead? Yes, he could. Which meant that I could come home an hour later than usual and still have plenty of time for playing and stories and putting them to bed. My coworker realized that she normally would be struggling to feed her not-yet-1-year-old dinner while he was distracted and wanting to play with her. Why not have the babysitter, whom he adores, feed him dinner that night, without distractions? She'd come back relaxed and ready to play, and her not-yet-1-year-old would be fed and ready to play, too.

It doesn't seem like that big of a deal, as I write about it now. What was I so worried about when I was trying to figure out the scheduling?

As working moms, we often fall into the trap of judging ourselves (and others) based on the quantity of time we spend with our kids, rather than the quality. Or the trap of trying to be Super Mom, doing it all even when we don't have to. We talk about striving for work-life balance, forgetting that we are the fulcrums upon which that balance rests.

It's amazing the difference an hour or two can make. I came home feeling not relaxed, but recharged, and a little bit reconnected with the part of myself that isn't "just a mom." And my kids? They didn't even notice I was late.

What was the last thing you did for yourself?

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