Want a crash course in managing chaos with grace? Think single parents. According to the 2021 US Census Bureau, out of 11 million single-parent families with children under age 18, nearly 80 per cent were headed by single mothers.
A Pew Research Center study found that in the U.S. nearly a quarter of children under the age of 18 live in a single-parent household, more than any of the 130 other countries and territories they surveyed. Between first and second marriages, the worldwide divorce rate is about 50%.
This leaves a lot of midlife women struggling to be the end-all, be-all for their kids, and themselves.
I was a single mum for my entire parenting career. I don’t think I ever slowed down to appreciate the extent of this until I led a nonprofit organization. I realized then what a feat that was.
Receiving complaints about being overwhelmed and fatigued from vicenarians had me reflecting upon my pre-dawn wranglings where I single-handedly got my children ready for school, went on a long commute to work, and sometimes worked overtime hours. My days culminated in running solo for nightly homework, dinner, bathtime, reading, and prayer rituals.
Carving out me-time
Single mums are like mutable rain frogs, shape-shifting throughout the day to take care of everyone’s needs, including their own. I used to turn on the TV after my kids were asleep and think, “I deserve this time!” One night, as I struggled to keep my droopy eyelids open for the long-awaited and much deserved, ‘me-time’, I saw the reflection of the screen flashing on the window behind me. I realized this was just enough stimulus to keep me awake, and it was 2 a.m. I had to get up in 4 hours. That was the last time I sacrificed my sleep, calling it self-care.
I literally got up the next morning, unplugged my TV and donated it to Goodwill. I had a stack of books by my bed that I had no time to read. I delved into them with relish. It became my bedtime ritual as I delighted with each turning page as a gift to myself. Doing something productive that expanded me as an individual while I rested and relaxed, fueled me. I began to think of other things I could do to bolster my health and well-being.
A few self-care ideas
Women over 40 have the benefit of having learned from and having been strengthened by, experiences, both good and bad. We have grown into a place where we aren’t self-conscious, and have the confidence and esteem to face a challenge and know we can overcome. Once we’ve had a baby, we realize we can do anything. That includes the seemingly herculean effort to get ‘me-time’ to rest and restore our reserves.
The most common way to invest in our well being is by counting on a support system. We can either ask our family or close friends if they can look after the kids once a week or do swap-free babysitting with some other single mums. Belonging to a single mom’s group can add lots of needed support to your life. They can share ideas with you that will help make raising your child much easier.
However, to carve out some quality time for yourself, you need to rethink the way you do it. Here’s how to take better care of yourself.
- Notice your environment
The first thing to do in order to accomplish me-time is to notice your environment. Clutter can distract you and even guilt you into cleaning, definitely not a me-time activity. It’s not necessary, but removing clutter, both physical and emotional, is a good way to start with a fresh slate.
- Get your green fingers on
Another way to brighten our lives, as well as each room, is with houseplants. Getting your green fingers on has incredibly well-documented advantages. We know walks in nature and being outdoors provides a myriad of health benefits and there is a way to obtain these benefits on a daily basis. Research shows houseplants are the ticket. Studies show indoor greenery improves air quality while reducing stress, sharpening our focus, and boosting productivity.
- Focus on time management
One way I get me-time is through more focus on time management. With 24 hours in a day, I wanted to devote at least a portion to myself. I blocked out time in my calendar for ‘writing.’ I chose the most productive part of the day, morning for me, picked a journal in my favourite colour, and began a daily routine of writing. As opposed to typing on a screen, the art of writing helps us focus, remember poignant events, and helps to clarify difficult thoughts.
- Get some me-time with your pet
I also have three dogs. When kids are around, dogs know who is the best playmate. However, when my kids are in bed or at playdates, I get some me-time with the animals. There is a reason ‘dog’ is ‘God’ spelt backwards. Dogs are sources of unconditional love. There is much science showing that time with dogs helps us feel less alone and have less stress. They help comfort us during a crisis or loss and they are literally good for our hearts. Multiple studies have also shown that dog owners had lower blood pressure.
- Enjoy micro-moments of love
Most importantly, we know that love is an essential component of our lives. Our society tends to define love in terms of romantic or long-term relationships. Most of us are aware of the research showing the multitude of benefits of being in a loving relationship. This can be stressful for those of us who are single. We can love ourselves but can we also experience love with others even if we aren’t in a relationship? The science says, however, that we can experience ‘micro-moments’ of love, or ‘positivity resonance’ as positive psychology researcher Barbara Frederickson states in her book, Love 2.0.
Love is present when we have moments of deep connection with others throughout the day, look into their eyes and have a warm feeling of belonging. This can happen anytime, anywhere, like in the checkout line in the grocery store or in a quick friendly conversation with someone in line at the post office. These ‘micro-moments of love’ can be stored up and used as a boost during low points.
Ultimately I realized the more I loved and cared for myself, the more I was able to be present and enjoy my kids, and life. By creating ‘me-time’, I model for my kids the importance of taking care of myself as well as how to do the same for themselves. This will enhance their lives and generations to come.
Rather than seeing this time as an indulgence, I see it as a way of growing into my best self. This renewed energy enabled me to be present and feel awe in the little moments rather than languish in fatigue. I will never regret setting aside time for me in order to offer the best version of myself to others. Time is not a renewable resource but making time for yourself does renew you.