woman-591576_960_720We have a deal.

Tuesday afternoons, when my husband walks in the door at around 4:30, I have the option of walking out the door and not coming back until whenever the heck I feel like. It is my “night off.” I don’t always choose to take it, but I often do. Even if it’s just for an hour and all I do is go to Target by myself. My husband has the same option on most Thursdays, but often chooses not to take it because he’s at work all day and wants his time with the munchkin. But the option is open to him, and sometimes just knowing the option is there is enough.

We implemented this deal back in October when some major life changes happened for us. We had been together so long before we had our son that we naively thought we were rock solid and nothing could shake us, but the first six months of new parenthood had taken a toll and, truthfully, we were not in a healthy place individually or in our marriage. We started going to individual therapy and seeing a couple’s therapist, and around the same time our time-off deal was created and it has been such a game-changer for us.

I had been so overwhelmed. I think that in the first 6 months of my son’s life, I was away from him maybe 4 times for any significant period of time, and no more than 8 hours. After years of infertility, a traumatic birth, and a 2-week NICU stint, I was terrified to leave him out of the fear that something else would go terribly wrong and he would be taken away from me again. I poured everything into taking care of him: all of the usual effort new parents put in, plus all of the attention I had once given to myself and to my marriage. All of my resources went into this little fragile person and there was nothing left for anyone or anything else, and I thought myself selfish if I ever considered another option.

When I started taking just a couple of hours to myself once a week, I was finally getting the healthy separation that I needed. I get to go decompress and have the physical and mental space to re-center myself and recharge. It gives me the chance to miss my son. It gives me the chance to appreciate my partner and miss him, too.

Some nights I take myself to dinner. Other times I meet friends, or go get a pedicure or go to a movie. Sometimes I just drive with the windows down and play music that does not have toddlers as a target audience, or go sit under the stars in blissful peace and quiet.

It’s been such an important lesson for me: we have to take care of ourselves to take care of our families. Just as with anything else, we have to regularly recharge our batteries in order to function. We cannot continually put ourselves last and expect to be happy with our lives.

So: parents! What do you do to take care of yourself and recharge? Are you lacking in “you” time and if so, what is something you think you might be able to change to get it?

-Stephanie Ansley