Last week I did something truly shocking.
After a crazy, stressful, way-over-scheduled and emotionally draining month, I found myself at home, solo, with nothing to do. Imagine: 120 glorious-found-minutes of uninterrupted me-time. No kids, no work commitments, no volunteer stuff. Just 2 hours of blissful freedom. Sounds like a dream come true, right?
Now, before you let your imagination run wild, let me tell you the shocking part. I was struck by a serious case of relaxation guilt, and was only able to let myself enjoy about 5 of those 120 minutes.
In hindsight, I’m a little horrified by what I chose to do with that free time.
Once I settled on the couch to speed-binge a Netflix series, my mind started racing:
Is the laundry caught up? Should I match some socks? I should really get a head start on that article for work. Did I sign the kids up for all their summer camps? Do I have those forms filled out? Did I pay all the bills yet? Did I send out the team signup genius? When was the last time I sent my mother-in-law updated pictures of the kids? And so on.
The remaining 115 minutes were spent in an ineffective haze of relaxation guilt, failed multi-tasking and wall-staring. I was completely unable to chill out.
Turns out, I’m not alone. A non-scientific poll of my fellow moms - conducted in the school parking lot - revealed similar results. We no longer know how to relax without guilt. And that stinks!
How to Manage Relaxation Guilt
So, what to do about it? You guessed it – self care!
We all know that self-care is critically important for parents of complex kids. We’re well aware that if we don’t tend to our own needs, we won’t be able to effectively parent. And yet, it’s ridiculously difficult to choose ‘me time’ over the ‘to do’ list. I can dig into all the potential psychological reasons behind this relaxation guilt, but sometimes it’s just easier to jump right into action.
So, the next time you find yourself with a free hour, 30 minutes or even just 5 minutes, I encourage you to try one of these to help yourself relax:
- Rest – put your feet up, close your eyes and just rest. Meditate if that works for you. Even if you just zone out for a bit, you’ll feel a lot better.
- Exit/Escape the House, the Car, the Office – go for a walk or to a coffee shop. Remove yourself from easy access to the the places and things that fill up your ‘to do’ list.
- Let’s Make a Deal – If you know you really want to watch The Walking Dead (or whatever), but you can’t shut your mind off, strike a bargain with your inner nag. Commit to watching 15 minutes of something, and then negotiate with yourself for additional time. 😉 YOU win either way!
- Xtreme Measures – If you’ve tried all of the above and you still can’t silence your inner task master, you may need something more dramatic. I’m talking about an entire 3-6 hour block of enforced relaxation, people. Break out the big guns. Date night, movie night, girls night out, spa afternoon, community center…whatever! Just go someplace that makes it physically impossible for you to accomplish anything on your to do list. For really challenging cases, I recommend Xtreme Measures at least once a month – more if you’re an over-achiever! 😉
I want to encourage you to accept this challenge stand up to your relaxation guilt, and start learning how to relax (at least a little). If you truly believed that your kids would fail in life and you’d get fired from your job unless you figured out a way to relax, I’m guessing you’d master that skill! Since I prefer to stay positive, try flipping that doomsday prophecy around and envision this: how amazing will your life be – for you and everyone around you -- when you accept the challenge of taking care of you!?
Our lives are tough enough without the added stress of parental burnout. Even our cell phones need recharging on a daily (or multiple times per day!) basis for maximum functionality! So set yourself up for success by taking advantage of those guilt-free internal battery-charging opportunities whenever they occur! No special equipment necessary!