I recently had an entire Saturday to myself. I mention this because it's a rather unusual thing for me to have an entire twenty-four hours without my children, on a day when I don't have to work or have an engagement to attend. I lie in bed that morning, contemplating the amazing things I could do with my day. Go shopping? Get a pedicure? Go see a movie? The possibilities were endless. But, do you know what I ended up doing? Nothing. Not a darned thing. I stayed in my pajamas all day. I played with my dogs and took a nap. Somewhere toward the end of the night I opened a bottle of wine and had some. Okay, a lot. I made sautéed mushrooms with filet mignon and ate it with wild abandon. I took a bubble bath, did a cleansing facial, watched Lost on Netflix and went to bed early.
The next morning, my friend Carrie called me to talk about her week. Divorced a few years ago, Carrie has had a hard time finding her "new normal". Her weekends were hard as she shuttled her kids back and forth to soccer, then to birthday parties and finally to the gym for swim lessons. It was Sunday and she complained she was too tired to do anything fun, let alone tend to the mountain of laundry or piles of dishes in the kitchen. As I heard her dissolve into tears, it struck me what Carrie's problem was and why she was having trouble finding happiness.
No, it wasn't the laundry, the dishes or the vacuuming that were making her unhappy - though God knows we can all make a list like that one, can't we? No, what was holding Carrie back was the number one mistake that many of us make after divorce. Carrie was not putting herself on that list. Anywhere. Or, if she was, she was ranking herself somewhere below 'pick up dog poop' or 'scrub lime stains from toilet bowl'. No one - and I mean no one - likes to come in last. That includes ourselves. Now, the argument is often made (and I hear it from my girlfriends all the time) that putting ourselves on that list (and in the top ten) is selfish! It's unheard of! Our children come first! Our jobs, of course, have to rank up there too because it enables us to take care of our family. Then come all of the other activities that we must do to keep a house and a family running smoothly. Sports. Parties. Homework. Tutors. Doctor visits. Orthodontist appointments. Parent-teacher meetings. And if something breaks, you're screwed, because everything else on the list gets pushed down a notch.
I'm going to get real with you here. In order to be happy, you must make a commitment not only to put yourself on that list, you must be in the top ten. And you must be selfish about it. I don't care what you choose to do with the time you carve out. You can work out at the gym longer, watch a movie, take a nap, gossip on the phone with a girlfriend without worrying that little ears are nearby, enjoy a bubble bath without multiple visitors or...like me...don't do a darned thing. It doesn't really matter what you do, but it must be something that nurtures yourself and re-charges your battery. However you carve out that time, whether it's taking a vacation day from work, trading a night out with a girlfriend, begging your parents, hiring a sitter or even swapping days with your ex - it must happen.
Putting yourself on that list means you are making your mental health a priority. When we rush from activity to activity, it drains us. But as women, we all do it. We make everything in our lives a priority and congratulate ourselves with success at work, children who are thriving and a to-do list that would make Mrs. Doubtfire cringe. But does it make us happy? Does checking all the boxes at the end of the day mean something? Because tomorrow, I promise you, another list is waiting. At the end of those lists isn't the key to happiness - its exhaustion.
Taking time for ourselves gives us the opportunity to take a breath and stop the world for a moment. We can take emotional stock of how we're doing and self-nurture. It doesn't matter how you re-charge yourself because it really is different for everyone. However, if you make a habit of making time for yourself, you will begin to see it work miracles for you. It has the power to save you, to enrich you, and to help you be happy. So sit down and make that to-do list. But remember, at least one of those top ten spots is reserved.