Taking A Break From Parenting Benefits Everyone (or, In Praise of “Me” Time For Dads)
X-2 hours a week of effective, involved parenting > X hours of distracted or stressed-out parenting
If we never get away, they’ll never get the chance to miss us. If we never put ourselves first, they’ll take for granted we’re always there. If we don’t put on our oxygen masks on first, we can’t help them with theirs.
Sometimes it has to be all about you
When you criticize guys for playing golf and fantasy football, you are bound to get some brushback. I totally understand that, even if those articles were written more as humor pieces than serious dad advice.
If you’ve been following the blog, you may have seen my articles about “Time Sucks to Avoid.” Leisure time is crucial- but IMO, golf and fantasy football are two activities that take up too much time away from work or family relative to their psychological and social benefits. I recommended that dads find other outlets that don’t take up so much valuable time.
When the anti-golf piece was reprinted at the Good Men Project online men’s magazine, I was struck by an incredibly insightful comment:
“A column I read–verified with a couple of folks in the shrink business–made a different point: If you–father/husband–are not seen as inconveniencing the rest of the family for your own fun from time to time, they will eventually accord you the respect due a booger on the floor. They’re not being mean. It’s absolutely normal and inescapable. Golf is a better way of maintaining one’s position in the family than, say rock climbing or Civil War reenacting, and doesn’t take an entire weekend plus. But the primary reasons for golf are “saw-sharpening” and inconveniencing, and if you’re lucky, annoying the family so they continue to think of you as an actual person.”– R.A.
The more I think about his comment, the more I find myself agreeing. Maybe I shouldn’t be so vigilant about avoiding time sucks. After all (to borrow Steven Covey’s phrase), if we don’t take time to sharpen our saw, we’ll wind up cutting down fewer trees.
Like you, I spend a lot of time putting my family’s needs first. That’s just part of the deal in being a good, involved dad. However, R.A. has a point. If we never get away, they’ll never get the chance to miss us. If we never put ourselves first, take for granted we’re always there. If we don’t put on our oxygen masks on first, we can’t help them with theirs.
Now, I haven’t pulled a 180 here and I do not advocate neglecting our responsibilities. But I will recommend that we involved dads cordon off some time on a regular basis for our own needs (if things are not regularly scheduled, they tend to get put off).
My weekly 2 (sometimes 4) hours of volleyball is a haven for me- I can just concentrate on the game, get into a flow, get some good exercise, and enjoy the company of fun group of people who are not involved in the other aspects of my life. And it means I get out of primary parent duties on most Monday and some Thursday evenings, and sometimes it means we hire a sitter. While I love Nick more than anything, I think it is healthy that he knows that he is not always the center of the universe. (It also helps that Amy is awesome and supportive of my “me time”)
It’s a balancing act. I think another incisive commenter from a Good Men Project article articulated our challenge as working dads who also need at least some “me time” very well:
It’s wonderful to have your kids as the center of your life but at the same time, part of their growth is to see how dad is as a man. How he interacts in the world outside the home is in part how they learn to be an adult. As a working dad, my struggle was that because my work life required so many hours outside the home, the time I had at home was focused on the kids and their lives. Now, how does that working dad balance his social life outside work AND home without feeling that he’s neglecting his kids? It’s not easy. – T.B.
Amen, brother. Being a great working dad is hard. But we’re way ahead of the game if we are at least grappling with these issues.
On a related note, I recently wrote about how Amy and I planned ahead so that I can step up as the primary parent while Amy rehearses crazy-long hours for a new show. In the piece, I stated that I was committed to preserving my sanity with some “me time”:
I’ll be patching together help from family and friends to handle being the primary caregiver while holding down my full-time job. But I also gotta take some time for me. So, there will be a few times we’ll bring Nick to his best buddy’s to allow me to play volleyball, have a breather and generally not go insane…
Reaction to this piece, and this passage in particular, was overwhelmingly positive. However, I got brushback from a few who found my refusal to give up volleyball for 7 weeks as selfish. I know these people were trying to give friendly advice, but I cannot agree with them. As I continue in the article:
… I’m a much better parent when I get to take some breaks.
I think we all are.
X-2 hours a week of effective, involved parenting > X hours of distracted or stress-out parenting (assuming X is a large enough number).
So, go ahead, and let something suck away some of your time. Everyone will benefit.
What’s your “me” time activity? Why is it important to you? How do you defend some time for yourself? How do you feel you benefit from taking breaks? Let’s discuss in the comments section.
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