“Since I became a mother, even going to the grocery store on my own feels like a holiday!”
Have you ever said this in jest? Or something similar? Makes you laugh right? But pre-kids would you ever have considered a trip to the supermarket to be a bit of “me-time”? Nope. Didn’t think so.
So what is it about motherhood that so drastically skews our concepts of “time out”, “self-care” and that all important “me time”? Why do we as mothers feel the need to be so grateful for any time spent on our own, even if it’s just to do mundane tasks?
I get the feeling that it comes down to one very important misconception: that we are only “On Duty” as mothers when we are WITH our children, and that any time we are away from our children is a break from our motherhood role.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. To explain this further I want to introduce you to a concept called “co-occupation” – which is an Occupational Therapy term referring to “the interplay of the occupations of two or more people”*.
Motherhood is the perfect example of a co-occupation, because motherhood is all about the intrinsic linking of a woman and her child. Without a child there is no mother.
So how does the co-occupation of motherhood impact us? At first thought, we might presume that the role of motherhood only occurs when we are physically with our child – “doing with” such as playing games with your child, reading a book together, eating meals together, going for a walk or bike ride: “doing to” such as changing a nappy, administering medication, or rocking a baby to sleep; or “doing alongside” – such as watching your child play independently, driving them to school, or extra-curricular activities.
These are generally the times when we see ourselves as being “On-Duty” as mothers.
But what about the co-occupations that occur when a mother and child aren’t physically together? The “doing for” and “doing because of”? Those times we fold mountains of laundry while watching our favourite TV show, or book dentist appointments in our lunch break while the kids are at school, or bake a batch of muffins for school lunches while Dad takes the kids to the park, or listen to a parenting podcast while on our morning walking, or yes, doing the groceries alone while someone else cares for your child.
These times aren’t “me-time” – but sometimes I feel like we’ve been led to believe they should be. That we should be grateful for any opportunity to relish some time alone without our children – even if we’re still doing stuff “for” them, because all time spent without our children present is equally as restful and rejuvenating.
Because these things are still “co-occupations” – things we do for, or on behalf of, our children. Certainly they might have been things you would have done, or would still have to do if you didn’t have children. But now that you DO have children, tell me, have you ever managed to do a grocery shop without thinking what you need to feed your child? Or have you ever taken an hour to go shopping for yourself, only to see a million things you’d like to buy for your little one?
Even when we do things without our children present, they are still at the forefront of our mind. And that’s why it feels like you never get a break from motherhood – even when you technically “took a break”.
I want mothers to understand the difference between “time away from their children” and “time off”. Because those two things aren’t the same.
But why do you need a break? Isn’t motherhood enough?
Nope. Sorry, I know sometimes we think it should be. But we are all more than mothers. We are individuals first, and we deserve to have an identity apart from our motherhood status.
So what’s my suggestion? How can you actually take a worthwhile break?
You need to find something to do that is just for yourself – something that doesn’t classify as a co-occupation, and something that has these few elements to it:
- It should be something that you do, just for you – 100 percent. Not something that you do for yourself that your kids also benefit from, like baking food for their lunchboxes or crocheting them a beanie. And not something you do with your children present – such as Mums and Bubs Pilates, or coffee with your Mums group. That’s not to say you should stop these things. They’re all great – they’re just not enough!
- It should be something active. Now, I love passive “time out” activities – such as getting a massage or a pedicure, as much as the next mum, and they’re often touted as an excellent “me time” activity, but they’re not especially engaging. They don’t require any effort on your part, but they do give you lots of time to think about how nice it is to have time away to yourself, without the kids – it’s a kind of escapism. But that’s not the point. For me, these tasks fit into the realm of self-care, which is lovely, but they’re not as rejuvenating and fulfilling as truly meaningful, engaging activities. It’s a subtle difference between “self-care” and “me-time”.
- Which brings me to the third factor – it has to be something meaningful to you. We OT’s love, love, love the concept of meaningful occupation. It’s what our whole profession is built upon – the notion that engagement in meaningful activities is what makes a person truly “well” and what makes life truly worth living. But what makes something meaningful? Well that’s completely up to you. Broadly speaking a “meaningful occupation” is something you do which is important to you, or that you enjoy and which benefits your life in some way. So what is meaningful to you? Maybe it’s dancing, maybe it’s reading crime thrillers, maybe it’s bushwalking, or surfing, or painting, or running marathons, or yarn bombing, or restoring vintage cars, or playing the piano, or growing prize winning orchids, or poetry slam nights, or roller derby, or tap dancing, or surfing? It could be anything. Can’t think what that is for you? Here’s a tip. Think back to what you loved to do as a child, or a teenager? What is something you used to do and love that 21year old you would be devastated to think you no longer do? THAT’S your meaningful occupation.
Have you figured yours out yet? Do you know what it is? Then go out and do it. As much as you can, whether that’s once a day, or once a month. Find a way to fit it into your schedule. Make it a priority. Because until you do you won’t find time for it.
Motherhood is all-encompassing. If we let it, it can swallow us whole. We need to have something that reminds us of who we are – without reference to our children. Something that isn’t a motherhood co-occupation.
You matter, and what you love matters. And I’m sure there’s something in this world you love doing more than the groceries.
So go do it.
Until next time, Sarah xx