When was the last time you found a little time for yourself?
The days are long, but the years are short. I’m sure someone’s said that to you at least once before. We’re supposed to savour every moment with our precious children because all too soon they’ll be grown up and gone. But what if you just want a little bit of time for yourself?
I’m all for savouring, but sometimes you just need a bit of peace, and you need it now, not in twenty years’ time.
In the interests of managing expectations, you should know that there’s nothing new or earth-shattering in this list. Often when you have a problem (in this case, the need to find time for yourself), the tendency is to assume that you need a shiny new solution. Sometimes the simple things work the best. It’s possible to find time for yourself, even with small children at home.
Here are my favourite ways to get a little bit of time for yourself by using engaging activities that require minimal supervision. Mostly these are aimed at four-year-olds, because that’s where my youngest is right now. A lot of the ideas will work for younger or older children too.
Ten Ways To Find Time For Yourself – Even With Small Children.
1. Water play.
I’m reminded of Sark’s wise words here – ‘If they get crabby, put them in water’ (I adore this poster so much!). Water is almost magical in its power to keep children entertained and happy for hours. From as soon as they were old enough to stand safely on a chair, all of mine have enjoyed ‘washing up’ while I cooked dinner. Outdoor water play can be a great way to get a little bit of time for yourself. It doesn’t take much water to keep a small child happy for a long time.
Sometimes I’ll fill a mixing tray, and that inch of water provides a new variation on the perennial favourite game of lining cars up. Adding water beads and a digger or dumper truck works well, or just a variety of kitchen tools for scooping and pouring.
A bucket of water can be just as much fun, with or without a squirt of soap. Provide a brush (a dustpan-and-brush type brush is perfect) for washing toy cars and bikes, or a sponge and some pots and pans to clean up.
The object of this game is to get you some peace and quiet. You won’t get that if you’re fussing about your children getting wet or muddy. Let them be, as much as possible, enjoy some time for yourself, and just be ready with a bucket of warm water, or a hosepipe, to deal with the mess at the end.
2. Special toys.
Second-time mothers are often advised to have a basket of special books and toys that are only ever brought out when they’re nursing the newborn. This trick continues to work well past the toddler years. Have some special toys that your children can only play with when you’re looking for some time for yourself. Swap the toys now and again, and don’t overuse it – otherwise the magic will fade quickly.
3. Finding time for yourself by fading away while your child plays.
This one can work really well with quite young children. The idea is to set up a really absorbing, engaging game or task, and to join in with it wholeheartedly, and then gradually fade into the background. For example, I almost always find that once I’ve set up an elaborate train track (ours is a vintage version of this one, and I’m slightly disappointed that it didn’t come with a goat!), and a town around it, and sat and played and talked a while, I become surplus to requirements. You won’t be able to do things requiring full concentration, but it’s a great way to sneak in some knitting. Stay in the room, stay in your child’s world, and join in if you’re needed, otherwise enjoy the peace.
4. Don’t forget that TV can help you find time for yourself.
This one might be a bit controversial, but I’m honestly not interested in an argument about screen time. If your little one watches a lot of TV already, this won’t work, but if screens are still a novelty, you’re in luck. Television was an absolute lifesaver when I had two non-napping toddlers to contend with. There’s no shame in using television as a tool to get you some time to yourself. Peaceful time without someone pulling at you is an important part of self-care. Self-care helps you be a better mama.
5. Get outside.
The noise of children playing is diluted by being outside. You don’t need an elaborate day trip, a local park, woods, or even the garden, are perfect. Packing a snack and drink for everyone makes it officially a picnic, way more exciting than going to the park to watch mama read a book.
Pick somewhere with appropriate boundaries for your child. Then you can say ‘stay on the grass’, or, ‘stay in the park’ and your child will be easily supervised. The idea is to sit in the middle of it and string daisy chains, watch clouds, or read your book.
You’re still supervising, but you’re outside, so it’s not so noisy, and you know your children are safe, so you don’t have to be watching too intently. This might not be time for yourself in the way that you enjoyed it before children. It’s definitely a way to get a little bit of peace though.
6. Clean-but-messy play.
True messy play, the kind where everyone and everything ends up covered in paint, or mud, or glue, or a combination of the three, isn’t what you want here. If your preschooler is like mine, the opportunity to make a mess is irresistible. As you’re learning, irresistible activities are perfect for getting you some time for yourself. The trick is to find things that are messy enough to be fun, but that can be set up quickly and cleaned up in less than five minutes. You’d sacrifice five minutes in order to get twenty minutes of time for yourself, wouldn’t you?
Tuff Spot Play
Pinterest is full of Tuff Spot ideas, so I’ll just share a couple of my favourite. I’ve already mentioned water and water beads here – we prefer to keep those outside, though, after a memorable incident where my toddler filled his wellies with them, and then put them on (FYI, squished water beads and carpets aren’t a good combination). Dried pasta works well though – go for biggish pasta shapes for easier cleanup. Bonus points for dyeing the pasta ahead of time. Add a digger or two, or some kitchen tools for scooping and pouring, and you’re set. Cleanup is as simple as getting the dustpan and brush out so you can dump it all back into a storage box, ready for another day.
Buttons are another good one – as long as you’re confident your child is past the stage of putting stuff in his mouth / up his nose / in his ear. The buttons live in my office and don’t get used often, so they’re good for a long stretch of play. I like to put out divided snack plates and silicone muffin trays with these. If you’ve got buttons with big enough holes, shoelaces for stringing can be fun too (but only if it’s not likely to cause frustration, or require you to step in and tie knots over and over – that wouldn’t make for a peaceful stretch of time for yourself.)
7. Paper cutting.
What preschooler wouldn’t love to be given a huge bucket of stuff they can just cut up to their heart’s content? We’ve had a cutting station at home on and off over the years. My favourite way to set it up is with a big bucket and a pair of safety scissors tied to the handle. Tying the scissors helps reduce the risk that they’ll cut anything you don’t want them to. Fill the bucket with your paper recycling, and add other materials for variety – thicker cardboard, playdough, craft foam sheets. This is another one that makes a satisfyingly big mess, but can be cleaned up super-fast with a dustpan and brush, or the vacuum cleaner, depending on how well-developed those snipping skills are. This one wins extra points for providing awesome fine motor skills practice while you enjoy some time for yourself.
Choose carefully, because not all sticker sheets are created equal. You’re after stickers with a simple shape (circles are best), so that they won’t rip when your child tries to peel them off. Peel off the sticker backing ahead of time to make them easier to get hold of. Lots of sheets of paper, or, for best results, a big cardboard box, and maybe some markers as well. If stickers are too tricky, try tearing bits of masking tape off and sticking them all along the edge of a table for easy grabbing. Small children are more interested in the act of sticking than in the shape or design of the stickers. Coloured electrical tape is good fun too.
9. Ramps and tunnels.
More suited to slightly older children, maybe Reception-aged. Collect some tubes and cardboard ahead of time. Turn some of the cardboard into ramps by cutting wide strips and folding up the edges. Then use a box of wooden blocks or Duplo to support the tubes and ramps. You’ll need cars, people, or balls small enough to fit through the tubes easily. I find this works best when the child already knows how to set things up, so it’s worth playing with him for the first few sessions. Once they get the hang of it, though, this one can make for some very absorbing STEM play.
10. Simply swapping out boxes of toys can help you find time for yourself.
In my quest to minimise the amount of tidying up I have to do, I swap out toys frequently. Usually, there are one or two boxes in the living room, and when the living room gets its tidy-up on a Monday, I offer my youngest the chance to swap. Sometimes, I’ll swap mid-week, because an infusion of ‘new’ toys can keep him busy a bit longer.
So, those are my top ten favourite ways to help you find time for yourself. I bet you’ve got some great suggestions too, and I’d love to hear some of them in the comments.
I’m not suggesting you avoid playing with your children. They should still have your full attention a lot of the time, because you’re missing all kinds of magic if you don’t do that. But, it’s good for everyone if you can get a bit of time for yourself.