I turned 40 earlier this year. In the months leading up to this milestone, I frequently pondered how to acknowledge it: ‘Party? Family get-together? Fancy dinner?’ The answer came to me when preparing for a family trip. While sorting the clothing, spare clothing, shoes, spare shoes, accessories, toiletries, medication, toys, en route entertainment, snacks, etc. for three kids, I declared in my inside voice, ‘This sucks! Imagine if I just had to pack for myself...’ (Imagine a flashing light bulb moment whilst hearing a resounding ‘Ahhh’ choral here.)
I woke up well before the kids the next morning, checked the travel points I’d been collecting and what I might be able to do with them, and decided to spend them all on myself. Before I clicked the ‘purchase’ button, an insignificant pang of guilt made me pause - then I clicked it anyway. I ended up going to Vancouver Island for five days on my own.
Scheduling a break when you’re a single parent can drum up enough potential stress-inducing thoughts that I can completely understand talking yourself out of even attempting one night away - never mind four - before you even try. Whether organizing childcare or juggling schedules with an ex-partner, taking time out for your yourself may seem like it may only add more pressure to your life - but it’s important for all kinds of reasons, especially when you and your child(ren) rely on your well-being as a parent.
Dr. Petrina Hough, of Calgary-based Spark Child and Youth Psychology, acknowledges the challenges lone parents can face in carving out time to recharge, but also believes in the benefits of this kind of self-care, “Although it can be particularly hard for single parents to find time for themselves, it is also even more important for them to do so. Single parents bear the sole responsibility for their children’s needs. To meet these needs, they need to maintain good health and high reserves of energy,” says Dr. Hough.
Based on personal experience, single mom of one Laura Lipsett acknowledges that making time for yourself when parenting independently can have its challenges, but this self-employed mom also regards finding time to recharge is key: “I have been fortunate enough to get my son for a large percentage of time, but it is also a lot of work, and I get tired. I have my own company, and I work very hard to keep life balanced. Within that balance, I place great importance on my well-being,” she says.
Even consciously taking little breaks in the day for yourself can be beneficial, though you might have to be strategic in finding ways to fit these breaks in. These moments, or short windows, for a little ‘alone time’ might also look different between families as you try to meet your own unique needs, personalities, and preferences. Lipsett can relate: “When I need a moment for myself, or if I can create a moment for myself, I cook or have a cup of coffee on the veranda. Sometimes I even hang up laundry.” When your children are young, though, being able to be physically absent, even if only a few feet away, can be challenging, as Lipsett acknowledges, “Having only one set of eyes during meal time can be hard, but I fully believe that making meals can be a peaceful time for myself.” Lipsett takes advantage of her son’s need for a spell of ‘quiet time’ as a time to recharge herself too: “My son loves ‘relax time’ after a school day or on the weekends if he has had an early morning with hockey. He loves a little nest on the couch and a movie. It gets him calm before dinner time, gives me 30 to 40 minutes to get a meal on the table, and provides some time for me to chill as well after a day at work.”
Lipsett describes how the ways in which she takes time for herself has evolved over time as the needs of her son has changed, “When I was first on my own, up until my son grew out of his chariot jogging stroller, I jogged every evening. It cleared my head, and kept me fit. Now he is older and the jogging does not happen anymore.” Lipsett has found other ways that help her maintain a sense of self-care, though: “I am an early riser, so I get up before my son and try to soak up a little ‘me time.’ I make a coffee and sit outside, I make our lunches, I have my shower - even blow drying and styling my hair I enjoy as my time.”
Hough explains that taking even small breaks during the day can be beneficial, “The immediate enjoyment of doing something, or being with people, that you like results in a happier, more relaxed you when you return to your kids. This translates into happier, more relaxed kids.” And who doesn’t want that? Taking time to recharge can also result in more enduring positive outcomes for your overall well-being, as Dr. Hough describes, “There are long-term benefits for both physical and emotional health: physically, people who look after their needs have stronger immune systems, sleep and eat better, and are more resilient when faced with stressors, emotionally. When people take time for themselves, they lower their risk of developing depression and anxiety.” Hough also believes that the benefits of parental self-care can extend beyond the individual parent taking time to rest and recharge, “It can also contribute positively to family and personal relationships,” she says.
Sometimes you might need or even just want a little more time away on your own or with other adults, such as an overnight visit or a trip out of town. Lipsett acknowledges that this can sometimes take a bit of a mental shift or a leap of faith if this concept is new, “I used to feel guilty when I was away from my son. I felt that he needed me, and only me, and that no other person could make my son as happy as I could or keep him as safe.” Then Lipsett experienced a breakthrough moment that had positive results: “When I learned that those feelings were all in my own head, it opened new doors for my relationship with my son. When I released that stress and guilt, I learned that I was a much better, more relaxed, more fun mom.”
I often find when I’m having a bad day, it tends to be that the kids are experiencing one, too. Coincidence? Methinks not. Regardless, it often seems a little ‘chicken or the egg?’ (Although I do also often ponder, ‘Maybe it’s the moon…’) On my own parenting journey, I have found that recognizing I need a ‘break,’ in whatever capacity that might be, can be almost as challenging as finding time to do so.
Dr. Hough outlines the following typical signs that you may need to make some time for yourself:
Feeling the need to take a break or being overwhelmed can build over time or be a response to an unforeseen crisis. If you find yourself lacking in parenting support during a particular moment or period when you or your family is in need, there is help in Calgary. For 30 years, the Calgary Children’s Cottage Society has offered “non-judgemental programs and services aimed at helping parents through a crisis, regardless of what their circumstances may be.” The Children’s Cottage programs include an on-site crisis nursery for newborns and children up to age eight, where trained staff and volunteers provide 24-hour care for children in a safe and healthy environment. The Society also offers in-home respite for parents with infants ages 0 to six months, and short-term childcare placements for older children. All of these programs are free to parents who need to take a break to meet other responsibilities or ensure their family’s well-being. As Director of Programs Danielle Ladouceur explains, “It’s about being a safety net and helping parents be strong and self-sufficient.”
Parents who find themselves in crisis or who are feeling overwhelmed and in need of support, but are unable to access or have no other resources, can self-refer. In times of stress, it’s also good to know the Children’s Cottage is stocked with the supplies most children need. If you haven’t been able to pack a bag for your child, it’s okay, as Ladouceur describes, “We have all the resources your child might need, so there’s no need to plan ahead, you can just turn up.” The Society is also accustomed to meeting a variety of children’s and/or family’s requirements, as Ladouceur explains, “We can provide appropriate care for children with special needs, or with cultural or dietary needs. We’re very flexible in that way.”
Last year alone, the Children’s Cottage Society provided care to well over a thousand children, with families accessing support for a wide variety of reasons. If you might feel guilty about accessing help, don’t. Ladouceur stresses that the Children’s Cottage views seeking support as a sign of parenting strength, “We welcome people reaching out. We’re very non-judgmental and meet parents where they’re at and let them lead the way.”
Parents can check on their children while they’re being cared for by the Children’s Cottage as well as visiting prior to using the Society’s services should they want to familiarize themselves with the facility or its resources. Families can also access other forms of parenting and family supports and information through the Children’s Cottage’s programs and resources if they so wish.
To find out more about the Children’s Cottage Society or their organization’s programs, visit childrenscottage.ab.ca or call their 24-hour, seven days a week crisis line: 403-233-CARE (2273).
As individuals and as parents, we all need to pause to retreat, refuel, recharge, reflect, or even refocus for different reasons at different times and when we do, everyone benefits. As Lipsett shares, “Time away makes me appreciate the special bond my son and I have so much.”
The kind of trip I had to Victoria Island might not be able to occur every year, but I’ll never forget how relaxed I felt after just a day of being away, nor how happy I was to be back on mom duty again five leisurely long days later.
Victoria is a Calgary-based mother of three, freelance writer, and founder of the Canadian Association for Single Parents.
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