There's no such thing as 'free' time when you're a parent

We're constantly told to practice self-care to stave off burnout, but that prescriptive time comes at a cost—even if the cost is just guilt.

There's no such thing as 'free' time when you're a parent

As my family's breadwinner, I keep us afloat with a full-time job and several side-hustles. My most important job—and the one I feel I never get enough time to carry out successfully—is parenting our 2-year-old. I have a very short window every morning and every evening, which sometimes gets truncated by early or late work meetings, when I get to see my child.

Despite working nonstop, I feel like I'll never get ahead on our bills and savings or on my endless list of to-dos. Forget about finding time for anything else, like a date with my wife or a sliver of me-time, no matter how beneficial they may be to my marriage or mental health. I have trouble justifying anything that takes away precious time with my son or interferes with the work that helps keep a roof over our heads.

When I do get a chance to disconnect from it all, it doesn't look like a spa day or staycation. It's simply adding time to my commute in order to drive the more scenic route. I trade the traffic-clogged highway for beautiful windy, wooded roads where I put the windows all the way down and breathe in the forest. This minuscule escape costs anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, which may not sound like a lot, but it could mean upwards of 30% of the time I get to spend with my son each day. (Cue the guilt.)

On weekends, though, our time together isn't compressed into a two-hour window. I love nothing more than sitting around in my pajamas and lazily reading a pile of books with my son. We'll play blocks or cars and eat breakfast together before going outside, where we refill the bird feeders, blow bubbles, and run around in our yard. We cap it off with an outing—to the playground overlooking the beautiful water, to get ice cream in town, or to a nature center to visit reptiles—and then we'll return home.

It's the perfect morning. But by the time I get home, as much as I've enjoyed myself, all I really want to do is take 10 minutes to quietly read the paper as I sip coffee. My toddler, however, has other plans. He hangs on me until he's captured my full attention. And who could blame him? It's our first chance for extended, quality time in days. I should want to soak up every last second, right? Except, after another jam-packed week—working nine-to-five, giving parenting 110% once I'm home, and then working some more after bedtime—I could really use 10 minutes to sit and collect myself, to participate in one solitary activity that I enjoy.

But even this comes at a cost. To indulge in those few minutes of me-time, my wife has to cover for me and engage our son fully. And, having been with my son 24/7 while I work, she needs to decompress, too.

I once took a personal day off work to have a date with my wife. That seemed like a happy medium: My wife and I would get some quality time without cutting our evenings. Still, I felt guilty for putting work on the back-burner when I knew how important it is to our family's survival.

It's hard not to feel jealous of others. I see friends posting on social media about their extravagant kid-free excursions. They're sunning on tropical islands or gallivanting around European cities or enjoying shows and dinners. They're toasting with beers at the local bar or head-banging at a big concert. I wonder who is watching their little ones; how many hours a week they get to spend with their kids; and whether they feel guilty. I wonder if I'm overthinking the parenting thing. Does my kid miss me like I miss him? Does he know whether I spend two hours versus 90 minutes with him each day?

At the end of the day, I choose to be overtaxed, to take on this guilt, because I don't want to miss precious moments with my child. I drive a hard line on prioritizing time with my child over me-time in good part because I know this intense time-crunch is fleeting. There will most likely be a day in the not-so-distant future when my kid has better things to do than hang out with Mom. I will be sad, I'm sure, but I will also applaud his independence. And I will certainly look forward to reading my paper with a big cup of Joe.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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