Once you become a mom, finding time for yourself and the other adults in your life often seems like a lost cause. You're so busy keeping everyone's schedule humming that you don't realize your own is now seriously lacking in grown-up pleasures. But if you can schedule three playdates and a doctor's appointment in an already crazy week, you can find time for you, too. Ways to squeeze in a few minutes for the people (other than your kids) who matter most:
Seek out child-friendly stores
For years, one of my favorite places to shop was IKEA because the kids could hang out in a supervised playroom for 30 minutes. A few years ago, when my two older ones both met the height requirement, I'd go there even when I didn't need to buy a rug or chair; I would buy a cinnamon roll and coffee in the snack shop and just revel in my grown-up thoughts until my time was up. (I'm eagerly waiting for Mary Elena to grow another inch or so and be allowed in the ball pit.) Diane Houser of Aleppo, Pennsylvania, says she shops at only one grocery store because it offers a supervised play center. "I know the kids are safe, I'm accomplishing something on my never-ending to-do list -- and I get forty-five precious minutes alone," says the mom of four.
Block out "time for me"
The trick is to treat "mom time" as seriously as you would any other commitment. It's not an option. (Though ten minutes here and there, focused solely on you, can often be enough to recharge your batteries.) If you've dismissed this advice as unrealistic before, ask yourself: Isn't my mental, emotional, and physical well-being as important as some of the other "can't miss" things on my calendar (PTA meetings, playdates, soccer practice)?
Think "spa on the go"
The next time you need to be doing something that requires sitting still and listening (say, to your budding pianist performing a living room concert), give yourself a five-minute foot massage. All you need is a bottle of aromatic lotion and your own fingers. (Your praise at the end -- "Sweetie, that's the best 'Ode to Joy' I've ever heard" -- will sound even more enthusiastic.)
Stop and shop
When her 2-year-old daughter, Casey, wants company while watching Sesame Street, Melia Wilkinson of Cary, North Carolina, likes to grab a few catalogs from a stash she keeps at the ready. "I started putting them in a pile in the family room so I can go through them while she watches Elmo," she says. "It's a mindless way to relax, and I can do some shopping at the same time."
Have grown-up storytime
Stash a book in the car to dip into during those ten-minute lulls in your day (waiting at school pickup, for instance). Or download an audiobook (even better, check one out from the library). That way, you can relax with a novel or biography while you're driving to work or when your toddler conks out in the car seat. Great recent titles to try: Sweet Ruin, an emotional novel about motherhood and marriage by Cathi Hanauer, and The Boleyn Inheritance, the latest from the popular historical-fiction writer Philippa Gregory.
Team up with another mom
Maria Gracia, mom of 2-year-old Amanda, trades daytime babysitting hours with a friend twice a month. "Two hours of relief can feel like a lifetime," says the Watertown, Wisconsin, mom, who runs the website Getorganizednow.com. "The trick is to use them for something you truly want to do." No chores! Play the guitar, go for a walk (without the cell), or get a smoothie.
Charlotte Latvala writes a weekly column on parenting for the Beaver County Times in Pennsylvania.
Schedule a standing midweek date
A friend of mine and her husband go out to dinner every Wednesday night, early enough to put their kids to bed when they get home. Restaurants aren't as crowded on weeknights, and it's not as hard to get a sitter as on a Friday or Saturday night.
Squeeze in "mini-dates"
Maybe you truly can't break away for a whole evening. But look for those 10- or 15-minute blocks of time -- while the kids are watching SpongeBob, say -- to connect. As long as you know they're safe, you can even relive those old high school thrills by going into another room to make out. (Not that I've done this or anything...)
Make your time together official
Sally Kolodziej and her husband, Tim, go on "running dates." "We actually get a sitter and go for a long run," says the Chippewa, Pennsylvania, mom of Carly, 8, and David, 3. "We get uninterrupted talk time and a great workout." It's easy to apply the same concept to those nights when you don't want to spend money on a sitter. You know how you get your child instantly excited about watching a DVD simply by declaring it "movie night"? Do the same thing with your spouse. Get the kids to bed early and declare it "dessert night" or "massage night."
You're nowhere near retirement age, but you can learn something from those older couples who seem to relish each other's company. While you're getting a task accomplished (weeding, cleaning out the garage), you can be connecting on a more intimate level. (Hint: Most men are more willing to engage in "relationship talk" when they've got some tool in their hands.)
Deal with the tough stuff once -- and only once -- a week
Diane Houser and her husband, Mark, take what she calls the "Scarlett O'Hara approach" to household problems, like minor car trouble or a leaking dishwasher. "We think about them tomorrow -- which for us means Thursday nights," she says. By pushing "business" to one day of the week, they have more time for each other the next six days.
Meet a workout buddy at the crack of dawn
Not only will you make use of the peaceful hours when everyone else is still asleep, but you start the day on a positive, energetic note and get in some great girlfriend time. (Also, knowing that someone is waiting for you is a huge incentive to actually get out of bed when it still feels like the middle of the night.) I used to meet my sister-in-law at 6:30 every Saturday morning at our local YMCA for a long session on the stair climber, followed by breakfast out.
Invite them along
Don't automatically exclude a single or childless friend from every trip to the zoo or swimming pool, says Donna Smallin of Phoenix, author of The One-Minute Organizer. "Think outside the 'it's a kid event' box and invite a friend along," she says. "You'll get a chance to catch up, and she'll appreciate being included."
Run errands together
Whether it's walking your dogs or pushing toddlers to the pharmacy in strollers, boring chores become more fun when you do them with a pal, says Marla Paul, author of The Friendship Crisis and a mom.
Date your friend
Who says nights out have to be reserved for your spouse? Once in a while, get a sitter and make plans with a pal (you can earn bonus points by encouraging your husband to enjoy a guys' night out at the same time). The glow you get from an evening at the movies or a dinner out with a girlfriend (no kids' menu, no saying, "You can't eat the crayons") will last for days. Plus, no doubt she'll be touched that you think enough of her friendship to make such an effort to get together.
Take a (short) road trip
When my older kids were toddlers, my friend Janet and I used to drive to an outlet mall an hour north of us. There were closer stores with similar bargains, but we relished the car ride. The kids would zone out on Raffi tapes and eventually sleep, and we'd get some one-on-one time to catch up on our lives. Okay, so we weren't exactly Thelma and Louise, but there's something liberating and joyful about being on the open road with a friend, even with snoozing 3-year-olds tagging along.
Hold a rotating feast
A few years ago, some friends and I had an idea for a dinner group: M.O.M. (Moms on Mondays). All of us were either single mothers or had husbands who worked nights, and we often felt overwhelmed facing dinner alone with the kids at the beginning of the week. So we rotated Monday dinners among our houses. The food was never fancy (sloppy joes and hot dogs were regulars), but the camaraderie of getting together and talking while the kids played made Mondays something to look forward to.
Yes, making time for yourself and your significant relationships does take some planning. But this is the kind of organizing that can truly save your sanity.