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The 36-Hour Day

with Lylah M. Alphonse

I'm a full-time editor, a part-time writer, and a mom and stepmom to five amazing kids, ages 1 to 14. For me it's not about finding balance, it's about the daily juggle-- my career, my commute, freelance work, homework, housework, married life, social life, and parenting-- and finding the time to get it all done.

To learn more about Lylah, check out her Work It, Mom! profile and read her blog at

It’s not a guilt thing. Except that it kind of is

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle, Working? Living?


I went in to work crazy-early yesterday, so that I could leave crazy-early and meet up with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in far too long. A coworker stopped by my desk as I was packing up, and so I explained what was going on.

She gasped. “You’re… actually doing something FOR YOURSELF?”

I immediately felt a little guilty. And sheepish. Until I looked her in the eye and saw that she was actually cheering me on.

And then, a confession: She had hired a sitter to come over after she picked her baby up from daycare, so that she could go out and use the spa gift certificate her husband had given her for Mother’s Day four months ago. It’s been sitting there, unused, because she hadn’t felt like she could carve out an hour or so to do something for herself after work if her child was awake.

Working moms talk a lot about guilt: how they don’t feel guilty about having their kids in care, or how they kind of do but know they’re doing the right thing for their family. But this isn’t a guilt thing. Well, it is, but it’s not a guilt-about-having-your-kid-in-daycare thing. It’s feeling like you spend so much time at work that, when you’re not at the office, you want to spend time with your child — and if you don’t, you feel guilty about it. Doing something for yourself just doesn’t seem as important.

But sometimes it is. Or, at least, it should be. 

Take a moment to think about what you’d normally be doing with that time. Me, I would normally be rushing to beat the preschool clock, but my husband was working from home that day — couldn’t he pick the kids up from preschool instead? Yes, he could. Which meant that I could come home an hour later than usual and still have plenty of time for playing and stories and putting them to bed. My coworker realized that she normally would be struggling to feed her not-yet-1-year-old dinner while he was distracted and wanting to play with her. Why not have the babysitter, whom he adores, feed him dinner that night, without distractions? She’d come back relaxed and ready to play, and her not-yet-1-year-old would be fed and ready to play, too.

It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, as I write about it now. What was I so worried about when I was trying to figure out the scheduling?

As working moms, we often fall into the trap of judging ourselves (and others) based on the quantity of time we spend with our kids, rather than the quality. Or the trap of trying to be Super Mom, doing it all even when we don’t have to. We talk about striving for work-life balance, forgetting that we are the fulcrums upon which that balance rests.

It’s amazing the difference an hour or two can make. I came home feeling not relaxed, but recharged, and a little bit reconnected with the part of myself that isn’t “just a mom.” And my kids? They didn’t even notice I was late.

What was the last thing you did for yourself?



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7 comments so far...

  • I belong to two book clubs, so twice a month DH has a “Daddy’s night” with our son while I go talk about books. The playgroup I’m in also does “Mom’s night out” about once every other month.

    Actually in our family I’m more worried that DH doesn’t carve out similar time for himself.

    SoftwareMom  |  September 3rd, 2009 at 12:42 pm

  • For myself? You mean like getting my medical stuff up to date, taking a warm shower, more reading in the bathroom? Does playing on the Internet during work breaks count?

    I have a spa gift card that’s probably around 2 years old now. I still can’t imagine when I’ll actually use it.

    It’s not mom guilt. It’s logistics, it’s work guilt, it’s preferring a date with my pillow over an activity that’s going to cut into my sleep (because missed work must be made up). Oh well, this is what I signed up for, so I can’t complain.

    SKL  |  September 4th, 2009 at 1:11 am

  • “And my kids? They didn’t even notice I was late.”

    Lylah, your last two lines are key: kids really aren’t watching the clock as much as we moms are. So much of our guit is self-imposed, and if we feel we’re always giving to our families, that can lead to resentment. Better to model balance (”Look! Mom has a life and friends outside the family”) than try to live up to some insane Supermom ideal that our kids never asked us to live up to.

    Jeannie  |  September 4th, 2009 at 9:00 am

  • i so agree with you.. we do want some alone time.. and the whole time we keep thinkging… OMG>. i should be with the kidoo in his waking.. play hours.
    The most recent thing i did, was to go for a haircut… and when i say that- it was a two hour long session, with a stylist, a hair wash, a cut, a blow dry and the whole shabam!!! I felt wonderful after that!
    But all the two hours, i kept checking my bberry wondering if all is well and hubby is not sending me some urgent email for kids. The cab ride home, was more anxiety, and i kept telling the driver, can you take it sooner.
    I loved the look on my family when i walked in the room.. and my daughter playfully telling me “pretty pretty!’ :-) It was in retrospect- oh so worth it!

    GNSD  |  September 4th, 2009 at 11:28 am

  • While on vacation, my mother offered to play grandma on two occassions so I could visit with friends; one I hadn’t seen in 10 years.

    Mich  |  September 4th, 2009 at 1:38 pm

  • Oh, how I can relate. This is the toughest thing for me. Because I work a lot and don’t see daughter enough during the week I have a really hard time doing anything for myself while she is awake (e.g. on weekends). I know it’s important, I can totally appreciate your feeling of being recharged and reconnected with the non-mom part of yourself… I think we just all have to keep trying and remembering that when we come home recharged and energized, our kids actually do benefit:)

    Nataly  |  September 5th, 2009 at 3:05 pm

  • It’s funny how we are so willing to give 110% for everyone except ourselves. My things are occasional pedicures (I gave up nails awhile back because it actually seeemed like a waste of weekend time) but pedicures, movies, reading, working out. Even going to the mall and window shopping? I think those small moments do exactly what you said-recharge yourself, if only a little. Every little bit helps.

    Shannon  |  September 13th, 2009 at 3:23 pm

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