As a divorced mum who co-parents three kids, I get more time off from my kids than many of my married friends. My nine- and seven-year-olds are with their dad 50 per cent of the time. My 15-year-old spends most of his time with me, but I still end up with one or two nights a week to myself.
Recently I was excitedly telling a married friend that I had an entire weekend to myself planned. It was planning on catching up on some work, going for a hike, doing some yoga and spending several hours on the couch in front of Netflix. Not a glamorous weekend by any account but just a whole lot of self-care that I knew I really needed.
And I couldn't wait.
I spoke so excitedly about the coming weekend, it led my friend to comment, "Anyone would think you don't like your own kids."
I laughed it off at the time but the more I thought about this comment later, the more it bothered me.
Why would you assume I don't like my own kids just because I enjoy spending time on my own? If I order chocolate ice cream, does that automatically mean I don't also like strawberry ice cream? (Answer: I like all of the ice cream.)
And here's something a lot of my married friends overlook: when I have my kids with me, I'm in charge – every minute of the day. My teenager is more independent, of course, but when my younger kids are with me, there is nobody here to help. Nobody to check with when I'm making decisions. Nobody to do their homework with them because I'm tired. Nobody to break up fights, wipe away tears or hold a bucket when they vomit. That's me. Every time.
When my kids are with me, I sleep lighter because I'm aware I'm on duty. I know where they are at all times, and I'm monitoring them: are they hungry; are they tired; are they sad? That's my job, and mine alone.
It's incredibly satisfying and it brings me great joy. But it's also exhausting.
That's not to say married parents don't get exhausted too – because most of them have their kids with them all the time. It's relentless. Single parents certainly don't have the monopoly on being overworked and under-rested.
Couldn't we all do with some alone time from time to time?
Sometimes I need to take some time to fill my own bucket, and I do that by taking a walk in nature, meditating, getting ahead with work, or just lying around on the couch with a bowl of ice cream.
Taking that time to recharge my battery not only makes me a better mother for when I do have my kids, but it makes me a happier and better-rounded person – for me. Since when do we have to be martyrs to be good mothers? Am I required to stop being a person because my children depend on me?
I make no apology for enjoying my child-free time, and my kids know I like it too – just as they enjoy going to play at a friend's house or being with their dad. But they also know that I love them and love spending time with them.
I'm trying to teach them that life is all about balance, and it's up to us all to take care of our own needs so we can stay happy and healthy for each other, and ourselves.