Pro tip: when you need a break, take your kid(s) to Ikea.
This is one of the fun — and effective — pieces of advice a parent shared with bestselling author Rachel Bertsche while she was gathering research for her new book, The Kids Are in Bed: Finding Time for Yourself in the Chaos of Parenting.
“My favorite is a hack that I heard from a parent, [proving] we can find time whenever,” Bertsche, 37, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview.
A mother told the author that she took her daughter to Ikea because she needed to get doorknobs and it was a snow day. After finding them, the mom put her daughter in the store’s play area. She took a seat on a display couch and started reading a book. “The daughter is probably in heaven playing in the play space at Ikea, and [the mom] got to read a few pages of a novel. Then it’s back to kind of business as usual.”
Bertsche — who shares daughter Maggie, 6, and son Will, 3, with husband Matt Levine — knows all about the struggle to maintain sanity and personhood while raising little ones. In her new book, which published on Tuesday, she explains that parents really do have free time — and embracing it will help, rather than hurt, your kids.
“I would love for parents to understand that we’re doing so much. We’re doing enough. You can let go of the guilt and give yourself permission. It’s okay,” says Bertsche, who is a journalist and the author of MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend. “Everyone benefits if you take a little time for yourself. It doesn’t have to be major. You don’t have to spend hours at a spa, you don’t have to get a whole weekend away, but little bits of time every day really do make a difference.”
In The Kids Are In Bed, Bertsche draws from her own life and intensive research. She interviewed parenting experts, psychologists, parents, and integrated information from a survey of 500 parents across the country.
“Almost 80 percent of parents feel like their free time doesn’t even feel free,” Bertsche explains, “because they’re constantly thinking about what they should be doing or what they could be doing.”
She divides her book into four sections — “Where Does the Time Go?”, “Marriage”, “Self-Care”, and “Friendships” — in order to show parents how much leisure time they really have and how to best use it.
“We live in this intensive parenting culture where it does feel like you’re supposed to be doing everything all the time for everyone else,” Bertsche says. In actuality, taking some personal time is “not just serving you, it’s actually serving your children,” she adds. And for those worried that they can’t spare an hour or two, Bertsche explains that 20 minutes is enough.
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Though Bertsche doesn’t claim to have a perfectly balanced life, she does relish claiming those minutes for herself. She works with her husband so they can support each other and claim their solo time. Bertsche even makes a list of things she’d like to do in her free time to combat the “decision fatigue” that many parents face.
“I make a list of five things I like to do that I could do in 30 minutes,” she says. “So when I find myself with an unexpected chunk of time, I can just look at that and be like, ‘Okay, I’m going to read’ or, ‘Oh, I’m going to go for a walk,’ or, ‘Maybe I can put in a quick workout.'”
One expert she spoke to explained how these small activities can make a big difference.
“I talked to a time management expert, who talked about reading poetry,” Bertsche recalls. “She’s like, ‘It takes five minutes, but then you become a person.’ You think of yourself as a person who has time to read poetry, so you become happier about the way you use your time.”
All of these tips can help parents achieve an important goal: quality time with their children.
“If you have the energy and if you’re refueled enough, you can handle it and have fun with it,” Bertsche says about raising kids. She says she loves “those moments when our whole family is together or playing on the couch or messing around. Nothing major. It’s not like a big vacation, but just playing and laughing and having fun.”
She adds, “And I have that moment where I really realize it’s happening. I’m like, ‘Oh, this is a moment.’ This is what I’m going to look back on later.”
The Kids Are in Bed is on sale now.