By Bev and Phil Haas
Q: I’ve been trying to set aside time for myself, but I feel guilty when I do. Should I try to schedule time just for me, or should I devote myself entirely to being a mom and wife, knowing that my time will come later?
A: Experts are concerned about the damage to women’s health when they fail to make themselves a priority. A poll published by the American Psychological Association found that 25 percent more women than men feel stressed about the economy. Women often have a tendency to feel responsible for those around them. They have been raised to please others, and that’s how they define their self-worth. Debbie Mandel, a stress-management author, calls it “stress addiction.” Author Deborah Roth Ledley suggests even more strongly that we have “a little of the martyr complex” and think everything will fall apart if we’re not there.
Psychologists (and probably the rest of your family) would say that having a special time when you sit back and relax on your own could make the difference between a happy version of you and one that is completely stressed and overworked. If you are rested and restored, you’ll be more responsive to your family and more fun to be around.
Being a wife and mother doesn’t change the fact that you are a woman with emotional, physical, and mental needs. Marianne Lagato, a cardiologist, Health Advisory Board member, and author of Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget, notes, “If you never have any time except reactive time—things you must do for others—you don’t have a sense of control. You are interrupted all the time. Your brain has trouble resting even during sleep. Such chronic exhaustion increases the release of stress hormones, and your blood sugar rises.” That means you’re at risk of diabetes, heart disease, memory problems, and weight gain!
Learn to strike a balance and take care of yourself. Before takeoff, a flight attendant will remind you, in case of an emergency, to put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then on your child. In a similar way, you need to be in a good state before you can be there and be reliable and responsible for others. You’re also modeling to your children that it’s important for them to take care of themselves.
What to Do
Taking time to unwind doesn’t have to be fancy or special. Just find a time to unplug, go away, and do something you really enjoy. I find it hard to believe, but some women take enjoyment from ironing; for me, that would be an obligation (if I even owned an iron!). Instead, an enjoyable time for me is retreating with a good book to the sunroom in the winter or the hammock hanging under the trees during pleasant weather. I enjoy beach vacations as much as the next person, but withdrawing once or twice a year isn’t enough. What do you enjoy? Taking a bath? Watching a movie? Scrapbooking? What is uplifting to one person may be depressing to another. It’s your time, so you get to decide.
How to Do It
Figuring out what to do will be the easy part. The difficult part will be making time—and giving yourself permission to take time—for yourself. Make an executive decision and set aside one hour a day. If you truly can’t take an hour, then take four 15-minute breaks during the day. Those quick breaks will give you a burst of energy and rejuvenation. (You’ll probably also be more patient with those around you.) Generally our work expands to fill the time we have, so my guess is that the hour won’t have that big of an impact on your schedule or workload. But it will make your hours of work more productive, and you will be more motivated.
I am not a morning person, but many moms wake up an hour early to have some private quiet time. That never worked for me; my time came in the afternoon or early evening. You are going to have to find what works best for you.
As Pat Summitt, former University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach, says, “Left foot, right foot, breathe.” Take some time to breathe now. The writer of Ecclesiastes observed, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity” (3:1). Take a season (a break) to reclaim your spirit.
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children and they have two grandsons.