It is a truth universally acknowledged that there aren’t enough hours in the day for parents. For me, there were never enough - even before children. I’m not entirely sure what I did, in between work and bed, but I never did reach the end of my to-do list, the house was never spotless, the wash basket never empty. Two children later, and even a dramatic drop in standards hasn’t been enough to ever feel like we’re ‘on top’ of things.
Something always has to give, and much of the time it’s self-care that ends up plummeting down the list, eventually sliding off the bottom of it altogether. But, according to the well-meaning advice of some, there’s an untapped chunk of time, where you can get ahead and set yourself up for the day. The downside? They’re talking about getting up early.
Some people are early birds - they leap out of bed and seize the day. Those people are great, they’re impressive, they’re queueing outside the supermarket when it opens. My mum is one of those people. I am not.
Even if I was a naturally early riser, I suspect that the disturbed sleep of early motherhood might have scuppered that. Before my lie-ins were rudely interrupted by my return to work (sigh) and the school run (double sigh), if the baby slept late in the morning, so did I. Even now, my sons seem to have adopted my natural rhythm – they’ll sleep until at least eight at the weekend. And most of the time, I’ll stay in bed too.
I do get it. On the occasions that I’m the first up, the house is silent. I can listen to a sweary podcast, do some yoga without anyone climbing on me, even scroll on my phone for a bit. It’s great, if not a bit lonely when you’re not used to it.
But do you know what else is great? Sleep.
Sleep is amazing, and important – especially when you’re not getting a lot of it.
There seems to be some perceived moral superiority in getting up early. We’ve all read interviews with CEOs, casually talking about getting up at daft o’clock to exercise, drink something green, meditate for a bit and still make it to their desk for nine. That’s great – for them.
It’s all about respecting your own natural rhythms. The early bird might catch the worm, but this particular early bird would be nodding off by 4pm, or jittery from the caffeine required to keep me going.
I know that I’ll be at my most energetic at around 9pm, so I’ll do something for myself then - unless things have gone really haywire and one of the boys is still up. We go with the flow, and do things when we can. If I sit and write something at 10pm, I’ll let myself feel just as smug about that as I would if I did it at 6am. The way that you schedule your time is morally neutral.
There’s also a lot to be said for micro-dosing ‘me-time’. You can’t always have a spa day, or an evening out, but you can fit in little moments throughout the day to keep yourself going. The ways I’ve fit this in have adapted through every age and stage.
When my eldest was tiny, I’d spend hours walking around with him, listening to podcasts. I felt more like ‘me’ again when I downloaded the Kindle app and read actual books during feeds and contact naps, rather than doom-scrolling. Learning to do everything with him in the sling gave me my hands back, while keeping him close to me and therefore content.
Now they’re bigger, it might look like me hiding around the corner in the kitchen to eat a biscuit in peace. Maybe I’ll do some sudoku (yes, I’m a hedonist) while they’re watching a bit of TV. In the last few months, another bonus bit of time has been unlocked- they’ve started to play together nicely. It gets easier.
Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a moment after getting in the car. After a rushed morning, I sometimes do a really quick breathing exercise once everyone’s strapped in, to reset and stop me carrying that stress with me all day. I’ve been known to do my makeup in the car, or paint my nails. It gives the neighbours something to talk about, too.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a supportive co-parent, but me and my husband are generally good at making sure we each get pockets of time to ourselves. It all helps, and (mostly) keeps us on an even keel while we’re dealing with whatever the day’s parenting throws at us.
If it sounds like I’m muddling through, it’s because I am – but I genuinely think most people are. It works for us, and if getting creative with how I use my time outside of work means I don’t have to get up at 5am, I’ll take it.
If you can figure out a schedule that works around your natural rhythm, that’s great. If you don’t have a schedule, and take each day as it comes – that’s great too. You don’t have to get up super early to fit in ‘me-time’, if you don’t want to. Do what suits you and your family - no guilt required, ever.
About the Author:
Emma Foley is a writer and mindfulness teacher, living in South Yorkshire with her husband and two young sons. Emma can be found talking about mindfulness, parenting and whatever else takes her fancy on Instagram - @emma_foley_writer