With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, many families are still hunkered down together, learning, working and trying to get it all done in the same space. Not surprisingly, moms are bearing the brunt of the stress. They're the multitasking masters stepping in as the primary caregivers while doing more domestic labor, coordinating at-home schooling — essentially doing all the things.
“In the past 12 months, I’ve seen increases in anxiety and stress in mothers like never before,” says clinical psychologist Supatra Tovar, Psy.D., R.D.
All of that extra responsibility makes it harder to catch some alone time, which research shows can help regulate emotions. And with traditional “me time” activities like dinner out with friends, group workouts and movie nights unavailable, parents are turning on their problem-solving superpowers and finding the most brilliant and creative ways to rejuvenate. Here’s how a few have carved out that all-important “me time.”
When Angel Bates Creeks, the mother of two teenagers in Florida, told her husband she needed a way to boost her sense of wellbeing, he helped her transform their walk-in closet into an indoor “she shed.” With comfy pillows covering the floor and a handheld device at her fingertips, Creeks now has a sanctuary where she’s able to stretch out, listen to music or (maybe) take a nap. Her favorite part about this quiet retreat is that she can close the door and give up the weight of the world. “I can let things release and watch something interesting so I’m not thinking about day-to-day stuff,” she says.
Creeks also added some “me time” to her errand-running time. After food shopping, she’ll stay in the parking lot to watch a movie or show on her phone in the car. She can usually squeeze in an extra 20 minutes of programming before getting a call asking, “Does it take that long to pick up dinner?” When it comes to making her chill-out time a priority, she says, “If I can get in on it early, I can revive myself before it's too late.”
When it comes to unplugging from the parenting role, one Kentucky mom and parent of two tweens safely remains plugged into her pre-pandemic passion. Seeking to revive herself after long workdays, she loses herself in dance. “One of my biggest hobbies was dancing. That was definitely how I defined me—separate from ‘mom-me’ or ‘work-me,’” she says. Since attending in-person dance classes isn’t an option, this mama created her own private house party. She dances it out at least once a week by taking an online class through Zoom or Facebook Live. “I need that physical activity time for the release of stress,” she says.
Admitting it’s been tough finding alone time options lately, this mom is also exploring new roads that afford her breathing space. “I took up doing some DoorDash driving,” she reveals. She had no idea she’d enjoy the escape driving solo would provide, and coupled with the knowledge that she was “helping people out,” she found it to be a satisfying weekend respite. After dancing or driving, this busy mom says, “I feel much more energized and refreshed.”
In addition to the car, the bathroom has always been a sacred space for parents looking to catch a breather, and this is where Tina Sanchez of North Carolina found herself looking for alone time. After homeschooling her 11-year-old and caring for her aging parents living under the same roof, Sanchez needed a space to reboot. She started by doing her nails, but when she noticed her husband and family members didn’t come knocking, she thought bigger. She luxuriated in long nasal rinses, and she says, “I made my own mouthwash so I could be alone in the bathroom for just a little longer.”
Not stopping there, Sanchez moved her “me time” out of the sanctity of the bathroom and into more rooms of her home. Slipping off to her bedroom, or a small linen closet where she curled up under a cozy shelf three feet from the floor, she started indulging in short increments of movie watching. “This felt like standing up for myself,” she says. Tina absolutely feels refreshed after these mini-breaks. Her one alone-time tip? Don’t put it off. Sanchez says, “If you’ve waited too long to get your ‘me time,’ then it can take longer to work.” This can mean seeking out even longer breaks before you feel ready to take on the world.
Then there’s the alone time that happens unexpectedly. When Lily Kamberg-Martinez, mother to a 4-year-old living in California, entered the empty elevator in her building, the doors closed but nothing happened. Instead of panicking and believing she was stuck forever, an urgent need for downtime overtook her. “My first thought was a joyous, ‘Maybe I’ll get to be in here for an hour!’” she says. The problem was quickly discovered and her alone time amounted to about 10 minutes. Now, most days, she schedules her recharge time and wakes up earlier than her son to work out. “I think taking that little time for yourself is almost like you hit a reset button,” Kamberg-Martinez says.
No stranger to taking a break in a small space, Kentuckian Abby Malone, owner of the Etsy shop Multiple Monograms and a single mother to 8-year-old twins, has a game plan. When the stress mounts and she begins to lose patience, Malone says, “I have my ‘mom time-out’ where I put myself in the laundry room and play Candy Crush.” And the good news is the plan works. When she comes back she says, “I’m way better. I have more patience and I’m more fun.”
With entire families at home, tasks that could once upon a time feel like chores have transformed into opportunities for downtime. Southern Californian Sharon Frazier-Verpooten, reading expert and founder of Struggling Reader Help Online Tutoring, is a mother of four whose children range in age from 7 months to 18 years. She’s added food shopping to her grocery list of alone time rituals. “I can buy things I want and I don’t have to explain … like hummus. Because it’s important to buy yourself hummus,” she says. Frazier-Verpooten also explains that in her world having a child-free moment isn’t always practical, so caring for one child at time feels like a recharge. “The baby is probably the easiest because I can do many things for myself with him,” she says.
Cristina Fernandez of California, was sneaking snacks in the “blind spot” of her kitchen (a place where she could see her two toddlers but they couldn’t see her) scrambling for pockets of reset time. After months of binging on string cheese and Oreos, she told her husband she needed time off. “I needed a break and I’ll do any scary thing I’ve been wanting to do at this point,” she says. They set up a schedule and with two nights off a week, she summoned her courage and her funny bone and she signed up for a virtual stand-up comedy class. “Oh my gosh, I was so happy!” she says of her experience. Fernandez remarks that taking this creative time for herself has been key to her survival. It has allowed her some time that isn’t defined by her kids, which makes, “Mommy a better mommy.”
When it comes to finding alone time, everyone’s opportunities vary. These moms have discovered it’s not necessarily the amount of time spent in the laundry room or the closet that’s important, but the focusing on themselves that changes it all. Dr. Tovar says, “Many of my mama clients feel guilty and have a hard time embracing the need for self-care.” She goes on to explain that women are conditioned to put themselves last. “That’s when I break out the old adage: ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup,’” Dr. Tovar says. But when moms take time out for that self-care they feel better about themselves. Our Kentucky mom says it best saying, “The different hats I wear, they’re on all at once. I do think it’s good to set time aside where you don’t have any hats.”
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