Mothers' Little Helpers?
July 1, 2010 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Moms and Dads - what are your tricks for giving yourself a mental lift when finding "me time" is unlikely?

I'm a SAHM to two toddlers. Most days just getting a bathroom break to myself is a luxury. All of my pre-offspring mood-lifting techniques (exercise, creative endeavors, deep conversations with friends or spouse, even favorite music or movie viewings) are rendered useless or impossible by kiddie interruptions.

Currently, some of my tricks for getting through the day involve copious amounts of black coffee and handfuls of M&M's at various times of the day. Not ideal, I know.

But I just discovered a trick that gives me a modest psychological boost: a spritz of a favorite perfume helps me feel like my old put-together self, as long as I don't pass any mirrors, that is.

Which makes me think there may be other simple ways to trick my mind into transcending the daily grind. What works for you?
posted by anemone to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Is there any reason you can't get a babysitter for a few hours one day a week?
posted by WeekendJen at 12:30 PM on July 1, 2010

Do you have a two kiddie stroller? I used to babysit a toddler for 8 hour stretches, and we both loved going for walks. It gave me some exercise and fresh air and let him get out and look at things.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:42 PM on July 1, 2010

If the toddlers are older than 14 mo. or so, I think you can gently introduce me time while you're watching them. Honestly, I used to just put some unfamiliar toys (or real life items) on the floor in the living room, put up a gate so the kids couldn't escape, then lie down on the couch. Let them get used to you resting nearby. You need to recharge. When kid #1 was about that age I also started meditating. I'd sit quietly in his room while he played. Sometimes he joined me, sometimes he didn't.
posted by Yoshimi Battles at 12:44 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Here's my favorite trick:
come up with a game which requires you (the parent) to lie down. 2 suggestions:

1. Be the mountain. Have your kids use blocks or bits of paper/cardboard/chalk/plain imagination to build roads, then drive small cars on the roads. You are the mountain. They drive the cars over you as they go from the farm to the school, or wherever.

2. Hospital - you are the patient. If you have put cups and juice boxes in a kid-friendly place in the kitchen, your little ones can bring you a pretend snack. If you have one of those play doctor kits, they can bandage your arm/head, they can take your temperature and blood pressure, and they can gently rub your temples or your shoulders while singing you a lullaby.

Oh, just thought of another one:
3. Build a Lego/Duplo structure that completely encloses your foot or hand. You can't move while they build it.

4. Little girls especially will play beauty parlor and will comb your hair while you sit quietly.
posted by CathyG at 12:48 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a really drool-inducing end-of-day snack in the wings. Sometimes it's a really good stuffed roti from a particular take-away; I buy in quantity and freeze them. Sometimes it's an overly elaborate little pizza (Mr Kmennie: "Oh, it's your evening pizza"), sometimes... Last night it was just a thing of root beer and some good potato chips, junk I don't normally eat. Usually it is some sort of better take-away, though; pre-parenthood I really enjoyed cooking, still do, but now it has to be made by somebody else to qualify as "treat"!

I initially used this as a weight loss scheme; I was fine with not eating so much during the day so long as I had the meal waiting in the wings for the evening. I lost the weight and the habit hung on as a Mummy treat. A proper drink with dinner is nice, too.

A cup or two of dried lentils or rice or similar is cheap and easy to sweep up if you need a new and highly absorbing plaything; occasionally I encourage a mess on the kitchen floor and thus manage to sit or make a telephone call or something else similarly exotic.
posted by kmennie at 12:51 PM on July 1, 2010

I'd throw in a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD, one narrated by George Carlin, and every now and then I'd imagine that Henry was referring to Thomas as a fucking cocksucker.
posted by bondcliff at 12:55 PM on July 1, 2010 [14 favorites]

Do you play an instrument, like keyboards or guitar? I like to play my electric keyboard for my daughter. My 25-month-old and I sing songs together (not well, of course) and it's fun to do. Not pure "me time," but you're not going to get that unless you have a babysitter come, or start having them go to Parent's Morning Out or a similar program.
posted by FergieBelle at 1:39 PM on July 1, 2010

It's really hard. Toddlers require an enormous amount of energy and there is a certain amount of stoic powering-through required. Take some comfort in the fact that things will continue to get easier with time.

In terms of specific tips:

- Socializing with other, like-minded parents where our kids played some and we could share stories some helped me a bit. It wasn't "easier" exactly, because helping toddlers get along is challenging, but it did distract me and help me feel less isolated.

- Getting outside as much as possible helped. Fresh air and sun keeps kids happier and made my overwhelm less. Finding ways to exercise a bit yourself (jogging stroller?) is a great idea.

- Seeking out free or low-cost community services for kids like library story hour, mommy-and-me swimming or music classes, etc, helped provide some external structure and distraction for me.

The very best parenting advice I've ever received went something like this: If your kid is bugging the shit out of you, pick her up, sit her in your lap, stare straight into her eyes, and just listen and hold her for a few minutes.

It's amazing how much it helps to give up on trying to do the fifty-million other things we try to get done while we're caring for our kids. Even if you can only give that up for a few minutes.
posted by serazin at 1:44 PM on July 1, 2010

My sister would sign up for ANYTHING that included childcare as part of the deal at the various local community centers - pastry baking, oil painting for beginners, yoga, you name it, she took it, because it got her out of the house and forced her to at least put her hair up in a ponytail and try to find a shirt with the least stains on it. She was at breaking point, her husband was traveling nonstop, and we all lived too far away to be of any help during the day.

She makes a lovely philo dough now.
posted by micawber at 1:59 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

This question could have been posted by myself. My boys are 3 and 1 and now that preschool is closed for the summer I find myself 12 hours a day constantly with them. The other 12 hours they're asleep, thought the 1 year-old still wakes up to nurse a lot so no movies for me. I hate to watch a movie and then have to interrupt. Besides Sometimes he wakes up once, sometimes it's 8 times. Anyway.

We have a nice routine: knowing exactly what comes next gives you an instant mental lift.

Wake up, hubby prepares breakfast while they play with Lego duplo or the myriad other toys they have. Sometimes this involves watching Pocoyo on the iPad as well. I get dressed and I get 10 minutes of precious time all for myself. I can do lots of things, like pluck unwanted hairs, poop (yes I do that), put away clean laundry, etc.
Eat breakfast and squeeze in some adult conversation with hubby there and then. Ignore the monkeys while they eat their egg even if they make a mess. I used to fret about the mess and then realized that I have to clean more or less the same whether it's a total disaster or just some spills here and there, so I just let them have breakfast without intervention.
Send them off to play while I clean said mess.

Once the house is in a state that won't send me into total despair when I get back from running errands we go run errands! Get dressed and out of the house. We are lucky because we live in a small town and we walk or ride bikes everywhere so we kill a lot of time. We get back, prepare lunch, eat lunch, clean up. Just like with breakfast. 1 yo naps. and 3yo watches a video while I sit on the couch, close my eyes and thank the universe for everything. Then I do with 3yo things we cannot do when 1 yo is around, like learning to read, paint or do puzzles. Once 1yo wakes up, we put on shoes and get our of the house. We choose the playground and we hit it. There they play freely while I sit and stare at the trees. Or something like that. Three hours later, we head back home and prepare supper. After supper they play, I clean up and then shower. Then read a story and fall asleep. It's only 8 pm.

And I am too pooped to do anything else.

I read blogs, askmefi and wikipedia until 1 yo calls and that's the end of my day.
posted by uauage at 2:25 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Getting up early (around 5:30am; I've always been a lark) and having 2 hours before the kids wake up is what makes me feel like myself. I usually spend a little time reading my Bible and praying for a few minutes for others. I make really good coffee and drink it in the quiet. I putter in my garden. That takes all of half an hour, so if I'm lucky I can spend the rest of the time writing or making meal prep. (This assumes that cooking is your bliss, though.) If I'm having a hard day, even a few minutes of listening to hymns is really helpful to calm my mind. (Again -- I love to sing, and love to sing hymns.)

As far as ideas for keeping the kids busy, I've loved The Toddler's Busy Book and its companion, the Preschooler's Busy Book. I have a 4 year old, a 2 year old, and a 9 month old baby and I've found that the activities in both work well for either of the older kids.

Also, I have a "bean box" -- a plastic bin that I filled with dried beans, a few miniature cars/tractors, and some scoops and small bowls. The kids love to sit down and play with it. It usually buys me time to make dinner or chill for 15 minutes.
posted by mdiskin at 2:49 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

We do something we somehow started calling Great American Dance Party. I put on a favorite song and dance. It’s cathartic, good exercise and fun. My kids either join me or quietly watch as I make a fool of myself. It can be a tremendous mood lifter.
posted by greensalsa at 2:52 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am not a parent, but full time nanny! Usually after lunch or stroller, somewhere the kidlet is strapped in, I do a stretching "routine". Leave them strapped, stand in front of them, or sut, and stretch my legs. Deep breaths. Shoulder rolls. Then I pee, get myself a drink and get the kid out. Sometimes he's complaining. Mostly he thinks it is funny. I just roll him around with me until I'm done. 3-5 mins. Each time he's strapped in.
posted by Swisstine at 3:04 PM on July 1, 2010

It is really important for the children that you build up your me-time. It is their "learning independence" time -- valuable in its own right and useful insurance against all sorts of disasters from your dropping some glasses and needing to shut them out of the kitchen until the mess is cleared up, to one of the three of you having to stay in hospital. Making them respect your me-time is also "learning consideration" time. Kindness and consideration need encouragement in circumstances where they make sense. Make the opportunities, encourage them to play out of your sight, start a habit of sitting down alone and doing sudoku or whatever, ask them to do kindnesses for you, and actively teach them to cope without your constant attention.

Find friends with children the same age and take turns in giving one another the afternoon off. Take your afternoon even if you don't think you need it, because your children do need the experience, insuring them against the time when you suddenly can't be there.

Remember that your duty to the children is not to get them to sixteen quite untouched by any harm, your duty to them is to get them to sixteen able to cope with whatever life throws at them. And sadly, many children will inevitably have to face difficulties earlier. Instinct may say shield children from everything you can, but the better protection is the harder route of helping them to learn to cope.
posted by Idcoytco at 3:14 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh man. Hard one.

Being around other people was the only thing that helps me. Libraries (but don't count on browsing for yourself). Grocery store trips. Parks. Grandma's. Public pools or spraygrounds. Aimless car driving if nothing else sufficed.

And McDonald's indoor play areas are an idea I wish every other restaurant (with better food) would copy. My kid would play safely for an hour or more with other kids while I read the paper and drank free Diet Coke refills (they can't make you buy the actual food, after all).

I am not good at small child play. Just not a talent I have. So I can handle one maybe two mommy and kid games but then I need him to play by himself or with me as passive observer. Which mostly seems ok with him.

Here's the thing; it's ok to step back. To say "Mommy is going to lie on the couch for a minute." To take the child into the bathroom and let them play on the floor while you take a much-needed 10 minute shower.

But you really sound like you need time off. Are there any options--mother's day outs, for example? Those aren't super expensive, and you and your kids can get a break from each other.
posted by emjaybee at 5:42 PM on July 1, 2010

After our kids stopped taking naps, we figured all was lost: The day, previously divided into pre-nap and post-nap insanity, was now going to be one long slog to the madhouse. But as it turns out, naptime is more about the time, than the nap. The kids go to their rooms, read, listen to music, bang on toys, sing songs that are wildly distorted by the baby monitor...and there's a break, right there in the middle of the day, where we'd expected none. It's part of their routine, and it turns out they need it--days where they don't get some alone time are much crazier.

Things that by all rights should be a grind, can be a little more you-time, too. This is a stupid example, but doing the dishes is one of my favorite chores now, because it bores the kids that I'm in there having to focus on something other than they go read or play with puppets or something, giving me a few precious minutes to stare out the window and think.

As for creative endeavors and conversation that isn't all about whatever character they've currently imprinted on...I'm not to that part yet. But I do get to stare out the window!
posted by mittens at 5:49 PM on July 1, 2010

When I had two young kids, I used to get a nice break by taking them to the park and putting them in those baby/toddler swings. If you get the rhythm going right, you can stand there pushing one, then the other, then the one, then the other with alternating hands as you stand between them. Swing-loving kids will let you do this for as long as you want, and you sway back and forth pushing with the right hand, pushing with the left's hypnotic and restful (and a surprisingly good upper-body workout, to boot).

A local library has a bank of computers in the kid section with games for as young as toddlers. When I had just one, he would play on one of those computers while I read a magazine nearby.

Seconding McDonald's play place. Cup of coffee & newspaper, kids climbing around happily, no place they can easily run away to so you can actually not look at them for a couple of minutes at a time.
posted by not that girl at 7:31 PM on July 1, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all for some great suggestions! Just as a clarification, I do have access to "me time" fairly regularly, though it never sees to be forthcoming when I need it the most. For those days, it's nice to know some tricks from veterans of the Toddler Wars.

Another trick I discovered today was that just anticipating your responses to this question gave me a nice mental boost. Thanks, all!
posted by anemone at 7:43 PM on July 1, 2010

@anemone Have we been reading your situation wrong? Have you and your doctor considered post-natal depression? Life with toddlers is not one long picnic, but it does sound as though you are not finding the enjoyment and empowerment in life that you should.
posted by Idcoytco at 1:22 AM on July 2, 2010

I'm normally one to barge into parenting threads with cries of PPD! PPD! but this sounds more like the normal state of things. It might be helpful when you're feeling out of sorts to determine exactly what you're craving, and how to get that.

Missing the adult world: on-line chats with people you know, e-mail, call someone, Metafilter, listen to the news on the radio while you clean the kitchen

Exhausted: caffeine, make a smoothie, jumping jacks

Need 15 damn minutes with nobody touching me: screen time for the kids

General blahs: plan a treat for yourself in your next chunk of independent time so you have something to look forward to

Need to go to the bathroom: Look, the kids probably won't die while you're in there, and most messes they make can be Windexed or mopped up and you can get drywall patch kits at hardware stores.

My kids are a bit older than yours. It gets easier. Well, it gets different. Do you have friends in the same boat? I've been aggressive about making contact at the playground with other full-time parents, and my youngest and I do a co-op preschool, so it's usually possible for us to find someone to go to the playground with when I need to get out of the house right now.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:41 AM on July 2, 2010

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