The prescription Alexis Kochevar, a family-practice physician assistant, wrote for a patient last month might have appeared tongue-in-cheek: Take 20 minutes minimum daily to do something for you. But the message was utterly serious.
It’s no surprise, Kochevar says, that the recipient of the prescription was a depressed female juggling young kids, a husband, and a job. It’s a patient she sees all too often in her Brighton, Colo., office: the tired, overweight, depressed woman complaining she just doesn’t feel good. “She’s not sleeping well, she has no energy. Her hair is falling out, her skin is bad, she has no drive to do anything,” Kochevar says. “When I ask what she does for exercise or her ‘me time,” (the response) is 100 percent, ‘There just isn’t enough time in the day.” ”
For this patient, in particular, Kochevar felt compelled to write a prescription in hopes the woman would take it seriously. “The ‘me time,” I told her, was just like her other prescription medications,” she says. “The only difference was that this one would take 20 minutes a day to swallow.”
Longmont, Colo., mom Melissa Tobias realized last year she, too, needed to implement “me time” in her routine. After 15 years of teaching kindergarten and being a single mom to three kids—now 13 and 10-year-old twins—she was feeling ‘tired of everything,” she says.
Tobias knew she needed to take care of herself but felt guilty taking time away from her children. Regardless, she knew she had to do something different. “I realized I was focusing on everybody, just not me,” she says. “I could keep doing nothing or I could
make a change.”
Last summer, she started cooking healthier meals and working out 30 minutes most days of the week. Nearly a year later and about 25 pounds lighter, her whole perspective has shifted for the better, Tobias says. Not only does she feel more energetic, confident and happy, but focusing on herself for those 30 minutes has also made her a more active, engaged mom. “Being healthier and exercising actually gave me more focus,” Tobias says. “Before I just watched (the kids) play; now I can keep up with them.”
Mom’s Frustration Can Be Passed On
“It’s important to be a ‘good enough” mother and less important to be a ‘perfect” mother,” says Dr. Nanette Santoro, professor and E. Stewart Taylor chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora. “I give my patients the advice my obstetrician gave me after the birth of my daughter: Enjoy your baby.
Sometimes that simple wish gets completely lost in the world of competitive parenting.”
But she believes the old adage is true: If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
“It’s important for women to recognize that if they are frustrated, unfulfilled and/or depleted, this will get communicated to their children,” Santoro says. “And they will process this message in a number of different ways.”
The kids may blame themselves for Mom’s stress, she says, thinking they are unusually burdensome children. Or perhaps they”ll think work and family life are too much to manage when they become adults. Consider giving your children a more optimistic outlook. “A mother who is in balance will communicate much more positive messages about parenting and work to her children,” Santoro says. “She’s also likely to have a better life plan for herself and to feel more grounded in decision making.”
The amount of time and activity varies greatly by person, she says, but it’s important for women to integrate some form of “me time” in their lives. “For some, a few workouts a week is enough,” Santoro says. “For others, the opportunity to sleep in for a weekend is restorative.” She also recommends meditation. “It provides instantaneous decompression,” she says. “It does not require medication, and it can be done when a baby is taking a nap.”
Even health practitioners like Kochevar have to be reminded of this advice. Three years ago, the Erie, Colo., mom was staying home full time with her daughter and son while also helping her husband run his dental business. After some time, she became frustrated and depressed. “I had a master’s degree as a PA that I was no longer putting to use,” Kochevar says. “I felt guilty that I wasn’t fulfilled by my role as mom, wife and homemaker, but it was the truth.” She returned to working part time as a PA and made fitness a priority, even becoming a health and fitness coach to inspire fellow moms.
“My job is to show (women) that it is possible to feel good again, to find (themselves) again,” Kochevar says. “My ‘why”—my mission—is to show other busy moms that it is O.K. to put ourselves first and make ourselves a priority. When we take care of ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually, we are better moms, wives, friends, bosses, employees.”
Fitness experts often say that the best way to prioritize workouts is to schedule a specific time each day and put it on the calendar. If you say, “I”ll get to it if I have time,” chances are, you won’t get to it. The same practice can be used for any type of “me time,” whether it’s reading a book, sitting down to have a cup of coffee, or taking a walk. If your partner can see that this is on the calendar, even if you don’t yet know how you”ll spend the time, it increases the chances you”ll have support when “me time” comes.