CEL Summer Masthead

Monday Moment: Kick the co-curricular guilt

Emma Grey

I had an email this week.

It was from a full-time working mum of a toddler, whose husband stays at home as the full-time parent. The challenge outlined was this:

“Aside from the standard guilt I feel for being absent during the week, I really struggle with co-curricular activity guilt. I feel like because I am so absent during the week, that I can’t / shouldn’t take time for myself on the weekends or after work in that short and precious time I have with my son. I find it really overwhelming. I’m assuming I’m not alone in this…”

Very much not alone.

In the seventeen years that I’ve been a parent, I think there isn’t one mode of ‘work and family’ that I haven’t experienced.

I had a full year with my baby at home on leave, returned full-time, ten months at home on leave with my second, returned part-time/job-share, upped to full-time for several years, left my job, started a business, worked full-time from home, had my third baby, wrangled the family and business from home and am now looking forward to my youngest starting school next year, which will make things slightly easier. (I say, despite experience telling me the school years are no picnic either!)

Throughout all of it—during every incarnation of ‘juggle’—I’ve needed ‘me time’. And the time I’ve taken for self-care, relaxation, friendship and fun has only ever enhanced our family, my health (physical and mental), my relationships, friendships and parenting.

Think back to the last truly fun or relaxing time ‘off’ that you had. Try to re-capture the way you felt at the end of it. That liberating or relaxed feeling of having unwound.

Compare that to the last long stretch of pure ‘slog’, without a break or space just for you.

  • In which scenario do you show up as the better parent? Which helps you be more calm and patient and more genuinely engaged? (Not just reading the story on auto-pilot, wondering when your Netflix time starts…)
  • In which scenario are you the better partner? More interested and connected.
  • In which scenario are you at your best at work?

There was an old saying, ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life.’ I find it out-dated and sexist, but the premise is spot on. Happy partner, happy life. Happy parent, happy life.

Happy person. Happy life.

There’s a concept called the ‘Third Space’. It’s that place that all of us need—every person—partnered, single, people with kids, people without kids, people who work outside the home and people work inside it. People who do both. Anyone.

Our ‘Third Space’ is that place where we get to be ourselves, express ourselves, relax, unwind, be exhilarated… whatever floats our boats. Without it, everything becomes two-dimensional. Everything becomes tougher.

Practically speaking, how can this work for the person who emailed me?

I’m willing to bet that your husband is keen for his own ‘Third Space’. Each of you are contributing equally (if differently) to your family. Each deserves a break.

I’d sit down and map out a plan that sees you both having exclusive, one-on-one time with your little boy. Because that’s the result of ensuring you both have ‘me time’.

In my family, this means that every Sunday morning, without fail, I go to my walking/jogging/running/breakfast group. It’s as much the part of our household schedule as Christmas. And my husband is at every home game of the Brumbies, and other games during the season.

There are other times we both do things without each other and the kids, but these things are non-negotiable. They’re part of the glue that holds us together as a family unit.

If you’re:

  • Having fun
  • Making memories
  • Having time together as a whole family
  • Having time apart as individuals
  • Having time as each parent with each child
  • Having time together as a couple

It’s an equation that really works.*

*I’ve been a single parent too, and understand those particular challenges. It’s the subject of another column, but many parts of this one still apply.

Image via ‘Pretty young girl relaxes at home with tea and a book‘ via Shutterstock

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Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

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