Are you a parent or professional caregiver? Do you ever struggle with time?
If so, you’re not alone.
There just never seem to be enough of it to accomplish all the tasks living and/or working with children demand (shoes to tie, noses to wipe, bellies to fill, diapers to change, and all the rest). On top of the demands children make on your time, there are the demands of coworkers, loved-ones, friends, and more (‘tomorrow can you ______’, ‘do you have time to______’, ‘is there any chance you could ______’).
Everyone seems to want your time and attention.
It’s fulfilling to be wanted, needed, and indispensable. So much of what is being asked of you makes you feel good, appreciated, and valued.
And it can be exhausting.
This can lead to internal struggle. You enjoy and benefit from many of the things demanding your time and energy, and you feel drained, anxious, and stressed. You may also feel like the walls are closing in, that you have no time to yourself, and that your own needs are going unmet because you’re doing so much for others.
You may, in fact, intentionally neglect your own need to make more time for the needs of others. You don’t just put your needs on the back burner, you willingly take the kettle off the stove top, walk it out of the house, set it at the far end of the driveway, and decide your needs will go unmet.
That leads to problems.
The longer your need for a bit of self-care goes unmet, the more likely it is that your stress and anxiety will grow. That can lead to a shorter attention span, limited ability to focus, less joy, and physical and emotional exhaustion. You become a less effective, less fulfilled, and less happy version of yourself.
If any of the above feels familiar, taking a closer look at how you divvy up your limited supply of time and energy can help you see that more time for self-care is needed.
Grab some paper and a pen.
Here’s a short exercise that’ll help you see where your time and energy goes. It’s not complicated, you’ll be making two lists and doing some reflecting. There is no need to do it all in one sitting. You can work on it for a bit, let it sit, and come back to it as you think of things to add. There’s also no reason to ever share it with anyone–although it may be a useful tool to start a discussion with someone close to you. You could ‘cheat’ and just make the lists in your head, but I urge you not to. Taking the time to actually write the lists forces you to be a bit more reflective.
Let’s get started.
First, make a list of everything you did for other people over the last seven days. Everything.
Second, make a list of everything you did just for your self over that same seven days.
- Which list is longer?
- Did you struggle with one list more than the other?
- Did you have a hard time finding something to put on the second list?
- Does looking at the first list leave you feeling exhausted?
- What do your lists tell you about how you allocate your time and energy?
- Who is in control of what is on your lists?
- Would taking something off the first list in order to add something to the second list make you feel guilty?
I’ve done this activity with thousands of parents and child care professionals over the last 20 years as a way to help them realize they could benefit from a bit more self-care in their lives.
The thing is, you’ll probably be more effective at completing all the things on the first list if you invest a bit more time and energy in adding to the second list. Just a little more self-care in your week can help you be a better version of yourself. You’ll be better at meeting the needs of others if you invest in meeting your own needs. The short answer to ‘What now?’ is ‘Put your kettle on the front burner a little more’.