3. Reclaiming that extra hour a day

A story based on an account from a Loss Survivor.

“I go to bed exhausted and I wake up exhausted.  Ever since the loss event, I am now on my own and need to manage the family and have no time for myself anymore.

I realised I had to do something when my young teenager asked me why I was so stressed all the time.

It was a moment when I could have let this young man know all of my worries or I could have just said “it’s because I’m a busy parent now!” and quickly change the subject.  At the time, I chose the second answer and as I said it, I knew I was being dishonest to both my son and myself.  How could I change this situation that had become my family’s reality?

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I spoke with some school mums at the morning drop off and one suggested I get a cleaner to help me with my chores.  I smiled at the suggestion but did not elaborate that I was now on one income and still meeting hefty financial commitments.

I spoke to my friend at work and he suggested that I talk to the children about giving me an hour a day to myself.  I laughed at the idea but he said if I asked for it, the children may not resist it, especially if the older one has already identified the issues of my stress.  I quietly contemplated having an hour to myself each day, but still did not know when to fit this into the schedule!

I asked my commute companion how do I find an extra hour each day?  She let me know her strategy was to not just watch television when all the children went to sleep but to chose one show a night to watch and when it was over, she turned the television off.

That evening I started a new reality for my family – completely unsure whether it would work!

I made an effort to set the table and my younger son asked “who was coming to dinner?”  I smiled at him and answered, “we are!”.

I served our meal and asked everyone to come to the table.  My older son came to the table, picked up his plate and went to the lounge room and turned on the television.  The younger son saw this and went to pick up his plate and follow his sibling!

I interrupted the behaviour and said lightly, “Guys, I thought it would be nice to have our meal at the table tonight.  What do you think about this idea?”

The older son looked at me and realised that I was serious.  To my surprise, he turned off the television and answered with a positive grunt.  Immediately, the younger son put his plate back on the table and sat down.

During the dinner time, I explained to them that we needed to work together as a team to keep the house clean, get the homework finished on time and enjoy each other’s company.  I asked each child what they felt was needed in the home to make it work; my older son replied fairly too quickly, “for me to chill out”; the younger son snickered and answered, “I would like you to read a story to me at night like the other parents do.”

Humbly, I said, “I would like to have an hour to myself to be able to do what I like”.  Immediately, the older son asked for the same thing and I replied “yes, so long as the homework was done and his hour was not after dark!” He huffed!

Together we put ideas on the table of how we would do what we all wanted.  I suggested that when we all get home from school and work, we relax for an hour; the boys go and play with the neighbourhood kids on their bikes and I “chill out”.  I then asked that as soon as that hour is up, they must come inside and do their homework.  My younger son said that he needed me to help him with his homework and I replied that I would help him at the same time as preparing the dinner.  My older son quietly said that he needed help too – and I replied “I’m there for you too buddy!”

I asked the boys what they thought about having a cleaner come in to help keep the house.  Both boys did not reply but the impressions on their faces was a mixture of shock and luxurious amazement!  I explained that I was thinking of getting someone in to do the “nitty-gritty bits” and we would all still have to keep the house tidy.  The boys agreed with this idea with a nod, a smile and a thumbs up!

I then approached the bedtime behaviour and explained that I needed some time out and this was when I needed it.  I asked the boys to agree on a suitable time to go to bed and this meant bed/sleep – not “ipoding” or “facebooking” or anything else!  I said that if they wanted to do that stuff, they needed to do it in their free-time in the afternoon.  They agreed.

I then explained that in my time when they are in bed, I will watch a bit of television and then maybe do some housework or read a book or play on the computer.  I let them know that I was changing my behaviour as well and only watching one television show per night.  The boys seemed to agree with this without care – maybe because it was time for dessert!

The next day, the plan went into action.  Upon arriving home, the boys went out to play and I unwound from the days work.  Earlier than an hour, the boys came back home and I said to them that they had another 10 minutes of play!  So they hibernated in their rooms for the rest of the time.

Then I asked for the boys to do their homework on the table instead of in their rooms so it was easier for me to help them as I prepared dinner.  The flow of conversation was great and each boy seemed to compete for my attention!

With homework finished and dinner served, we all sat down and actually felt a little excited with all the activity of the afternoon.  My older son commented that he liked the new routine because he was able to ride his bike and his maths is done for the next day.  It was my younger son who then suggested that we should tell a joke at dinner every night and followed through with a ‘knock-knock!”  It was a good suggestion and we all agreed.

After dinner, as the boys prepared for bed, I put a load of laundry on and set the dishwasher.  I then asked my older son for his iPod so I could ‘recharge it’ and then went to read a story to my younger son.

When all were settled, I selected my show and watched it.  As soon as it was finished, I turned off the television.  The house was quiet with no activity; I peeked into the boys rooms and they were sound asleep!

I then realised this was my time that I had asked for – this was my extra hour a day!”

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