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.

Reprioritisation

Do you ever find yourself caught up in life and realise that you’ve not quite got your priorities right?

Life has been busy lately. In fact, since the new year, life has been pretty mental. Finding time to relax in the evenings and at weekends has been near on impossible, especially since my trip to Portugal back in February.

I’m certainly not complaining. There’s nothing worse than falling into January with an empty diary.

There have been weekends with friends or family visiting. There have been hen parties. There have been weekends where I’ve volunteered to help out with work events.

I also lost an entire Saturday when I was meant to be meeting my family for the day, but instead I ashamedly spent the day recovering from the worst hangover I’ve ever had in my entire life. Far from my proudest moment.

I felt awful not going to see my family. My brother was due to have an operation the following week and I had desperately wanted to see him before he went into hospital. But I wasn’t in a fit state to go anywhere, let alone jump on the train to go and meet them.

As frustrating and embarrassing as it was (I’m 35! Surely I should know better!?!), it was the kick up the backside I needed to refocus and get my priorities straightened out.

So after much deliberation, I decided to cancel my plans at the weekend (even though it meant letting someone else down), and head north to visit my family for the weekend.

And I’m so pleased I did. It was great to see for myself that my brother is recovering well from his operation, as well as getting to spend some time with my other brother, Sam, and getting the chance to look after mum and dad a bit. I know they all really appreciated my visit too. Making me even more grateful that I refocused my energy.

I hadn’t meant to leave it so long before I visited home. After my last visit in January, life just kinda happened, and time has a really bad habit of speeding by.

But it was good to take some time to refocus and reprioritise. It’s so easy to get caught up in life. But family come first, always. No matter how busy we get, it’s so important to remember to prioritise. And not to worry if you need time to refocus your energy and to reprioritise.

I’m heading back home again this coming weekend. However, with a hen party and a wedding reception to go to, it’s going to be another busy one. But I have kept Sunday free, so I can at least catch up with mum and dad again before I head back to London. And hopefully I’ll have a clear enough head to make the most of it!

Working From Home and Prioritisation

After a crazy week, I’m grateful to have a day at home to relax today.

With a full on working week last week, a trip to the solicitors on Friday and a lovely day walking around London with mum yesterday, my body and mind are in need of some R&R today.

For the first time in 3 years, work is starting to feel relatively settled. Our company has been through a lot of change over the last 3 years, and on top of that, around a year ago, I was asked to start managing a side of the business I knew very little about. It’s been a tough ride. But finally after a year battling to understand the role, and getting myself into a position where I could competently manage the team around me, I feel like good progress has been made.

On top of that, I have been working with the team to get through an external assessment for this area of the business. Not too much pressure then! Last week saw us meeting with the assessors and submitting our final pieces of evidence. We won’t know until next week how we have done in the assessment, but through a lot of hard work and determination I am confident that this area of the business is in a much better place than it was, and my management of this area of the business has improved tenfold.

It has been hard putting other areas of my work on the back burner whilst I focused on the assessment. One of the most important things I have learnt over recent months, has been how to prioritise my workload better. For me it’s simply being more aware that it’s ok to say no to some things. And those things I can’t say no to? I say yes, but I am learning to give more realistic timescales in order to get the work done.

In addition to learning to prioritise, the other thing that has changed my day recently, is the ability to work from home more often. Under new leadership, we are taking the time to understand how we can help and improve staff wellbeing, whilst still getting the job done. Working from home once a week has changed my working life, which in turn has changed my home life for the better too. Our office can be like a whirlwind at times, with the phones ringing non stop, constant queries from the team, in addition to meetings. This can make it incredibly difficult to get the day job done. There have been times over the last 3 years where I have ended up working 12 hour + days, as well as working at weekends, just to stop myself from drowning. But working from home has changed all that. Having that one day a week to work from home means that I get at least one full admin day per week. It is often broken up with phone calls, conference calls and still the odd emergency to deal with, but because I have no other distractions when I am at home, I can manage these situations a lot better and still catch up with my administration or to work on projects.

Working at home also gives me that much needed reflection time. One of the early sessions I had with Beth  we discussed the importance of finding time to reflect. This was also reinforced at the Level 3 Award in Leadership and Management course I completed recently. When I am working out of the office, whether I’m at home working in silence or with the radio on in the background, or in a coffee shop with the day to day hustle and bustle going on around me, I get far more opportunities to be present and to reflect on the work I am doing and how things are making me feel.

Working from home also gives me the time and space to plan. This may seem quite a simple process to some people, but when you work in an open plan office constant distractions, with few quiet spaces leading to a lack of opportunity to move away from the chaos of the office in order to plan effectively, it makes planning extremely difficult. This of course then has a knock on effect to the rest of my work. I find that planning on my day at home enables me to have a lot more focus during the week, which in turn is helping the rest of my team. By being much more organised and less fraught, I can already see the difference in my team who have themselves reacted positively to these changes. They too are benefiting from more opportunities to work from home, and are a lot more productive as a result.

Despite only having the opportunity to work from home for a couple of months, I can already feel the difference this is making to my wellbeing.

All of this combined, is helping the team (as well as us managers) improve our work life balance. I acknowledge that my job is never going to be solely something I can do from Monday-Friday 9-5, however, I am no longer working 12 hour days or weekends which quite frankly, is bliss.