parent opinion

OPINION: Sorry, but doing the grocery shop without the kids is not "me-time."

It's a parenting tale as old as time… 

You're in the supermarket on a busy Saturday buying groceries when you run into an acquaintance. She has the kids with her and you don’t, and to make small talk, you make a remark about how visiting Woolies child-free is akin to a spa retreat. You both laugh, nod in agreement and move on with your afternoon. 

I often make that joke with other mums because shopping, cleaning, showering and doing virtually anything without the kids around is much easier than with them, but it is obviously not the same as visiting a...day spa. 

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While I don’t think we should stop the parenting small talk in aisle seven, we need to acknowledge the difference between completing essential chores that keep the household running, and legitimate acts of self-care. 

We need to question why so many mums include activities like shopping for groceries, buying kids' birthday presents, or even just having a shower as ‘me-time’.

According to a recent article on Mother.ly that delves into this theme, 86 per cent of mothers experience burnout. Part of the reason for this, author Diana Spalding writes, is because mums feel such guilt at taking time out for themselves.

“…mums are desperate for self-care so we look for ways to get 'alone time' that don't make us feel guilty,” Diana says. 

Ah, mum guilt. As pervasive as it is utterly pointless. The younger our kids are too, the harder it can feel to leave them behind for what feels like a ‘selfish’ pursuit when they are still so small and needy.

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My two boys are aged ten and almost four years old, so the mother guilt is gradually lessening, yet even now when my husband Jules takes them out over the weekend, I still restlessly pace around the house picking things up or putting on a load of washing before I can relax. 

House chores need to get done of course, but sometimes what I really need to do instead of guiltily and aggressively picking up socks, is have a nap, go for a run or sit on my bed and watch my current favourite show (Younger on Stan btw) while eating a peanut butter sandwich. 

I am getting better at recognising my own needs and letting go of the chores and errands that don’t always immediately need attending to, but I understand that for a lot of mums, especially time-poor mums of little kids, it can be hard. 

Hard to remember what self-care means anymore, hard to feel a true sense of relaxation when there is so much guilt wrapped up in leaving the kids. Hard even just to fit 'self-care', whatever that is, into a busy family schedule. 

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So mums squeeze it in where possible and make jokes about cleaning and shopping without kids as being as close to a holiday as we can imagine.

Hosted by Laura Byrne and featuring lots of special guests, our podcast Me After You delves into the reality of life after becoming a parent. Post continues below.

But we need to think about it differently: mums are often the centre of the family unit, and if we fall down in a heap, no one in the family benefits. Our self-care should not be thought about as simply a nice extra, but crucial to the family’s overall happiness. 

I have learnt that for me, exercise and social activity is essential. 

I make time each week to visit the local outdoor pool with a couple of girlfriends followed by brunch, and this counts as a regular and legitimate act of self-care. We swim and then we talk and put the world to rights while drinking good coffee and I go back to my family refreshed. 

My husband surfs and has coffee with his friends, and both of us have learnt that these things are non-negotiable when it comes to managing our weekly schedules. 

Perhaps we don’t get to washing the sheets and towels as often as we should, but no one goes hungry or unloved and we do get to enjoy some proper time away from parenting instead.

If cleaning or shopping is genuinely your thing then you do you, but if a majority of mums are experiencing burnout, perhaps now is the time to take this whole self-care thing more seriously? It doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive or involve exercise. It just needs to properly replenish your soul, and importantly, not involve doing an act of service for anyone other than yourself.  

Mums work hard - and let’s face it, the list of errands literally never ends anyway. We have to ditch the pointless guilt and raise the bar when it comes to caring for ourselves and our needs.

We need to stop thinking that the weekly grocery shop without kids is enough. We're raising small humans and juggling multiple demands - we deserve so much more.

Feature Image: Instagram / @lauracjackel

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