I spent my children’s early years craving me-time – it’s what mums do. Amidst the jungle of raising three little kids with big needs, I would raze space for myself. A half hour here to grocery shop alone (the things mothers of very young children find indulgent are both elegantly simple and immeasurably sad); an hour there for a beauty appointment; or catch-up with a friend; or to sit quietly in the front seat of my car without fear of a child being woken by their own energetic neediness.
Very occasionally I would allocate some of my hard-won me time over to ‘we-time’, and would do the necessary logistical wrangling that enabled me to bring the husband along.
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When time together is afterthought
My darling, patient, witty, sexy husband. An afterthought, really, for years. Time together consisted of a hurried pizza and game of pool at the pub. Or an hour for Sunday breakfast at a favourite cafe; one that didn’t especially welcome children, thank goodness. Sometimes we would go for a walk together along the cliffs, laughing about how lovely it was to walk and talk without interruption (or, presumably, a child trying to hurl themselves into the sea).
We’d say, “We can talk about anything but the kids!”, but within moments we’d be talking about the kids.
Naturally, during these precious escapes we would talk endlessly about the children. We’d say, “We can talk about anything but the kids!”, but within moments we’d be talking about the kids. Then we’d laugh at how boringly parental we’d become, smiling secretly together at our marvellous good luck.
Me-time vs we-time
Most often, time spent with my husband was given over in favour of time to myself. Solitude was what I craved after a day of unforgiving picking up after small tsunamis. The thought of having to speak to another soul, even one as loved as my husband, was anathema to me. Even on the days when I worked away from home, he learned to gently give me space after the bath, book, bed routine.
“I’m done,” I would say with a sigh almost as big as my love for our children.
“I know,” he would answer, bringing me a cup of tea which he would carefully place just at the edge of arm’s reach, no closer. “Take a moment.”
I often wonder if I would have made it through without those cups of tea and endless understanding. A different kind of man wouldn’t have given me up so patiently. It takes a special kind of person to selflessly give a mother the time she needs to herself.
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Cherished time together
And so time marched along, as it has a tendency to do when children refuse to stay little. My husband continued to selflessly give me time to myself on weekends, during the evenings, sometimes for days at a time. Time to myself was always spent away from home, re-calibrating, exploring, thinking.
It takes a special kind of person to selflessly give a mother the time she needs to herself.
We-time became a contented sharing of space after the kids were in bed (but rarely asleep, blessed as we are with three vigilant night owls). I rarely wanted to go out anywhere (too tired, too over-stimulated, too messy) and my husband didn’t question it. When we did do things together outside of the home, we did them with other couples, all of us ridiculously happy to be ‘away’ together. Most of this time was spent chatting with friends, sharing smiles across their heads from time to time.
“Look at us, out without the kids,” our smiles said with glee.
Back in favour
Then the kids grew up and time shifted again. I started to work exclusively from home, spending hours every day alone while the kids were at school. Suddenly I had all the alone time I needed; which made me realise that all I’d ever really wanted from me-time in the first place was solitude. Now I had it in abundance and it freed me up to make space for the thing that was truly missing in my life: quality time with just us two.
We’d laugh at how boringly parental we’d become, smiling secretly together at our marvellous good luck.
Suddenly I couldn’t get enough of going out and doing things with my man. It didn’t matter what we did, just that we did. The kids were old enough to stay at home for an hour or two while we went for a bush walk, had a drink at a bar, a cup of coffee at a cafe or, absolute bliss, did the grocery shop together. One day I caught myself wondering how on earth we managed to get through those early years of parenting without this special time together. How had I sidelined it? How did we survive? Why didn’t I try harder?
It made me realise that many couples actually don’t survive the imbalances that parenting brings. It happens to many, many good relationships and blindsides even strong family units. Turns out we-time, however we find it and however we spend it, is just as important as me-time. But, undeniably, parents need both.
I realised that the ‘me time’ my husband selflessly gave me at the end of each day allowed him time to himself as well.
It was many years into parenting before I realised that the ‘me time’ my husband selflessly gave me at the end of each day allowed him time to himself as well. The ‘me time’ on the weekend he generously bestowed, allowed him time to himself with the kids. No ‘chief parent’ deciding how things would be, he got to be in charge of his own children and that’s a gift many man never experience.
His generosity is no less selfless for these benefits, and perhaps an important revelation. I used to feel guilty that he was so careful to give me my space, when I rarely did so in return. Now I’m just grateful that he found a way for us to both enjoy time apart, in a way that brought us closer together. It made the time we did get together even better.
How to carve out more quality we-time
• Understand that the concept of ‘we-time’ will shift as the children grow
• Know that it’s worth sacrificing some me-time for we-time, but not all of it
• Book a regular weekly / fortnightly / monthly time with a grandparent
• Or swap we-time with another couple – one week on, one week off (or whatever works for you both)
• If a swap isn’t available, find a reliable babysitter and budget for regular time off together
• Remind yourself that it’s actually good for the kids to spend time away from their parents
• Don’t put pressure on yourselves to make it amazing by calling it a ‘date night’
• Doing ordinary stuff together is wonderful – it’s how you spent the majority of your we-time before you had kids
• Try not to book others along on your we time every time (but sometimes spending time with other couples you love is the best)
• Save things you both like to do to do together
Do you have enough we-time in your life?