Andrea Mara

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The life-changing magic of taking a break

A day off while the kids are in school? I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done it. As for a whole week? Never. And I’m guessing most parents are the same – it feels like a waste to take a week off when the kids are in school or in crèche. Annual leave is precious, so we keep it for holiday time, to spend with the kids.

When I worked in the IFSC, I never took holidays while the kids were in crèche. And since going freelance, it’s hard to take time off at all – other self-employed people will no doubt relate to that; you might be free to meet someone for coffee Friday morning, but only if you’re prepared to be at your laptop long after the Late Late starts on Friday night.

It feels like there’s never enough time, and it’s impossible to give 100% to anything. So if I’m not minding the kids, I feel I should be working, and if I’m not working, I should be doing something with the kids. That sounds martyr-ish, and I was never a martyr, but somehow it’s crept up on me.

When I got my last book in, I intended to take a breather, but it didn’t happen, and then it was too late. This time round, I decided to take a whole week off. The kids were back in school after mid-term, and I was going to do stuff like get my hair cut, go for a mid-week run, hit the shops, meet friends for coffee. It felt a little bit self-indulgent at the beginning of the week, and wondered if guilt would send me back to work by Wednesday. But by Friday, I was a different person (temporarily perhaps), and the whole experience was revelatory.

What was not unexpected was that I loved the mornings – doing all the things I never get time to do, having the luxury of time. What was unexpected was the knock-on effect. My calmer mornings filtered through to make for calmer afternoons – I was more relaxed, the house was less chaotic, and everyone was happier. I coped with homework better, and in turn, the kids coped with homework better. Dinner was earlier, bedtime was earlier, and I wasn’t rushing back downstairs to work. I rarely have time to play with the kids, but last week I did.

And I got so much more from a morning run on the pier in Dun Laoghaire and meeting a friend for coffee than I ever could have got from the lost hours of work. This, coinciding with a jaw-dropping tax bill (oh the curse of self-employment in Ireland) made me realise that taking a foot off the gas once or twice a week might be good – for me, and for the kids.

coffee - Office Mum

Self-care is a term that’s everywhere these days, but many of us don’t have the energy to pay attention. Yes it’s a lovely idea – look after ourselves and watch how that cascades through everything and everyone around us – but who has the time? I certainly didn’t think I did, until I made myself take time off and saw the difference.

So as a (temporarily) changed person, my tip would be this: take a day or even a morning off work every now and then, when there’s no-one to mind but you. Do something you love – go for a walk on your own, or go to the library, or hit the shops, or get your hair done, or meet friends for coffee, or all of the above. And don’t feel guilty about the kids – remind yourself that you’ll be a better person for it, and everybody wins.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to loosen the reins – stopping for coffee on the way home from the school run, listening to the radio instead of getting straight down to work, and I really, really like it – I expect this new chilled out version of me to last forever*.

(*To last until my book edits come back.)

***

Would you consider a “Yes Day” – saying yes to everything your kids want for 24 hours? I did it last Friday/ Saturday and wrote about it here for the Examiner. Safe to say I’m still in recovery.

In the midst of Yes Day chaos on Saturday morning (including chocolate for breakfast), I was thrilled to bits to read this review of The Other Side of the Wall in the Independent. I used to wait for new Jeffery Deaver books to come out and devour them – it’s very surreal to have his name mentioned in a review of my own book now!

Andrea Mara The Other Side of the Wall Review

(You can see other reviews of the book here and thank you to everyone who has reviewed on Amazon!)

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