In a culture that is admittedly child-centered, it’s easy to feel parental guilt when planning a little self-indulgence.  There’s no dispute that self-care goes a long way in a parent’s life, but being responsible for another person’s every joy and fulfillment means letting a lot of indulgence slip. For example, if you’re parenting a little being who is under three, you may barely have time for a shower or eating anything beyond left-over cheese cubes, cheerios and pb and j triangles. In fact, you may find yourself asking whether you had the right foodshapes that day, rather than enough fruits and vegetables. It’s a basic fact that a hundred and one diversions and pleasures previously commonplace are held suspect when our children are small and need us every minute of every day.

When I was parenting my young daughter, I managed to get in one yoga class per week while she was with her Dad in our 50/50 split.  The rest of the time I was working. That weekly class was my sanity; my mani/pedi, massage, spa treatment and shopping spree all rolled into one blissed-out hour doing downward dogs on my yoga mat. I learned how to make that yoga class enough, and to let go of the thought that anything else was required. Without the time and money, I taught myself to banish such possibilities as I banished the thought that Mr. Right might come strolling up to my door like a kind of romance-inspired traveling salesman. Such events just weren’t gonna happen. So, yoga was my thing, along with one other sanity-stabilizer that I have never gone without and never will. Regardless of what level of constant parenting was required; no matter how much sleep deprivation, money scarcity or toddler tantrums I was exposed to, I have always made time for girlfriends.

In fact, I might forego brushing the back of my hair (something I remembered to do when my daughter got a bit older, like 13), or neglect to diversify my wardrobe (I never saw anything wrong with wearing the same outfit several days a week when my daughter was under three). And I might convince myself that I’m satisfied with a frozen burrito night after night. But I never tried to convince myself of anything when it came to time with friends. My Motto: “have child, bring child, loaded up with portable toys, snacks and juice boxes, cuz Mama needs to hang with her tribe”.  For me, being with like-minded female souls, sharing fun and frivolity, along with soul-drenched conversations, was as satisfying as a trip to the day spa or Mr. Right standing at my doorway with flowers and a deluxe vacuum cleaner. Simply put: girlfriends stabilize me.

It’s amazing how many enjoyable things can be done with children while in the company of other women (who are likely to also have children). The most common activity that allowed for optimal “Mommy and me” sanity was to go to a tribe-members house for dinner. We would arrive carrying dessert, appetizer or wine, and let the children romp and scream while we adults huddled around the kitchen island pretending to be at the Ritz. Of course, there was always the option of meeting at a restaurant, but unless it’s pizza hut or taco bell, restaurants are guaranteed disasters.

There was, however, an oceanside restaurant in LA I used to go to.  This establishment had the genius, the unmitigated brilliance, to put a sandbox right in the middle of their cocktail tables. I found the ingenuity of this decision, stunning. And apparently, every mother for miles around did too.  The kids could happily roll their trucks in the sand, make castles, dig holes and get covered in easy-to-clean-up “dirt”, as we sat nearby, talking and laughing and looking out at the ocean like we were on cruise ship bound for the Caribbean.

It may seem that I spent the early years of my daughter’s childhood strapped to a bar stool at a child-friendly restaurant or in a friend’s kitchen. Just to be clear: I did occasionally visit these places, but I did not frequent them. If I had, I’d be ready not only for an intervention, but also for antidepressants, because raising children requires an awful lot of …movement.  And no small amount of fresh air.

So, while my friends and I did go to the sandbox restaurant every now and then, we also went hiking, to the beach, the zoo, the local park, and the city center. We had full moon ceremonies on the red rocks of the canyon high up in the Santa Monica mountains. We picked sage in the chaparral and made daisy chains out of wild flowers. We learned how to create a sense of “family” because women need women, and motherhood only augments that.

It’s hard in our culture to remember that good self-care makes for good parenting.  Taking time for ourselves is not easy to schedule, even though the pay-off is undeniable.  So, when a little guilt comes up over what we have deemed necessary for ourselves to feel normal, we need to tell that guilt to have a seat in the naughty chair on permanent time-out.  As parents, we must pick our diversions wisely, especially when our children are small. But once chosen, we should offer these diversions happily, receiving them with open arms. Because when the late afternoon melt-down occurs and we respond with “I just came back from yoga class” kind of calm, our children will thank us.