Giving Yourself a Time-out: A Lesson in Mindful Parenting
If you are a busy mother, you know how difficult it is to get time alone. Time to replenish and restore yourself—body, mind, and spirit. Time to revel in peaceful quiet, to sit and relax, even rest. In fact, it often seems like motherhood and personal quiet time are completely incompatible. In the spirit of mindful parenting, however, I believe that the two are interdependent. Let me explain.
Mindful parenting is one of those newfangled takes on positive parenting. In actuality, the practice it’s rooted in—mindfulness—is old news, for it is sourced in ancient wisdom gleaned from the East. This is how the organization, The Mindful Parent, describes mindfully parenting: “Mindful parenting is a contemplative practice through which our connection to our child, and awareness of our child’s presence, helps us to become better grounded in the present moment.”
From where I sit, we become more mindful parents when we become more mindful people. This requires learning to be present to ourselves first. Do you recall the demonstration offered during airplane travel of how to respond in an emergency? We’re told to place the air bag on ourselves first, then place it on our child. If we can’t breathe from lack of oxygen, we can’t lend assistance to anyone we care about. Mindfulness works like that. If we desire to be more present to our children (in all the ways that count—physically, emotionally, and spiritually), we must be present to ourselves first.
So how do we begin this journey of becoming present to ourselves? We start by creating “me time.” We spend quality time with ourselves. We slow down, listen, and pay attention to what our body/mind is saying. In small doses, we give ourselves permission to be quiet, to be alone, to rest, whatever it takes to feel centered and harmonious within ourselves. Logan Pearsall Smith once said, “If you are losing your leisure, look out! You may be losing your soul.” Taking time for ourselves is good medicine for the soul. The journey to mindful parenting begins with soulful remembering of what it is like to be less busy and more leisurely; to have fun and enjoy the pleasure of our own company, something we rarely do as busy parents.
Unfortunately, most of us are not very adept at taking personal “me time,” especially time spent completely alone. We’re certain that if we take time for ourselves, there won’t be enough time for everything else. Or, if we care for ourselves, we might neglect someone else in the process. As a result, we’re often plagued with feelings of selfishness and guilt about taking me time. If this is our struggle, perhaps we can benefit from giving ourselves a time-out.
The time-out I’m referring to here is not a punishment because we’ve misbehaved. It’s a reinforcement to help us remember that our personal well-being is just as important as our children’s well-being. This time out is pure pleasure, a break from our busy day. It’s a self-issued permission slip to sit down and put our feet up, or lay down and rest, read a good book, walk in the woods, or engage in our favorite creative pursue—without guilt. Time-out’s, taken regularly throughout our days, can provide us with a greater sense of inner peace, and personal harmony. Time-outs are a very good thing!
I’m reminded of a young mother I met a few years ago who decided she needed to take a time-out and get away by herself to restore her rapidly dwindling sanity. (She was under thirty and had six children—she deserved one!) She registered for a weekend retreat I was offering at a women’s center on the lake shore. The weekend was full of opportunities to grow, self-nurture, relax, and have fun with other women. It included massage, a winery tour, and a movie night. Leslie checked in on Friday night, came out for meals at the appropriate times, then headed right back to her room after each one. On Sunday morning, she emerged, suitcases packed, and profusely apologized for her lack of participation in the retreat. Tearfully, she shared that this had been the best weekend of her entire life because she had done exactly what she wanted to do—sleep!
My hope is that none of us will ever teeter on the brink of exhaustion as this woman had. Thankfully, she had the good sense to recognize that she needed a time-out, and she gave one to herself. The key to being present to ourselves begins in exactly this way. Begin where you are, with the amount of time you can realistically give yourself, and build upon that. Perhaps it’s only twenty minutes of me time a day. That’s alright. It’s a beginning. Schedule in me time, if need be; record it in your day planner. We schedule in everything else of importance: mammograms, dental visits, even the family vacation. Why not schedule in time to be well spent with ourselves?
As we become more aware of our own needs and give ourselves permission to attend to them, we begin to function from a new place within ourselves. This place is a place of peace, rather than overwhelm, because we have slowed down enough to hear the voice of our own needs. It is a place of gentleness, because we have treated ourselves more kindly through self-nurturing practices that satisfy those needs. As a result, we are more peaceful, gentle, and patient. Now the next leg of the journey can begin—being fully present to the children we love so very much …