Is self care easier if you’re single?

A few weeks ago, I attended a friends hen party. The hen party was fun. But something was troubling me.

I was staying in a hotel that night with another friend. While we were busy getting ready for the hen party, she started pouring her heart out to me. It appeared that her marriage was on the rocks. Whilst I was shocked to hear this, I was not entirely surprised.

As my friend continued to tell me her problems, it occurred to me that all she might actually need was a little bit of time out for herself. From where I was standing, the issues they faced as a couple were largely down to the fact that my friend did not take much time out for herself. Not only did she seem trapped by being mum to her two children, her vibrations also constantly seem to be low.

So I decided to try and talk her into creating some time for herself.

The trouble is, she wasn’t ready to hear what I had to say. She wanted to blame her husband for everything that was going wrong. She couldn’t see that by taking a little time out for herself, it might actually help her to look at things more rationally, and generally make her feel a lot happier.

This really got me thinking about self care. Does being single make it easier for me to ensure I spend time on my self care? Perhaps it is selfish of me to think that self care is possible for everyone to maintain. Perhaps it is harder for couples with children, and even more so for single parents.

I decided to explore these thoughts further. So after finding some willing friends, who are parents of children ranging from a few days old to 4 years old, I asked them some questions to get an understanding of how they feel about self care, and how they fit self care into their routines, if in fact they do.

What does self-care mean to you?

I thought it would be really good to understand my friends views on self care first of all.

Answers ranged from:

  • To stop overthinking about other people and carving out something just for you
  • Remembering you’re still a person with valid thoughts, desires, emotions and feelings, despite having children
  • Looking after yourself (d)
  • Taking time out to do things for me, to look after my physical and mental wellbeing (d)
  • Time to focus on myself to make sure I am ok (d)

What is reassuring in their responses is that whether they are male or female, they understand what self care is and the importance of it.

The interesting part for me is the different responses from the mums v the dads. The dad answers marked with a (d) come across as a lot more matter of fact, whereas the mum answers had much more of an emotional connection.

As a parent, how do you create time for self-care?

From experience, even as a singleton, self care doesn’t just happen. You have to create time for it. However, on the other hand, it also shouldn’t become a burden. It’s too easy sometimes, even for someone in my situation, not to bother. But it’ salvo really important not to beat ourselves up about it if life does get in the way. What’s important is when you do find time for self care, to store up those self care points to help get you through the days, weeks or even months when self care time just cannot be squeezed into busy lives.

Even for me, with working long, unsociable hours at times, keeping the flat clean, and trying to maintain some sort of social life outside of working hours, I sometimes have to force myself to check in to see how I am.

So how do my friends who juggle parenting on top of work, manage to create time for self-care?

  • With difficulty…snatched time
  • By sharing duties
  • By staying up later than my partner and watching tv
  • By scheduling it in
  • By being organised. Self-care can only really begin once our evening routine is complete. There’s usually a window once our son is in bed, where I can check in with myself to make sure I am ok.

The key point for me is having a healthy relationship with your partner. By understanding that you are not just parents, and that it’s perfectly acceptable to have time out from this role, hopefully goes some way to stop parents from feeling that guilt they so often endure for leaving their child in someone else’s care, so they can spend some time looking after themselves. Being a parent is one of the most important roles you will ever play. It’s really important therefore that you do create time for you and to recharge your batteries, so that you can give your children the time and energy that they too deserve.

Two of the friends I spoke to, who are both married (not to each other!), have recognised that by sharing child duties as well as social time, helps matters. For Elaine, being in a 50/50 relationship , her and her husband spend an equal amount of time with their daughter, but also recognises when each of them needs a break from playing mum or dad. For Elaine, self-care can take as long or as little as it needs, in order to help remind her that she is still Elaine regardless of her role as Mum. Depending on her needs and the time she has, Elaine’s self-care can be as fun as a few drinks in the pub with friends, or as simple as relaxing in the bath bath and having an early night.

Lewis on the other hand, who is now a father of two, and shares childcare duties with his wife Jen, recognises the importance of scheduling self-care into busy days. Lewis told me that most of the time his self-care takes place at home after his boys are in bed. However, recognising that it is important for both him and his wife to still continue with their hobbies as well as time away from parenting duties, they also schedule in a weekday evening and a weekend morning each, that is allocated free time to themselves.

In the case of both Elaine and Lewis, it’s not just about finding self-care time for themselves, they also understand the importance of freeing up their partners time to look after their own self care too.

Do you have any self-care rituals you would care to share for other parents out there?

Whilst there were few self-care rituals people wanted to share, those that did, ranged from simply sitting down and having a cup of tea once the kids had been put down for a nap, to completing outstanding tasks for the day whilst carrying out some mindful thinking, and ending the day with toys being put away to allow for a fresh start in the morning.

However, Lewis may just’ve stumbled across the most fun self-care ritual I have certainly seen for parents to try. Incorporating self-care and time with the little people, Lewis has introduced his boys to the world of Cosmic Kids Yoga Videos. This great concept allows parents to carry out a quick yoga session whilst keeping the little folks entertained!

If you don’t have any self-care rituals, would it be something you would like to know more about?

As much as some of my friends find it hard to fit self care into their routines, they seemed to have a good understanding of what they can do, and where to find more information on self care, should spare time be created.

Do you think self-care is easier for women than men?

This was my final question to the group. Having reflected on whether self care is easier for singletons compared to parents, I then started to wonder whether men and women viewed self care differently.

The answers were varied, and again, there was quite a difference between the views of men and women, with the men’s answers appearing once again with a (d) next to them:

  • I don’t think it’s about gender. I think it’s about mindset (but being in a same sex relationship might give me a different perspective). I think it’s easy to put it down to gender but I see huge differences in our approaches to it in my relationship
  • I think self care is just as easy for women as it is for men, if you let it be. Too many women are martyrs who feel that it is their duty to care for their children and not themselves. There is nothing wrong with asking for help. There’s nothing wrong with sharing the load. There’s nothing wrong it’s looking after yourself.
  • It’s easier fo men because it’s often harder for women to admit they need time away from their child (d)
  • I think it’s down to the individual and their circumstances (d)
  • Honestly – I don’t know. Everyone had busy lives and finding time to make time for yourself is probably hard regardless of sex (d).

Conclusion

The purpose of asking these questions, hasn’t really been about finding the definitive answer to whether self care is easier if you are single.

It was an idea that got me thinking about self care and the difference of approach between a single 30 something (me) and my friends, who are all doing tremendous jobs as parents.

The process for me has been fascinating. Peoples opinions vary so much.

I think if anything, the men I spoke to have surprised me more. The support they give to their partners to allow them to create time to be themselves away from being mum or dad, as well as their matter of fact approach to self care, has been surprising, and lovely to hear.

I also want to give my friend Elaine a special mention too. The relationship she has with her husband is refreshing. Being able to recognise when your partner is struggling is not only difficult for many people to recognise, but when they do recognise it, they don’t know how to react to it. Elaine and her husband not only recognise when each other needs time out to be themselves, away from mum and dad duty, but also manage to maintain a 50/50 approach to bringing up their beautiful daughter. On top of that, Elaine gets that it’s ok to not be ok. That if she needs to ask for help, that that’s ok. That looking after yourself is key, not only to a happy marriage, but to happy parenting.

Self care may not be the glue my friend needs in order to keep her marriage together. However, I stand by the fact that with a little bit of time out for herself, she may start to feel better about herself and the situation she is in. With a little bit of self care, a sprinkling of self love and some time to think, I hope that she finds the answers she needs, whether that’s keeping her marriage alive, or simply, by learning to love herself a little bit more.

Kids

Having travelled up to the family home for a week, to recover from a crazy summer of work and city life, it has given me the opportunity to catch up with family and friends, and to play ‘Auntie’ to their kids.

I don’t have kids. Neither do my two brothers.

My brothers not having kids is probably less surprising. My brothers are twins, one of which is gay and doesn’t want children, and the other has cerebral palsy, although given the opportunity, I am pretty sure he would’ve had plenty (he’s possibly the biggest flirt I have ever seen!).

I am probably the more surprising one.

Earlier today I was twirling my friends 11 month old boy around the living room making him grin from ear to ear. Later on, we picked her 3 year old daughter up from pre-school, and then went back to play with Play Doh.

I love kids. But the thought of having my own children scares the daylights out of me.

I have also never had the burning desire that so many women get, to have them.

If I found myself pregnant, at the age of 34, I would probably find myself dealing with it. But if I don’t have kids, I don’t think it would leave me devastated. I fear that this sounds selfish. And I don’t mean it to.

I have friends who’s lives have been turned upside down by going through the pain of struggling to conceive. I also have friends who have suffered miscarriages and had to some how find the strength to carry on. I’ve seen the struggles my parents have been through in bringing up three children, one of which has severe mental and physical disabilities (despite still being the life and soul of the party).

Maybe having witnessed some of this first hand has made me ridiculously realistic. Not every pregnancy is easy. And not every child is born ‘ok’.

Sometimes I struggle to adult, let alone parent. I work long hours, and often find myself in the pattern of work, eat, sleep, repeat. How do you even begin to fit children into that cycle?

I also love time to myself. Again, that might sound selfish, but it’s my coping mechanism for many things. I need ‘me time’ to function. And if this was no longer an option? What then?

I need sleep. I often have disturbed nights sleep now and feel wretched the next day. How would I feel if there was a constant stream of disturbed nights, followed by early mornings watching kids tv?

And don’t even mention kids soft play centres. The thought of going to those fills me with terror.

For many years I put myself under pressure thinking that I had to conform to the ‘norm’. To meet someone, fall in love, get married, move in, and have children.

But as a close friend of mine said a few months ago, that’s such an old fashioned way of thinking. Just because many of my friends have chosen to follow this route (and yes, I am also well aware that my body clock is ticking), it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the path that works best for me.

I think friends and family often think I will change my mind. Maybe I will one day.

But for now, I am more than comfortable with the fact that I may not have children of my own.

I also feel reassured that in this day and age, even if one day I do get that ‘pang’, there are plenty of other opportunities available to women who decide to have children later in life…