Recharging Your Batteries Isn’t an Option, It’s a Necessity

by Susan Silverman

Motherhood—and parenthood in general—is hard. Period. End of story. I know this isn’t rocket science. We have read countless books, articles, blogs, and websites that say this. In this 24-7 unpaid career (I am referring to financial payment, not the payment we get in wet kisses and too tight hugs), we put our families first—first comes our children then our significant others. In last place, we put ourselves; but only if we have enough energy, time, or even willpower.

I have said to my husband regularly, and unfortunately to myself, “I can’t go to the gym because Little One needs dinner.” Or “LO won’t let me out of her sight. How can I go for a manicure/see friends/take a walk around the neighborhood?” Yup, these are common statements for the last two years. Much of it has to do with not trusting my husband with our child (which is my fault); but as parents—and specifically as a mother—it is engrained that we come last to the needs of everyone else.

But I’m here to tell you that taking care of yourself is more important. Without having a healthy you—physically, spiritually and emotionally—you don’t have a healthy family. Period. We all need to make time for ourselves. And believe me, this is so difficult, which is why I’m holding up a mirror as I write this. The fancy-dancy term for this is “recharging your batteries.”

As I have written previously, I live in the United Kingdom due to my spouse’s civilian job with the Department of Defense. The most challenging part of this life is the lack of family, friends or mom’s group to rely on to give me a hand, especially when I need just an hour to myself.

Last summer I was lucky to find that our military base had a daycare spot available for the summer. (As background, children at this daycare are enrolled full time and parents are charged for it. However, if an enrolled child goes on vacation, their spot can be made available for others to rent.) My husband and I jumped at the opportunity.

Before I continue, let me address the elephant in the room. Yes, I am a stay-at-home-mum and yes, my husband and I put our child in daycare for the summer. As a woman who chose to give up her professional career and is part of the United States military life overseas, I am seen as my husbands’s wife” or LO’s mother”—nothing more. When our family followed my husband’s career overseas, I gave up my professional identity to being a full-time-mum, a job I love but it is just not all of who I am. There is more to me than being a mum.

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The Benefits of Breaking Routine or 6 Reasons to Travel (even with kids)

I know a lot of people are wary of traveling with kids. Especially young kids. After all, the key to child-rearing generally boils down to routine, right? Snack times, lunch times, bed times – life is good when they all run like clockwork. Our four year old is a creature of habit, seemingly happiest when he knows the drill. Figure in sports practices, music or art lessons, and social outings/events and it’s clear that taking time out to travel, even during vacations, means making some sacrifices.

And then there’s your writing practice. Isn’t it all about butt-in-chair time? How often have you been told that the Muse won’t show up if you deviate from routine? There’s certainly some truth to that, but I refuse to believe that the Muse is quite so limited as to be unable to find you in another location on the planet. I mean, the Muse is genius. Surely with Wayz, we can all be found.

So why risk it? Why travel? Why take the precious vacation time you have and then add the stress of breaking from the routines, from your collection of go-to strategies for dealing with boredom, from the things on the to-do list, from the known? Well, I’ve just returned from over a month of voyaging with my travel-stressed husband and home-loving four-year old and I can say we all had an AMAZING time. We visited three different countries and transited through two more. We traveled by plane, train, bus, ferry (even an overnight ferry which was AWESOME), tram, trolley, and put I don’t know how many miles on our legs. And though there were hiccups and challenges, we all loved it – so let me tell you why.

1 – Because everyone needs a reset sometimes. Everyone. You, for sure, but also the kids and probably your spouse or partner. But it can be tough to reset at home. Sometimes you need to take a wrecking ball to the routine to truly be free. For me, when I’m at home, there are the chores, and the meal prep, the social engagements, and don’t even talk to me about the garden(!), all vying with my word count or revision goals. Running away every now and again gives you – all of you – permission to put it all down.

2 – As long as you’ve set down the load, take a moment to examine it. What is really necessary? What is truly beneficial? What can we afford to be flexible on? Are there adaptations that can make some of the non-negotiables work better. Distance can lend perspective, so take advantage of that and take the opportunity to get intentional about the routines you choose. And observe how people in different places handle these things. You might even pick up a new trick or two.

3 – Kids are sponges, but when they sit in the same places every day, do the same activities, see the same people, there’s only so much new stuff available for them to absorb. Put them on some form of public transit though and WOW! The learning is instant and self-driven, and the adventure promises to get better from there. Travel teaches us flexible-thinking, problem-solving, emotional resiliency — and when it doesn’t go as planned, it challenges us to figure out how to make the best of things. What parent doesn’t want these skills for their kids? But they’re also good for the grown ups too. As we age, it gets harder to grow, but travel expands your horizons.

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Back-to-School, the Other Important Stuff

So, you’ve got all the supplies on the list. You’ve got new shoes and maybe even enough clean clothes to get you through the whole first week (impressive). The backpacks are packed, the lunchboxes are clean, and everything is labeled. You’re ready! Sort of.

What about those first-day-of-school signs? Made on beautiful chalkboards and listing all the important info on your child…like age, grade, teacher, favorite book, what they want to be when they grow up. This one never ends up on my list of to-do.  I take my kids’ pictures…and my plan, years from now, is to make stuff up. Oh, gosh that was third grade! And you wanted to be an astronaut. What? You don’t remember that? I remember you were exactly 53 pounds! (They won’t know!)

Did you pick out that perfect first-day outfit? As for me, I’m going to make sure there’s something clean to wear. Maybe you’re consistent with laundry. Maybe you don’t have to run the same load three times because you keep forgetting about it for long periods of time. Maybe you can manage to get laundry from the basket into drawers. That’s not me. I’m just going for clean and non-wrinkled. And if the shorts are wrinkled I’ll just do a photo from the waist up. Stained shirt from breakfast? Just a head shot . This doesn’t have to be stressful.

Speaking of breakfast, what about that high-protein breakfast, preferably in the shape of a smiley face? High-protein breakfasts are actually super important for our crew, but no one here is smiling in the morning. We’ve had some success with blending up protein shakes and tossing scrambled eggs at them. Unless Martha Stewart is stopping by that first morning to help, you may want to adjust your expectations of yourself.

Sigh. It’s not that I don’t want the first day (and all year!) to be great, but I think most parents know there’s a lot more to the first day of school than just school supplies and clean socks. For little guys, there’s the anxiety of a new teacher and a different group of classmates. There are the worries of the middle schooler – who will be in my lunch period? Will I be able to find all my classrooms?

And then there’s all the worry we parents sit with: Is this the right teacher for her? Will he have someone to play with on the playground? Will she feel safe? Is the work going to be too hard? How am I going to keep track of all these schedules?!

We want them to have a friend, and we want them to feel safe, and we want them to love learning. And we can spend time worrying about these things, or, I suggest, we can spend time preparing them to be their own advocate. Here’s a list of reminders I start talking to my kids about well before the first chaotic morning:

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If Hindsight Met Memory Lane

By Erin Forrester

What would you say if you could go back and catch the ear of yesteryou? Would you get on a soapbox? Other options include pats on the back, high fives all around, or conversely, a good shake back to reality. As I think about my other dream (Mommyhood’s still my #1) of becoming a published picture book author, here’s what I might say to myself…

Dear sweet child me – I’m so happy you suffered from bouts of boredom. If not for those windows of torture you wouldn’t have discovered the family of kittens in the farmer’s field, built your dream house with Dad’s rock wall (oops), or provided an amazing life to three sweet smelling dolls, two colorful bears, and a pink-haired pony. Back in the day you had to get up to change a channel (yes, you read that right). Your attention span was decent. Your imagination was admirable. You had fun and now the memories are too many to consciously remember without help. It was here you found your love of written words, characters, and the satisfaction that comes when they mingle perfectly together. That spark you felt while reading will last the rest of your life. I wish you knew that the thoughts you had, even back then, were a dream worth having.

Dear pre-teen me – I am forever grateful for your prolonged innocence and total cluelessness. While the back of the bus offered some unrequested insight regarding the big wide world, it also went right over your head leaving you free to live another day as care-free kid. So what if you were immature? You were still having fun. You had your head in a book more than others and the last page turn still made you feel like you conquered a mountain.

Dear teenage me – if only you knew the ‘adult you’ would tell you that you should’ve listened to your parents more. Saved your money for a rainy day, traveling, or real estate. The parties they told you not to go to weren’t that great anyway, and probably resulted in many ill-fated choices by your friends. You got away with plenty. I’m proud of the way you faced a challenge head on – making the team, getting that job and finding your way. You had more FUN than you knew at the time. You buried your head in a book when Mom and Dad crushed your late night plans. It allowed an escape, just not your first choice locale. These sidebar journeys were creating a nest where ideas would live until you could pay them attention later.

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