If you’d mentioned the words me-time way back when, you would probably have been greeted with a bemused expression and louds guffaws on further explanation.
The concept that, amid the stress and strains of everyday life, it’s important to spend time that is exclusively for you and exempt from the non-stop demands of work and family, would have been as alien as a Marks & Spencer’s ready meal.
But as demands on a mum’s time, and the expectations of what she can achieve with it continue to grow, is it any wonder that scheduling in a little me-time has become so appealing? Problem is, me-time isn’t always feasible.
It certainly isn’t for Claire Pomfret, 29. A part-time administrator with 7-month-old twins Charlie and Ethan, she says, ‘It’s a real buzz phrase and I’ve read so many baby books that bang on about how important it is to find time for a gym session or a long soak in a bubble bath and it gets on my nerves.
‘Quite frankly, I’ve had to accept that “me-time” doesn’t exist at the moment and it won’t for the foreseeable future. I’m working three days
a week and looking after two very demanding babies. I don’t have enough time as it is, let alone time specifically for me. It is very hard – but I’m hoping it will get easier. I know if I was constantly fighting against this reality, I’d be even more stressed.’
We live in a ‘have it all’ culture, where a woman’s role is fluid. Juggling motherhood with a job has almost become the norm, while many full time mothers, however fulfilled, sometimes feel cramped by the self-sacrifice and sheer hard work of their role.
As a result, exhaustion and sometimes frustration appears to be the lot of many modern mums.
‘I do wonder if my generation has bitten off more than it can chew,’ says Louise Morgan, 34, who’s a teacher from Basingstoke and has two children, Ben, 1, and Daisy, 3.
‘The other day I was chatting to my mum and she said, “I think women today have it harder than we did because at least we knew what was expected of us. I look at you and I see someone who’s always in a mad rush, trying to do 10 different things at once.” And do you know what? She’s absolutely right.’
Research by natural medicine company Rescue Remedy revealed that a staggering 96% of women feel stressed every day, with more than 35% saying they need a 26-hour day to get everything done and have only a few moments spare for me-time.
Unpaid chores and responsibilities appear to eat up most time for mums, with more than 40% of women spending around 21 hours a week preparing family meals and more than 70% spending one to three hours on food shopping each week.
Even the midday lunch break is a busy time for working mums, with 73% spending their time on personal errands such as banking and paying bills, while more than 50% of those surveyed say they have less than an hour to relax at the end of each day.
The results don’t surprise Dr Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University.
He says, ‘We’re all familiar with the term “work/life” balance in the context of paid work or careers. However, what this research highlights is that this concept needs to evolve. For women, in particular, “work” refers to a whole host of unpaid chores and everyday errands.
‘It isn’t a shock to hear that the mums are feeling stressed – they simply don’t have any time to themselves given all the juggling. Employers need to introduce more flexible working arrangements and women need to take back some well-deserved free time if they are to truly experience the ideal work/life balance.’
Indeed, men appear to suffer far less from time deprivation, enjoying twice as much me-time as women, according to a survey by lastminute.com. And it would seem that this imbalance can be partly attributed to an inability of the sexes to reach a consensus on exactly what me-time is.
As Janice Franklin, 40, a graphic designer who has two children, Zoe, 2, and James, 4, jokingly concludes, ‘Don’t ask me why, but cooking Sunday lunch for six seems to fall into my me-time. As does shopping for food, buying birthday and Christmas presents, dropping off the dry cleaning… the list is endless. Whereas my husband’s me-time is quite distinct and separate, such as a round of golf or a session at the gym.’
Many mums may doubt their ability to find me-time, but the experts are unequivocal about its benefits for both your physical and mental wellbeing.
Ann Jones, chief coach at Positive Parent Coaching, says, ‘Time to yourself seems impossible when you have small children but it is important as it enables you to unwind, focus on your own needs and gather your energy and enthusiasm to return to the challenging task of being a parent.
‘Spending short periods away from you can also benefit your child as it
starts to give him the opportunity to develop relationships with other adults and children and to begin to develop empathy as he comes to understand that you have needs, too.’
In fact, America even has a specially designated National Me-Time Day in a bid to highlight the importance of women focusing on their personal health and wellbeing. So perhaps it’s time we followed suit and embraced the idea that self-preservation is not self-indulgent.
Making time for you
Parent coach Ann Jones offers these suggestions:
1 Think about your daily routine and look for times when you need me-time. For example, mid-morning for a coffee, after lunch to put your feet up, early evening to gather your energy for the bedtime routine. Then think about who could help you achieve this.
2 Arrange for your partner to look after the children for 20 minutes while you relax and recharge your physical and mental batteries.
3 Accept all offers of help to take the baby for a walk or toddler to the park, make a meal, tidy up or babysit. You could write out a guide to caring for your child beforehand so you feel confident that everyone knows how to deal with any issues.
4 If you have a friend with a child of a similar age arrange to look after your friend’s child on a regular basis while she has some me-time and let her do the same. Your child will benefit from meeting other children and get used to being cared for by someone other than his family.
5 Put her to bed early. Small children need a lot of sleep but often resist bedtime because they don’t want to be parted from you. Introduce a routine – supper, bath, story and sleep – and stick to it to ensure you get time with your partner to unwind together.
6 If finances permit, get a cleaner. It’s a great idea especially if you have a small baby, so you have some me-time when she’s asleep.
7 If you are a mum at home you could arrange for your child to go to a childminder or nursery for a few hours a week to give you some time alone.
8 Try the local mum and baby group so you and your child can socialise. You may have to help at some sessions but at other times you can drop your child off and have a couple of hours to yourself.