9 ways parents can sneak micro me-time moments over the school holidays
Looking after the kids over the holidays can be exhausting, and it's vital for parents to find time for themselves. Lisa Salmon talks to experts about how to make me-time...
YOUR thoughts might have started to turn towards the children going back to school, but there are still a few weeks to go before term starts - and that means many parents are looking after their kids all day every day, with very little chance of any rest and relaxation.
But there are ways to sneak in a bit of essential R&R every day, promise experts, who stress that parents need to regularly recharge their batteries, and without at least a bit of relaxation, mums and dads are likely to have miserable summer holidays.
"Parenting is always a 24-hour a day job, but it's never more demanding than over the long summer holidays, when there's little or no respite for parents," says Cathy Ranson, editor at ChannelMum (channelmum.com).
"A huge 94 per cent of parents say they don't get enough time to themselves over the summer holidays - but carving out me-time isn't selfish, it's essential to revive, recharge and to protect both your mental and physical health. Even a few minutes a day can make a major difference to how you feel," she says.
Tanith Carey, author of many parenting books - including What's My Child Thinking? - says: "When you have children, it's not just the sheer relentlessness that's so shocking, it's also the lack of time you have left for yourself, especially in the summer holidays.
"One survey estimated that new mothers have just 17 minutes of 'me' time a day. By the time you've had a quick shower and brushed your hair, that's gone."
And agony aunt and Family Lives (familylives.org.uk) trustee Suzie Hayman says parents may feel that during school holidays, the children come first, but even in the middle of keeping them entertained and cared for, they should carve out time for themselves.
"The key is knowing you are allowed - and indeed you should - say no," she advises.
Here are some easy ways to find a bit of me-time...
1. SCHEDULE REGULAR ME-TIME
Set aside family time, you-time and our-time in each day, and over each week, and keep to them, advises Hayman. "Even a 10-minute 'Leave us alone to have a coffee together' helps, and date nights - even at home with them banished to another room - give you essential R&R."
Ranson agrees there should be some non-negotiable me-time, perhaps at the end of the day. "Run a bath with some luxury bath oil or bubble bath, light your favourite scented candle and have an indulgent soak. It costs pennies but has the same effect as a reviving spa, and will help you sleep soundly," she says.
2. DO CHILD SWAPS
Negotiate with family and friends to take the kids for a time, suggests Hayman. "Swap kids with friends so they look after yours and then you look after theirs on another day. Grandparents and aunts and uncles may leap at the chance to see them.
"If it's a warm evening, use the time to sit outside in the garden if you're lucky, or outside on your front step, with a drink."
Ranson suggests: "Make the most of your local mum network and arrange alternating days where you each care for all the kids. It gives you a much-needed day off and the kids have a fantastic time with their friends."
3. CHALLENGE THE KIDS TO MAKE UP THEIR OWN GAMES
Hayman says parents should recognise that it's good for children to find their own entertainment - and that's not all online games either.
"Even young kids can be challenged to come up with games and pastimes of their own," she points out. Then, when they're thinking up their games, and later when they're playing them, you can put your feet up with a brew.
4. GET UP EARLY
Get up 15 minutes early and have a coffee in the garden or in the kitchen alone, while you listen to your favourite podcast, suggests Ranson. "It gives you space to centre yourself before the mayhem of the day," she says.
5. GET THE KIDS TIRED
Wear out the kids in the morning with a really long walk or by going swimming, advises Ranson. "They'll want to rest in the afternoon so you can put your feet up for a few hours too," she says.
6. GET ORGANISED
Ranson suggests parents keep a summer planner calendar on which they can see what every family member is doing each day.
"It reduces stress levels and shows where there's the odd day you can make more time for yourself," she says.
7. EVERY MINUTE IS VALUABLE
Carey advises parents to make the most of even the small pockets of time they can grab. "If your kids are happily engaged by themselves, make the most of it with a small block of self-care," she says.
"For instance, grab a 15-minute exercise video on YouTube, or phone a friend to let off some steam. See looking after yourself not as treat, but an investment in being a happier, calmer parent."
8. SHARE PARENTING MORE EVENLY
If you have a co-parent, Carey advises you chat to them at the start of the holidays about the weeks ahead, so you can use your time more efficiently.
"Research from Stanford University in the US has found the reason women still tend to take on the lion's share of childcare and household management is they don't feel entitled to put their own needs and time first, a type of thinking known as 'unentitlement'," she says.
"So, in an amicable, constructive way, make a list of all the little things you both do to keep your home going. Then compare both your lists and look at ways to share the jobs more evenly."
9. DON'T WORRY ABOUT KEEPING THE HOUSE TIDY
If you normally spend a lot of time on housework, allow yourself to let tidiness slide a bit during the summer holidays, to give yourself a bit of me-time instead.
"View it as a great opportunity for kids to get really immersed in fun creative play," Carey suggests, advising parents to get the kids to help, simply by piling toys in a laundry basket at the end of the day.
"If you try to keep on top of tidying up after them all day long, it'll feel like you're shovelling snow in a snow storm," she points out.