Mothers Need Time Outs Too

Why mothers need time outs too.

Mom Time

Time Out for Moms

It’s good to be a little selfish sometimes

-Susan Callahan, Anne Nolen and Katrin Schumann

A woman reading on her bedThe reality of our lives as mothers – whether we stay-at-home or work, have one kid or five, are old pros at childrearing or new to the game – is that we’ve all experienced the daily frustrations of not having enough time to do things properly, of being stretched so thin that we snap and complain. Sometimes we’ll go for days, weeks, months operating this way, wondering why we feel so little joy in our lives. We give our children time outs, but what about ours?

Many of us have to be pushed to the limits of our health and happiness before we understand that downtime isn’t a selfish luxury we need once in a blue moon, but a frequent necessity. After interviewing more than 500 women, we came to the conclusion that being selfish isn’t always bad!

So what do we really mean when we say moms need to take time outs? We’re not talking about those rushed moments, crammed in between the stuff of our lives. We’re suggesting you actually give yourself a time-out-from 10 minutes, to an hour, to a day-when:

• You choose what to do with your time. You’re doing something you want to do, not what someone else expects you to do.

• You’ve temporarily escaped from your roles as mother, spouse or professional and are simply being yourself.

• You have given yourself permission to do nothing: You are being, not doing.

• You’re allowing your body and mind to relax.

Consider this: We’re told from the day we’re born that it’s sinful to be slothful. We take pride in being a society of doers. But what toll does this take? The alarming rise in the rate of sleeping pill usage tells us loud and clear that many of us are finding it harder and harder to relax.

According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 40 percent of adult Americans suffer sleep problems each year. Hardly surprising, then, that pharmacists filled 43 million prescriptions for sleep drugs in 2005 – that’s up 32 percent in only four years, according to Consumer Reports. Without medication, the mind stays in overdrive and can’t achieve rest. But our bodies need rest: did you know that sleep deprivation is one of the most effective forms of torture? At a certain point, even if our minds haven’t yet acknowledged it, we break down physically and mentally.

Yet we’re told over and over again that more is better. All three of us sure fell into that trap: You’ll be “happier” and more “successful” if you do and have more. A more active social life makes us feel more tapped in. More meetings at work are a sign of how much we’re needed. More places to be during the day means we are active, engaged, living life fully. But it’s an illusion. The busier we are, the less we’re able to savor the simple aspects of mothering-and of ourselves-that can bring us such joy.

No time to relax? That’s certainly how we’ve felt. Here are some of the things we tried that might be helpful for you:

What works? Determine a handful of activities that make you feel peaceful. Some might be quick, others time consuming. This is about what works for you. Adele, a mother of two from Boston, discovered she loves puzzles: The methodical nature of putting them together calms her mind down.

• When to do it: Brainstorm possible pockets of time. You may have to weed things out of your daily to do list. Could you get up a little earlier; take a lunch break; disappear while the kids are doing homework or while your spouse is clearing dinner; clean up less; drive less; make fewer family commitments? Sue from San Francisco trades watching kids one day each week with a friend, so each can have some time to herself.

Get support: Explain to your significant other why this is important to your well-being, and how he/she can help you realize your goal. Share the many ways it makes you a better mother and partner. Donna from Austin said after her husband was laid off from work and saw how she spent her hectic days, he never again asked her, “But what do you do all day?”

• Spread the Love: Make sure everyone reaps the benefits of your newly energized and centered self! Say “thank you” often; show your gratitude with generosity.

Schedule it: Mark your downtime on a communal calendar.

• Analyze your actions: If you’re falling into a pattern of skipping your designated time alone, ask yourself why. Have you chosen an activity that isn’t quite right for you? Are you trying to be “good” rather than really doing what you want (which can be absolutely nothing-that counts too!).

So start today by taking small steps toward achieving a less hectic life, take a time out, and everyone will thank you for it!

Susan Callahan, Anne Nolen and Katrin Schumann are authors of Mothers Need Time-Outs, Too (McGraw-Hill). Passionate about empowering women around the world, they are donating a percentage of their profits to UNIFEM, the United Nations Fund for Women. For more information, please go to

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0 thoughts on “Mothers Need Time Outs Too

  1. Agreed! I just helped out with an event called “Be Selfish”, where an insightful woman explained that before you can give love, you have to be centered, happy, and self-loving. This generates the energy needed to give love to others. And how can that be accomplished if you’re exhausted and frustrated? Great article!

  2. Hey chaucerleelou! You’re right, our research showed that moms with little children (especially babies) were generally very stressed out unless they had help at home. Interestingly, moms with little kids who worked outside the home often suffered from guilt, but felt as though going to work gave them a kind of time-out from parenting that was helpful once they returned home to the mayhem of child rearing!

    What we also learned though, is that you CANNOT put off taking care of yourself until your kids are older or until you have enough money for a babysitter. It just doesn’t work. You end up exhausted, bitter and, usually, a mean mommy (it’s true!).

    So we spent a lot of energy in the book looking for tips from moms that don;t cost money and often don;t require huge amounts of time. It is possible, you just have to be creative. You also have to respect your needs enough to make it a priority.

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