Is it just me or did playdates NOT exist when we were kids? I remember going out on my bike and finding kids to play with but I don’t remember my mother orchestrating anything that would bear even a passing resemblance to our children’s playdates. As one mother says in Judith Warner’s book “Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety”: “What I’m trying to figure out … is how I ended up raising this princess …”
Part of the problem facing today’s generation of mothers is that we are mothering our children in an unbelievably intense way. Yet an equally significant part of the problem is that there is a tendency to completely neglect our need to play. In the book “The Joy Diet”, in the chapter on Play, Martha Beck states:
“A playful mind-set allows you to master whatever is in front of you, to form symbiotic alliances and partnerships, to adapt successfully to any challenging situation and, above all, to find a sense of fun that makes the whole shebang intrinsically satisfying.”
I want some of that. The incredible thing about motherhood is that there’s really nothing quite like it. The unbelievably hard thing about motherhood is that there’s really nothing quite like it. The author Anna Quindlen sums it up perfectly when she writes:
“The world is full of women blindsided by the unceasing demands of motherhood, still flabbergasted by how a job can be terrific and torturous…”
So how can we make it less torturous? How can we get that playful mind-set that would make “the whole shebang intrinsically satisfying.”
My belief is that we have to carve out some time that is all about us. Just like our children’s playdates. Have you noticed the energy that your children have after a happy playdate. You’d think that they would be exhausted but they are full of energy and vitality. It’s as if that connection with someone has energized them. Would a little of that be helpful to you too?
What are the main elements of a playdate? First, that it is with one of your children’s best friends (at least, her best friend that week). You don’t plan playdates with children that she is half-hearted about or doesn’t really like. Second, the best friends spend the playdate doing the things that they most love to do.
As mothers, the harsh reality is that we have significantly less time to devote to ourselves than we did pre-motherhood. Unless you have a live-in nanny and someone to cater to your every need (and, as far as I’m aware, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow aren’t yet regular readers of this blog), the reality is that there is very little time just for you and what time there is has to be created by you. This is the bad news. The great news is that it means that there’s no longer any margin for mediocrity in your life. The time that you do have for you should be pure pleasure – spent with people you adore doing things you passionately enjoy.
Here are three steps to help you find the people you adore in your life, the things you truly love to do and how to actually make the time to do those things with those people:
STEP ONE: Find the people you adore
In Martha Beck’s “Finding Your Own North Star: claiming the life you were meant to live”, she writes:
“The fact is that you’ll find your own North Star [your best life] peopled not with folks you merely like but those you genuinely adore. These people will share your passions and ideals. Their essential selves are likely to fit beautifully with yours. They are your tribe.”
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m all about tribal experiences! From my experience and from conversations I have with other mothers, I know that there’s a tendency among us to spend time with mothers who are women we simply would not choose to spend time with if it were not for the fact that their children know our children. My passionately-held belief is that motherhood is an incredibly defining experience in your life. However, it does not define you as an individual. Although mothers share many common experiences, the link is as tenuous as the fact that we are all daughters, sisters, granddaughters, nieces, etc. You can tell me that you are a mother and I know nothing about who you are as an individual other than that you are quite probably exhausted and overwhelmed.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have met some amazing women who happen to be mothers since I’ve hada my daughters and I’m enormously grateful for their presence in my life. They are women who I probably would not have met had it not been for the fact that our children are of similar ages. The important part of that is that they are women who happen to be mothers. They are women whose company I would adore regardless of whether they had children or not. What is disappointing is that too often mothers find their conversations turning to the torturous parts of mother (sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, diaper issues!) rather than talking about things that interest us. A few years ago, I was going to Toronto and I asked a fried who was a mother I’d known for almost 3 years for advice on Toronto (her home city) and she recommended the magazine “Toronto Life” and casually commented that she used to work for them. Who knew? In 3 years, it had never come up.
The exercise Martha Beck recommends is:
“Call your best friend. Schedule time to play together. Keep the appointment, and when you’re enjoying yourself thoroughly, stop and pay attention. This feeling – the feeling of ease, contentment, trust, and above all, fun – is what you should experience on a regular basis as you lock in on your own North Star. The closer you get to the life you were meant to live, the more work and play, “connection” and friendship will blur together and eventually become one. Enjoy.”
So, please call your best friend. She or he may not be a mother and that’s OK! I want you to experience that sensation so that as new people come into your life, you will know whether they are potential playmates or not.
When I was 18, there was an Italian restaurant in my hometown where many of us went to celebrate our 18th birthdays. The mirror in the bathroom was so kind and forgiving. However good or bad you looked or felt, you ALWAYS looked fabulous in this mirror. I went there for dinner with an old school friend a few years ago and was relieved to find the same mirror there and that I was looking better than ever! There was a wine bar in the same town that had the most unforgiving mirror I’ve ever experienced. In that mirror, no matter how great you looked (in reality), all it seemed to highlight were the “flaws”.
When I’m with my true friends – my tribe – I feel my very best. They highlight my qualities and strengths and make me feel the best person I can possibly be. Conversely, when I’m around people who are not part of my North Star, I feel completely inadequate and clumsy and awkward. All I sense are my “flaws”. So, as you spend time with the people who are currently in your life, take a moment to see how they make you feel.
STEP TWO: Do the things you love to do …
What are the things that you truly love to do? Or maybe the things that you miss most from your pre-motherhood days?
In my writing and coaching, I talk a lot about passions and how vital it is to find the things that you are passionate about. When I talk to clients and mention the word “passion” I sometimes feel as if I’ve just suggested that they run naked through their local supermarket. Of, if they get the concept, they respond with comments like “oh, that seems a little self-indulgent.” Well, hurrah for that! As a breed, mothers must be the least naturally self-indulgent people in existence.
So, my suggestion is that there have to be some pockets of time in your life that are absolute self-indulgence.
What seems indulgent or decadent to you? It isn’t always dinner at fancy restaurants, exotic vacations or designer clothes. One of my indulgences is subscribing to magazines. I have had a love of comics and magazines since childhood. My Scottish grandmother, wee Lizzie, would send a comic to me and my sister ever week and part of the thrill was the anticipation of receiving it in the mail. The reason I share this is that magazines are something that have given me a thrill and satisfaction since childhood and my belief is that your passions will also have kept surfacing throughout your life. You may discover new passions but there’s often a theme that becomes apparent when you look back over your life.
Spend some time looking back over your life and write a list of 5-10 things/places/people that come to mind. Can you see a theme between the different items on the list?
In “Finding Your Own North Star”, Martha Beck suggests the following exercise:
“Go to a bookstore or library when you have at least fifteen minutes to spare. Wander through the shelves without any particular intention. Try to feel if some books or sections seem to “tug” at you. This “tug” is a wisp of the same kind of curiosity you used to feel when you were a little kid, whenever something really interesting passed your way. It’s quite subtle quite subtle, and you may be tempted to ignore it. Don’t. Pick five books that give you the strongest “tug”, take them to a table, and page through them, focusing on anything that seems to draw your attention. Sometimes, you’ll feel tuned in to a whole book. At other times, you may feel pulled towards specific bits of information. Simply take note of these, and see if they suggest any action. If not, let it go – this activity often acts like a seed, sprouting eventually into something much more interesting than you expected.”
In my case, if I had not subscribed to the Oprah magazine and read Martha Beck’s articles each month, I wouldn’t have read her North Star book, wouldn’t have trained as a coach and Stand Up, Mama! wouldn’t exist. So sometimes a fascination in something leads to a whole new life.
STEP THREE: Get the support you need to do the things you love to do with the people you adore ..
What practical things do you have to do to make your first playdate happen? If it’s not a playdate with your husband, then hopefully babysitting isn’t an issue and you can go out and enjoy yourself with absolute peace of mind. If your playdate includes your husband, then what babysitting arrangements do you need to make? Do you have family close by who can help you or do you have a regular babysitter? One reason it’s easy to put off going out is that it can become such a logistical nightmare and also an expensive one. So brainstorm to think of other solutions.
A good friend of mine who doesn’t have children said to me: “What I don’t get is why parents don’t cut each other more slack. Wouldn’t it make sense for one set of parents to take care of extra kids so that the other parents get some quiet time and then vice versa? It isn’t always much harder taking care of extra kids.” Now this is the voice of a rational mind, one that hasn’t been addled by sleep deprivation. It makes so much sense and it’s something that I’m going to explore in my own life.
Three simple steps. Will you take them? If not for you, how about your children’s mother?!
“There’s the problem with turning motherhood into martyrdom. There’s no way to do it and have a good time. By our actions we tell [our children] that being a mom – being their mom – is a drag, powered by fear, self-doubt and conformity, all the things we are supposed to teach them to overcome.”
… Anna Quindlen in her article “The Good Enough Mother”, Newsweek 02/21/05
What are the main elements of a playdate? First, that it is with one of your children’s best friends (at least, her best friend that week). You don’t plan playdates with children that she is half-hearted about or really doesn’t like. Second, the best friends spend the playdate doing the things that they most love to do.
As mothers, the harsh reality is that we have significantly less time to devote to ourselves than we did PM (pre-motherhood). Unless you have a live-in nanny and someone to cater to your every need (and, as far as I’m aware, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow aren’t yet regular readers of this blog), the reality is that there is very little time just for you and what time there is has to be created by you. This is the bad news. The great news is that it means that there’s no longer any margin for mediocrity in your life. The time that you do have for you has to be pure pleasure. It has to be with people you adore doing things you passionately enjoy.
Here’s three steps to help you find the people you adore in your life, the things you truly love to do and how to actually make the time to do those things with those people: