At one point last year, I felt like all my time was spent being either a mom or an employee (I work 32 hours as an editor at our church). I would drop the kids off at daycare, work eight hours, and then pick them up without a real break in my day. As soon as we got home, it was time for supper, laundry, a little playtime and before we knew it, it was bedtime. I remember back when Finch would cluster feed for HOURS in the evenings, and when he finally went to sleep, I was exhausted and just wanted to go to bed, too (plus he was still getting up 2-3 times a night). I didn't have much extra time for myself or our marriage (turns out being someone's main food source/comforter can be really stressful!). I'm glad things aren't exactly like this anymore, but the balance was still feeling off. We're in the trenches, you know?
Eric felt the same way. He would work all day, then come home to make dinner, wash the dishes, play with the kids and then do bedtime. We stick to a very strict bedtime schedule. Nothing about this is bad...for the most part we have a good daily routine, but after several months of the same thing, it can get mundane. Eric didn't have much downtime to himself except for his 10-minute drive to work and back. I know this comes with the territory of having two young kids, but we want to thrive during these years instead of just survive. Eric expressed that he wanted to make more time for connections with friends. I know he needs this, but when he would schedule a Fantasy Football draft or bike ride with a friend, I would get resentful because I didn't feel like I had the same opportunity since I always had to be home to breastfeed.
But in the past few months, with Finch getting more and more independent, and after some intentional conversations with Eric, we've made some really good changes. We know it's good to take time away, but for some reason we still felt selfish or guilty that we'd be having fun while the other person was juggling the kids.
So, we are trying something called PTO, which stands for Parent Time Off. If something comes up that we want to attend, or if we just feel like we need a night "off," we make sure it works with the other person's schedule and then we're good to go. No problem. No guilt. Go and have so much fun!
I've used my time off for things like:
- A massage
- Prayer and worship night
- Dinner with friends
- Watching DWTS in silence
- Sleeping in on the weekend
Eric and I each get six hours of PTO a month (on average I use about 4.5). Yes, we have a spreadsheet where we track it. It might sound rigid or too formal of an arrangement to you, but it's been very freeing for us to know that we are allowed one night every other week or so to do something that fills us up. If anything, seeing how many hours I have banked is sort of like checking the thermometer on how well I'm doing at self care. Having a lot of hours leftover is not something to brag about, it's a reminder to get something scheduled before I have a meltdown. (We only take PTO when the other parent is watching both kids during their waking hours of 7:00 am - 7:30 pm. If we get a babysitter and go on a date, it does not count as PTO.) It's kind of funny - I just realized that Eric uses his PTO to connect with others, and while I do that some, mostly I just use it for the alone time that I so desperately crave.
It has been a wonderful change for both of us in feeling more like ourselves. We don't have to feel guilty for taking time away, because we know the other person will get the same chance to do something they enjoy. I think it's important for our kids to realize we have hobbies and interests, too. We come home recharged to be the best mom or dad possible. I know our family dynamic will continue to change, so I don't think this is something we'll have to keep track of forever, but it's been a great way for us to establish the habit of taking time away.
What do you think? Does this sound super crazy? Do you do something similar that works for your family?