So recently I did something I have not done in the whole ten years I have been living here in Cornwall. I took a few precious hours of child-free time, fought the urge to rush home and cram in another couple of really urgent jobs, and instead took my puppy and a rucksack and walked the gorgeous coast path between Daymer Bay and Polzeath.
(If you live here and like me haven’t gotten round to it yet, or you’re visiting our way any time soon, really, I would recommend it. Especially at low tide when you can scoot down onto the rocks and secret beaches along the way. So beautiful.)
I took 4 hours out of my life and I chilled. I walked. Drank coffee. Looked around a gallery. Marvelled at Sir John Betjeman’s grave and the half-sunken glory that is St Enodoc Church. Sat on a cliff top and ate my sandwiches with my puppy sitting next to me. Enjoyed the view. And not just because we had people down to stay, or because the dog needed walking, just because.
And as I relaxed and soaked up the amazing views that I am lucky enough to live 10 minutes away from, I wondered to myself –
Why do I find it so hard to make the time to do this?
I mean, really I have no excuse.
When I left work for the birth of our first daughter nearly 9 years ago, I made a conscious decision not to return to a full-time paid job. It’s not right for everyone, but that was my choice. No one made me do it. I wanted to do the school drop off and pick up, to be here to help with homework and put dinner on the table. That was my decision, and we were lucky enough to be in the position where we could afford to make it happen. So I have the time. I am not tied to a desk 37 hours of the week like many people are and I used to be.
So why do I still struggle so much to make space in my life?
I am completely aware that most of this is entirely self-inflicted, and that I should have seen it coming. Whilst I quit my paid work all those years ago knowing that I wouldn’t be returning, I also knew that I never really saw myself as the type of Mum to pass the next 10 years sitting around drinking tea with nothing to do, either. And yes, I am aware of just how judgemental that sounds. Heck, I even planned to utilise my upcoming free time whilst at home ‘with nothing to do’ and minding small children by squeezing in a quick PhD. Oh the naivety of youth. Most days I am lucky to squeeze in a shower, let alone anything else. And ‘nothing to do’ – what does that even mean???
I don’t know if any of you are a little like me, but I have always been the kind of person with a million and one things on the go. As my other half and I reflected recently though, I don’t think it’s always been that way (what did we used to do with our evenings when we didn’t have children and weren’t part of a church leadership team and lived in a small no-maintenance flat? Oh yes, that’s right – we went to bars and restaurants and met up with friends and hung out….) but definitely in the 9 years since I quit full-time work to have children, I feel like I have been busier than ever.
And so, over the years my days have filled up with work. Some of it paid (a bonus!) most of it not. All of it good, all of it worthwhile – church projects, school projects, charities and causes that I am involved in and really care about and enjoy.
But the problem is, all of it does have an impact on our lives. And because of the informality of it – because it isn’t a paid, fulltime job – sometimes I don’t give it the planning or management that it deserves. The end result? Feeling more and more stressed when I don’t manage all of the tasks I need to squeeze into my child-free hours each day, and more and more guilty and short tempered when the unfinished jobs spill over into the after school time that should to be spent on making dinner, getting to swimming lessons or dance classes or actually spending time enjoying my children…
And so all these years later, and I am slowly learning something. That just because I don’t work 9-5 in an office anymore, it doesn’t mean I have to take on every project, cause or responsibility that comes across my path. Because having space in my day is important. For me, for my sanity, for those around me. And far from being a selfish thing, it is actually an investment into being the type of person I want to be. It allows me to be a better wife, a better mum, a better friend.
It means when someone wants to meet up for coffee, I am not squeezing them in, mentally stressing out about what else I have to get done that week and how this unexpected interruption is going to impact it. In my part-time paid job, we’ve been writing a course called Intentional Health. In it we talk about the importance of having margin in your life, because when we’re hit with the unexpected – whether it’s a child off sick from school, or a friend in need – that margin soaks up the pressure, allowing us to give without resentment or that pressure cooker in your brain boiling over.
When the children were young, I won’t lie – being solely in charge of them terrified me a little. I thought I couldn’t wait for them to go to school and would dread the long holidays and it’s long days with nothing to do. As they’ve gotten older I’ve realised that the reverse is true – I love the change in rhythm that comes with having them around all day, the slow meandering pace, the enforced time out. And I’m starting to understand the reason I like the school holidays so much is because I put down all my to-do lists and expectations. Because the girls are off school, I stop tying to cram a thousand tasks into the 5 hours between drop off and pick up and relax. I stop trying to achieve the impossible and I wonder why I am surprised that I feel less stressed because of it.
For the first time ever, I am just a little bit envious of some of those other Mums who do make time in their lives to sit round and ‘do nothing’ a little. Perhaps – just perhaps – it is them and not me that have chosen the better path. So I am working on being a little less Martha and a little more Mary. On remembering that it’s who I am and not what I achieve that day that validates my existence. On creating a little space and a little margin. And we can all do that, whether we spend all day behind a desk in an office, or with our hands in the sink and the laundry pile.
What’s your favourite way to create space?