Question for you: when was the last time you took a day off of work and parenting, just for *you*? Not to recover from an illness. Or to take your children to doctor’s appointments. Not to help an elderly family member. Or for a family vacation. Just. For. You.
Maybe you’ve done this recently, in which case, bravo! You know it’s possible. And you can consider this my friendly reminder to get the next just-for-you-day-off in the books.
On the other hand, maybe you’re wracking your brain to think of a day when you actually took a whole day just for yourself. Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t even know what I’d do if I took a day for myself?” Or even, “why bother dreaming about something that just can’t happen in this season of my working parent life?”
My own thoughts about a retreat-day-just-for-me shifted radically during the darkest days of the pandemic. I was over year into remote school with two elementary-school-aged boys, working two jobs (law firm + Mindful Return), and at my wits end.
I opened up to a dear friend about my struggles, and she “required” me to take one day off per month, for my own sanity. This amazing accountability buddy even texted me to find out what day I planned to take. Then, she checked in to make sure I was taking it.
I used a handful of these “mini-retreat” days to go on a long hike. Journal. Soak in the bath. And just simply regroup.
Are there logistical issues to work through relating to work and childcare, when you go MIA for the day? Of course. But is the juice worth the squeeze? A million times yes.
Your Day-to-Myself Mindset: An Exercise That Can Help You Move Through Resistance
One of the “permissions” Eve Rodsky urges us to grant ourselves in her book, Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live), is the permission to be unavailable. For our own mental health, we need times when we are simply not accountable to any other human being. But we often forget how important this unavailability is.
If you’re anything like me, you probably tell yourself lots of stories about why it would simply never work for you to “disappear” for the day. It’s more work than it’s worth. It’s “selfish” of you to use a PTO day not in service of the family. Your colleagues need you. Your partner won’t be able to handle the required activities. And your kids will feel abandoned.
A few years ago, I learned about a really helpful exercise you can do when trying to change your own behavior. It’s called “immunity mapping,” and you’re essentially trying to figure out where your mind is making you “immune” to change. (Credit here goes to researchers Robert Kegan, PhD and Lisa Laskow Leahy, EdD; read more at How to Overcome Immunity to Change.)
Here are your immunity mapping steps:
- State your goal. Here, the goal would be: Take a day off just for me, and for me alone. I can use this day as I wish, in a way that feels restorative to me.
- List the behaviors that go against your goal. What might you list here? Perhaps never daring to mention this idea to your partner or your colleagues. Maybe using every single PTO day for other people and other reasons. Never delegating work. Taking on every single household task every time. You get the idea.
- Write out your worries and your hidden competing commitments. Hmm…what might some common worries here be? My colleagues will judge me if I take the day off just for me. My partner will think I’m being selfish. I will be jeopardizing our household income. The work of caregiving and household management just won’t be done the “right” way if I go away for the day. And some competing commitments might be things like: being uncompromisingly reliable, omnipresent, respected, and diligent.
- Identify what “big assumptions” you are making. These “big assumptions” are ideas we hold as truth, even though we can’t prove them. Use “if” and “then” to test out each assumption each you listed in #3. For example, “If my husband feels like I’m being selfish, he’ll leave me.” (Is that actually true?) Or “if I don’t earn money that day, my family will be forced to move out of our house.” (Again, is actually that likely?) Perhaps even, “if my children see I’m not there that day, they’ll feel abandoned and be scarred for the rest of their lives.” (After only way day away from them? Truly?) Maybe these statements look extreme as you write them, but getting them in plain sight is the only way to evaluate whether the assumptions you’re making are reasonable or not.
Practical Logistics for a Mini-Retreat
Okay, so you worked through your assumptions. Journaled about them. And got to the part where you realized the world probably won’t crumble beneath you, if you take day away. Now we’re on to the logistics. Compared to mindset, this is the easy stuff!
My top logistical tip is to plan your day off now for sometime far-ish into the future. You may be inclined to say, “sure, I believe in this; and I’ll plan the day in a few months, once my calendar opens up.” Guess what. It doesn’t just “open up.” Time for a retreat day for yourself never magically appears.
I currently have a 3-day business mastermind retreat on the books with some other CEOs for January, which we scheduled back in August. The white space on my calendar will only get eaten up as time goes on. But if I block it off and put a firm boundary around that time now, I can set up systems to make it work.
For other incredibly practical advice on how to take a mini-retreat as a working parent, I strongly recommend you listen to Laura Vanderkam and Sarah Hart-Unger’s Best of Both Worlds Podcast episode entitled Retreats – An In-Person Conversation about Getting Away.
What Are You Doing on Friday, November 4, 2022?
I know it’s only a few weeks off, but go ahead and open up your calendar to Friday, November 4, 2022. Do you have anything pressing happening that day in life or work? If not, I have an idea for you.
Here goes: Block the day now! Put a hold on the whole thing, before anyone can take a piece of it.
Then, if you’re on the East Coast, plan a morning activity that’s just for you. Something that will nourish you and fill you up. What to do with the afternoon? If you care about how well your household runs and how strong your relationship is with your partner, then I invite you to join me and my retreat co-facilitator, Alyssa Goodman, MSW, for a 3-hour Mindful Return Fair Play Retreat. You can learn more about what’s in store and sign up here. It’s from 1-4pm Eastern on Zoom, and we’d love to spend part of this mini-retreat day with you.
And what if you’re on the West Coast? Start the day with us! Take this 3-hour morning block to explore the principles of Fair Play, then plan to get yourself a scrumptious lunch. Do an afternoon activity that brings you joy.
Whether you take November 4 or some other day just for you, remember that you, my fellow working parent, are worthy of this time. You matter, independent of anyone or anything else in this world.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave