My friend felt burdened.
Her husband was always working interstate, she had a busy job herself and her parents lived far away so were little practical help.
‘If only I could get to yoga twice a week but the classes are 90 minutes and, with travel, I don’t get any two-hour blocks when I could get that break,’ she told me over a (20-minute) coffee. ‘And yet, I desperately need some time for myself.’
Squeezing in some ‘me time’ is the holy grail for modern parents but also the cause of much tension between couples. ‘He goes to golf every Saturday and thinks my trips to the supermarket to do the family shop is the equivalent,’ fumed one of my friends.
But do we really need ‘me time’?
Parenting expert Dr Justin Coulson points out that ‘me time’ is not always healthy. ‘It depends on why we want it, and our approach to it,’ he writes in his new book 21 Days To A Happier Family. ‘If it is to get our oxygen mask on and keep ourselves on track, great! If it is an escape that follows on from a resentful sense of frustration toward our children, and a desire to “just get away”, ‘me time’ may not be the best strategy for creating a happy family.’
But what if a swim or a pedicure or just a shower on your own is essential to your mental health?
Justin believes it’s important to distinguish between taking time to take care of yourself versus seeing your kids as a burden and constantly finding opportunities to escape from them. As he says, for some it seems as though life is what happens when they get away from the children.
But what if families focused more on ‘we time’ rather than ‘me time’? As Justin points out: ‘What research shows is that if we invest more time in our family – and we do so willingly – the effects are positive, and flow through each of us in ways that increase the happiness and wellbeing of everyone in the family.’
It’s a philosophy followed by actors like Victoria and David Beckham who throw themselves into family activities, and Reese Witherspoon who regularly takes her kids hiking.
Justin suggests asking yourself whether you need ‘me time’ to restore balance or to get away from the family. As he says, it’s important to see our children as people not impediments.