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November 5, 2012
We the Parents
"Me Time"
by Melissa Howell

At a local homecoming football game, the senior class boys and girls who had been nominated as homecoming royalty gathered in anticipation of being crowned king or queen.

Many parents, family and friends gathered in the late September evening to show their love and support — except for the mother of one of the nominated girls, a girl we’ll call Sara. Sara’s mom, who had left her children in custody of her ex-husband in pursuit of a new, freer life and only sees her children from time to time, despite living relatively nearby, had bigger plans during the homecoming game — an evening out with her girlfriends. However, when her girlfriends canceled the plans, Sara’s mom then decided to try to make it to the game.

It was too late. She arrived minutes after her daughter was crowned the homecoming queen. Gone forever was a moment, a memory, an opportunity she will never reclaim. In its place, I would venture to guess, was sadness, hurt and insecurity on Sara’s part, as so many children face today.

This rising generation is often referred to as a generation of entitlement, children who somehow have the notion that they are owed things; another phrase could be “the selfish generation.” However, I would argue that such a moniker increasingly can be applied to their parents’ generation as well, of which I am a part.

Now let’s swing the pendulum to the extreme opposite.

Perhaps you know of someone who is a slave to her children, who can never leave them or be without them, who seemingly has no outside interests, personality or time independent of motherhood.

Somewhere in the midst of this begs the question of so-called “me time.”

The great writer Pearl S. Buck quipped what is one of my most cherished quotes:

I love people. I love my family, my children… but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that’s where you renew your springs that never dry up.

Thus, similar to what Shakespeare’s Hamlet asked in his famous soliloquy, I ask, “To me or not to me, that is the question?”

As with most things, the key lies in balance and moderation.

I’ll be the first to admit how very much I treasure “me time.” Be it a jog around the lake, a project worked on during nap time, a solo shopping outing where I can drive and listen to whatever I want — sometimes I choose silence! — and not one single person says one single word to me, or an evening out to dinner or book club with girlfriends, “me time” is a sanity-saver.

However.

With all the distractions and things today’s life throws at us, perhaps we are taking more “me time” than we realize.

A comment posted to one of my previous columns read as such:

Last year, we (the fifth grade teachers) gave our students a writing prompt to develop: “If I could magically make one thing disappear forever, it would be....” We made a condition that it had to be something tangible (not an idea) and it could not be living things (like a brother or sister). Almost half the students responded with either “my mom's cell phone” or “my dad's computer.” Our kids are starving.

Perhaps here can apply the old adage of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Truth: On more than one occasion one of my children has asked me for help with something or wanted to tell me something but I have been too busy to respond or help because I am caught up in the extremely important task of surfing Pinterest for the latest and greatest ideas with which to brighten “their” lives.

Aha! “Me” time disguised as “them” time.

My sister Kristina called me recently, feeling a bit blue. As a loving, stay-at-home mother to a four-year-old, a two-year-old and a 10-month-old, she was feeling a bit worn down and spread thin. I could totally relate; I had been there once with multiple very young children, and not so long ago.

“I’m feeling drained,” she said.

As we know, when something is being drained, and not being replenished, it becomes empty.

I listened, and tried to offer some counsel of perhaps trying to increase her amount of “me” time, which was close to nonexistent. I have since been pleased to hear a bit more perk in her voice, after she joined a morning running group with other moms, and partnered with a friend on some home-improvement projects. However, I realize it’s not always such a clear-cut fix.

But often times, increasing our scripture study and personal prayers, making more time to put our talents and interests to good use and the like can cure what ails moms. When we are filling our physical, emotional and spiritual buckets, so to speak, I believe we are more able to give to those we are charged with loving and serving, primarily our families.

We’re not all programmed the same, and thus the amount of “me” time we each require is not equal. I have friends who seem to require more than I, and friends who seem to require less than I do. And they are all good mothers who love their children.

Perhaps the key is to periodically take inventory of our families. “Are my children getting what they need? Am I taking time to put away all distractions and give them my undivided attention, thus ensuring that they are not starving?”

And perhaps the bigger question, “When does ‘me time’ become problematic?”

This complex question likely has complex answers, but on a simple level, it becomes problematic when it is taking away from our family relationships and we are taking more time for ourselves than we are giving to our families. Because for something to be great and have the best outcomes — in this case, raising a generation that is strong and good and secure and loved — it requires some sacrifice. More specifically here, sacrifice on the part of the parents. Consider this line from one of my favorite hymns, “Praise to the Man:”

Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.

In considering the blessings of heaven and their eternal nature, it’s about setting aside the selfish, and striving for more selfless.

And subsequently, it becomes less about “me.”

Less about “them.”

And more about “us.”


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