When do you get to be you? This might seem like a strange question – you get to be you every day, don’t you?
Actually no. Not all of us do. A great many of us get to be a busy working parent who spends most of our time looking after someone else’s needs, and thinking about them instead of ourselves.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with building a career and looking after your family. It’s what most of us do. But it’s important to take a bit of time out to do something you really enjoy and just ‘be you’.
Not only will it help your career and family-life as you’ll feel more content and less stressed, it’s also vital for your mental health and wellbeing.
Dual careers and extended families mean we’re busier than ever
Fewer parents are now opting for part-time work, even when their children are small, and it’s becoming normal for families in the UK to have two full-time working parents, or to be a ‘dual career household’ as they’re otherwise known.
In these households, both parents have equal career aspirations and share the bringing up of the kids between them.
It’s also not unusual for working parents to have an extended family with kids from a previous relationship squeezing yet more of their time, or to belong to the ‘sandwich generation’, with elderly parents to look after.
Add the children’s after-school activities and homework, sports clubs and ferrying them around to friends’ houses into the mix, and time to relax becomes very difficult, if not impossible.
And has anyone mentioned the household chores yet? That’s more time swallowed up.
So, with all that in mind, as a busy working parent, when do you get to be you?
It’s about managing expectations
We’ve talked about wrapping ourselves up in our work and our families, and how most of us do it without thinking about it, because it’s expected of us.
The expectation is that we’ll work hard in whatever we do and do our best for our kids. Doing something for yourself doesn’t always feature very highly – if at all – in these expectations.
Managing expectations is about being realistic with yourself and others. Changing expectations isn’t difficult if you’re serious about it.
And once they’ve changed, they’re far easier to manage, especially if you keep those you care about in the loop.
Taking time out and mental wellbeing
It might seem selfish to think about doing something you enjoy when you’re a working parent, but it’s just the opposite. It’s really important for your mental wellbeing and gives you a chance to let go of things and forget about the stresses of your life for a while.
For some people, parenthood isn’t what they expected, and it can have a devastating effect on their mental health. One increasingly-common issue is loneliness, where parents feel isolated and cut-off from their family and friends, especially if they live far away from where they grew up.
These unfounded feelings often stem from anxiety about how they’re coping as a parent compared to others. They see everyone else as Superman or Wonder Woman with the special abilities of being brilliant parents, forging a fantastic career, and having the best social life on the planet.
In reality, these super-parents are nothing of the sort. They’re just like everyone else, with the same constraints on their time. They just might have chosen to use it differently.
Knowing when you need to take time out
Taking time out to relax when you’re worried or stressed can stop mental health issues happening. These issues often sit just below the surface and it doesn’t take too much for them to bubble up and make waves.
Even taking five minutes for yourself could be enough to stop that.
When you feel ill physically, it’s common to feel down emotionally too, and it can be a sign your mental health is starting to suffer.
Some of the signs you need to take time out to be you include trouble sleeping, pain in the shoulders, neck or back, fatigue and tiredness, and increased susceptibility to illness. Your relationships will start to suffer as will your performance at work
Hopefully you’ve not experienced any of these symptoms just yet – make sure you start taking time out now so they don’t make an appearance.
If they’ve already come to the surface, don’t worry, there’s still things you can do that will help them not get any worse, or even disappear.
Getting to be you…
…doesn’t have to take up a lot of time or cost lots of money. The important thing is to do something you enjoy that lets you get away from your responsibilities for a while. It could be going for a walk outside (having a dog could help) or even reading a book or magazine.
Exercise works brilliantly, so hit the gym for a workout, try a class or have a quick swim in your local pool. A simple meal out or a trip to the cinema or theatre with friends or partner is great if that’s more your thing.
Even going for a coffee and a natter (with an optional slice of cake of course) could really help you unwind.
It doesn’t have to be any of these – just do something you really enjoy.
Don’t make it a one-off
The key to successfully finding time to be you is to do it as regularly as you can manage. This isn’t a one-time thing. You have to be in it for the long-term and make whatever you decide to do a regular event.
Put time in your family calendar for your ‘you time’ so everyone knows when it is and understands what you’re doing.
They’ll know to leave you alone and that you’re not at their beck and call at that time.
It’s about you, but also them
Your loved ones will benefit from this as well as you.
Having good mental wellbeing and health means you can cope much better with whatever family life throws at you, which - let’s face it - is an awful lot these days.
It’s not surprising things can on top of you and affect those around you. Taking some time to be you can really help.
About Janet Richmond
Janet is founder and director of Just Libra Consulting, specialising in training, leadership and organisational development.
Previously Janet has worked in senior leadership roles within social housing, the financial sector and contact centres, and is an experienced and engaging public speaker.
She’s also a director and trustee of Lancashire Mind and a governor and trustee of The Cavendish High Academy in Warrington.