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Find Time for What You Love

It's the smartest parenting tip you'll ever get: Make time for yourself. Doing things you enjoy  -- whether getting your nails polished or reading a chapter of a delicious novel  -- actually makes you a better mom because it replenishes the well your kids are always drawing from. Otherwise, you'll be so tapped out you'll have nothing to give, which is bad news for everybody.

Great advice...but how can you actually follow it? Here, 9 easy ways.

First, cut yourself some slack
You don't have to be "on" every minute, stimulating your child or arranging her activities. "If you're always doing, doing, doing, you're likely to feel resentful, and kids pick that up," says Fran Stott, Ph.D., a child psychologist with the Erikson Institute, a graduate school in child development, in Chicago. Give your kid  -- and yourself  -- some breathing room.

Remember what you love
"Think about the last time you put your head on the pillow at night and said to yourself, 'Now, that was a great day,'" says Dawn Noble, founder of Balance and Beyond, a professional organizing and time-management company in Red Bank, New Jersey. (If you can't remember back that far, try to recall the last time you had a fantastic hour.) Ask yourself what activities and events made you feel so fulfilled, and make a list of those things, starting with the most significant, to zoom in on your priorities.

Figure out where your time goes
List the activities and chores that fill the hours in your week, and roughly how much time each of them takes up. What are the areas where the time you spend doesn't reflect your priorities? "If I can tear myself away from the tube at night, I get so much more done  -- reading, writing, or just relaxing," says Shana Aborn, the Queens, New York, mother of Daniel, 3, and Sarah, 3 months.
Are you too concerned with having a spotless home? Can you lower your standards a little? Are you sidetracked by phone interruptions? Try letting calls go to voicemail and returning them at your convenience.

Gay Norton Edelman is the mom of three boys in New Jersey and has written for All You and Family Circle.

Put yourself on the calendar

Jenny Stoddard, the Hamilton, Montana, mom of Fletcher, 6, Duncan, 4, and Sophia, 2, keeps a calendar on her refrigerator and pencils in appointments with herself  -- "Twenty minutes here and thirty minutes there, just for painting, writing, even a nap." Michelle Cook of Maple Grove, Minnesota, gets creative with her time. "On Fridays I work through lunch so I can sneak in an hour at the library before picking up my daughter from daycare," says Cook, mom of Mira, 6 months. She still gets her work done  -- and has a chance to enjoy some hot reads.

See if someone else can do it
Hate folding laundry? Send out your wash  -- it may not be as expensive as you think. There are professional errand-runners as well, and dry cleaners who pick up. You can delegate some childcare, too. Call a local college  -- students are often glad to babysit for reasonable rates or even for free, as part of a child-study course.
Audrey Schilaty, the Ferndale, Washington, mother of 2-year-old Dylan and 6-month-old June, swaps Friday-night babysitting with a friend. "The first time, my husband and I went out and rode some carnival rides, screaming like kids ourselves," she says.
Speaking of husbands, lucky you if yours already gets the co-parent picture. If he doesn't, pick a mellow time to talk with him about sharing the workload. Emphasize the benefits of spending more one-on-one time with the kids (not to mention the benefits of a more cheerful wife!). And promise to plan regular opportunities for him to do what he loves.

Simplify your surroundings
Spend a few minutes each day tossing anything you don't adore or use regularly and you'll be amazed at how much freer you'll soon be. Alysia Butler, mom of Griffin, 3, in Pepperell, Massachusetts, recently donated old clothes and baby items to hurricane victims. "It felt great to help some people out while lightening my own load as well," she says.

Enjoy some 2-in-1 fun

See if there are ways to combine a gotta-do with something you love. Meredith Penhollow of Plantation, Florida, mixes two of her passions  -- exercise and gabfests  -- with 7-month-old Grace along for the ride. Most weekday mornings, the two head off with a group of other moms and tots for a walk in a local park or mall.
Terra Atkinson, mom of Kealey, 3, and Karissa, 18 months, in Bolingbrook, Illinois, schedules cooking days with friends. "We make and freeze a month's worth of meals for our families," she says. And they get to catch up in the process.

Be ready for anything
Sounds strange, but the secret to spontaneous fun is preparation. Pack a bag of nonperishable snacks and toys and leave it in your trunk; you'll be all set to spend an hour at the beach or the park when the mood strikes. Think of your day as short takes, and prepare accordingly: Arrange your scrapbooking project so that it's out of the way of little hands but still available for quick visits. And leave a book in the bathroom!

Remember to breathe
From time to time, look around you and find something to appreciate in that instant, like the new buds on the trees or your child's toothless grin. At the very least, you'll be more relaxed!