Setting goals and then finding you don’t have the time to devote to achieving them is incredibly frustrating. However, over time I’ve realised that it’s possible to achieve them, and that it begins with me and taking care of myself.

A significant part of taking care of myself is making sure I have time to self-reflect, follow my goals and be involved with society, and not only with my family. How I go about accomplishing this will most likely be different from how you or anyone else does, but that doesn’t matter — it’s not what you do that’s important; it’s the fact that you’re actually investing time in yourself and attaining some balance in your life.

I wrote earlier about the importance of routines in family life. Routines can sound limiting, but they actually allow greater freedom. The only way I’ve managed to have time for myself and achieve my goals is by including ‘time out’ in my weekly plan. Before I did that, I struggled to find time for myself. Family life is about compromise: as the primary carer, I can’t just do as I please all the time, but I shouldn’t have to continually put my own interests behind everyone else’s either.

Weekly plan

For three years around the time our fourth son was born, my husband was studying for his Master of Business. This required numerous hours of study time each week, yet he remained cognisant of my needs, which we considered and factored in. This was the first time in my life as a mum that I put together my own weekly plan.

My weekly plan allowed for a couple of trips to the gym during the week and one on the weekend, as well as a sleep-in on Sunday morning. I printed out the plan and hung it on the fridge where the whole family could see it, and they were committed to helping me achieve my goals.

My husband worked in the city and at peak times could work quite late. We had an agreement that on my gym nights he would be home by 7.30 pm. If he wasn’t going to be home on time, he’d give me as much notice as possible, so I could arrange another time for the gym. Having this verbal arrangement made a big difference to my getting to the gym regularly.

This scheduling experience taught me that if I’m serious about having my needs met I have to be proactive. Table 1 is an example of a weekly plan that I follow. It shows specifically what I want to achieve and where I need the family’s help.

Table 1: weekly plan

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The times listed won’t be met precisely; however, as these activities become part of my daily routine, they actually do start to happen. I make it to the gym three times a week and have time for blogging. (Note that blogging is now a part-time job for me, which is why it has so many hours allocated to it!) I have to be flexible as circumstances can change. However, having scheduled times has meant that not having time to myself is the exception and not the rule.

You may have no interest in going to the gym or blogging, but you may well have other interests you’d like time to pursue. Try sitting down with your partner and allocating times during the week that will be dedicated to your desired pursuits. Once you’ve created your weekly plan, take the time to sit with your children and explain it to them — at least to those who are old enough to understand. Your plan may change the children’s daily routine so they deserve forewarning. If the kids aren’t used to you taking time out for yourself, it’s the perfect opportunity to explain what you’re doing and why. It’s important for kids to understand that you have needs too, and while you’re very happy to run them around and support their endeavours, you expect similar support from them with your own.

Why time for you is so important

As the primary caregiver for our family, I find the mood of our house tends to revolve around my mood. If I’m tired, snappy or lacking in energy, the kids feed off this: there’s more bickering among them, there’s less cooperation and they can find it difficult to amuse themselves. My mood is directly affected by how much time on my own I can squeeze into the week.

An important activity for keeping my mood positive is staying fit and healthy. For you it could be scrapbooking, crafting or volunteering. Whatever the pursuit, having time to yourself will help improve your mood, which in turn benefits the whole family. Going to the gym has direct benefits for me and indirect benefits for the family:

It makes me less cranky. I can be very grumpy when I leave the house, but after the endorphins kick in on the treadmill, I begin to feel much happier and bring this mood home with me.

I sleep better. The better I sleep, the less tired and cranky I am.

I have more energy. Running around with five kids can get pretty tiring. I find regular exercise gives me stamina to get through the days.

I have time for my own thoughts. I put on my iPod and I don’t have to answer any questions or worry about the needs of others for an hour!

Going to the gym isn’t the only way I re-energise myself. Socialising and non–child related activities have a similar effect on my mood. I make sure I schedule time for these activities, and although they may only take place once every few months, when combined with exercise they give my life the variety I need to stay healthy, happy and sane.

The burnt chop

Back in my early corporate days I attended a self-improvement workshop specifically designed for women. My memory of the workshop is vague, with the exception of an analogy that the trainer made. She said mothers often gave themselves the ‘burnt chop’: if they overcooked a chop while cooking dinner, they’d eat the burnt chop themselves. In other words, mothers put everyone else’s needs above theirs.

This analogy has stuck with me over the years. There have been (and will probably continue to be) instances where I forgo things that I’d like to do in order to fit in all of my family’s needs. Compromise is always necessary within families, but planning time for myself has made these instances far fewer. Taking the burnt chop every time is not the example I want to set for my family. Setting my own goals, and allocating time for myself to achieve them, shows my kids the way I’d like them to behave as they get older.

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