The life-giving potential of sixty minutes a day
March 5, 2021
by Jennifer Lendvai-Lintner
Several weeks ago I had the honor of being interviewed by Mary Susan McConnell for her Mama Bear Podcast. If you are not familiar with this podcast, it’s aimed at caregivers or parents of children living with extreme circumstances, such as medial complexities and disabilities. The episode is titled, How Jennifer Lendvai-Lintner Changed Her World by Writing for One Hour a Day... At first glance, that might seem hyperbolic. It’s really not.
In June 2020 in the midst of a pandemic, I began carving out an hour of my day. Life couldn't have been crazier. Not only was our world upended because of COVID-19, at the time I was still very new in learning how to be mom of a baby with complex medical needs. Navigating her rare diagnosis is involved and requires some pretty intensive caregiving. There was never going to be an ideal time to start, so I started right in the middle of the mess.
Though I had a degree in English/Journalism, I hadn’t written in years. But, writing was the thing that was calling to me. The hour wasn’t magically gifted to me; I sought it out with intention and drew a line around it. I chose a time of day that works for me. I’ve always been an early bird. My mind works best in the morning — always has. I knew those first quiet moments of the day — sun rising, coffee in hand — were going to be my holy hours.
Once I decided on my when and what, I advocated for it. My husband Géza is my teammate, a great one at that, but he cannot read my mind. I spoke up and told him, directly, what I needed. I was clear and exact, and we figured out how to divide responsibilities so that it could happen. What works in our house is that I set the alarm early and get up before everybody else. The big kids, Nóra and Bence, take care of their morning responsibilities like making beds, emptying the dishwasher, getting their own breakfast, etc. Géza gets Hilde up, dressed, and ready for the day. He prepares her breakfast and meds and delivers them via her feeding tube. We all have to work as a team, but it’s possible. Did I have to ask for help and relinquish responsibilities that had previously fallen on my shoulders? Yes, but there are teammates in my family who can assume these responsibilities. Because I’m a capable person, I find I often take on much more than I need to simply because I’m capable of doing it. But in needing to carve out that time for myself — and I wholeheartedly believe it is a need — I examined all that I was handling and found reasonable ways to delegate.
Arguably the most important action I take in regard to my hour is that I protect it. Sometimes I do need to reinforce the boundaries I’ve drawn around this time. I schedule appointments — and there are a lot of them — in a way that does not infringe on that time. I won’t sacrifice it. When I get a visitor in my little writing nook, I acknowledge the bit of news that absolutely HAD to be shared and remind said visitor that this is mommy’s writing time. I say it out loud to my kids. Again, I don’t assume that they can read my mind. My elder children are old enough to understand and respect this time. An hour in the morning goes by in a flash — everyone is capable of surviving without me for 60 minutes because we all can pitch in, and we should all respect what each family member needs — me included.
Will there be times when my hour gets upset? Of course. We are a family that lives with complex medical needs. There is unpredictability in that and sometimes extreme circumstances. What will happen to my hour when we are going through that kind of season? I don’t know. It may have to go on hiatus for a time. Or maybe I’ll find another creative solution since it’s become habitual and so life-giving for me. Either way, being fluid, flexible and a creative problem-solver are just a few of the skills I’ve sharpened as a mom of a child with a rare disease and medial complexities. I trust I’ll figure it out.
A lot has happened since I implemented my hour a day. I’ve published articles in print and online publications. I started this blog. I’m investing in my own education again by taking online webinars; I’ve always loved learning. I’m reading more than ever because reading fuels writers. It's important to note, I don't at all believe the hour-a-day needs to be career driven or productive in a professional sense. Those goals were what I desperately needed in my life, and so I went after them. The benefits of my hour permeate much deeper than this, however. My ability to cope with the other, often stressful, areas of my life has increased. I find I'm more resilient because in taking my hour a day, I'm better caring for my own mental health. As I said in the interview with Mary Susan, the amount on my shoulders hasn’t changed — the way I’m carrying it has. My hour a day is spent doing something that lights me up and that energy spills over into every other aspect of my life. My hour invigorates me and creates momentum; its impact is tremendous.
It isn’t selfish to need that hour and take it. The ideal of the ‘selfless mother’ does so much harm. I’m a better mother now that fueling my light is a top priority. Every day begins with the thing that feeds me. My family and I are all better for it. For me the hour is for writing. For you, maybe it’s painting, reading, meditating, walking, scrapbooking, jewelry making… it can be anything! What lights you up? Do that. And if you’re not quite sure what that thing is, take the hour anyway, and start exploring. There’s magic in one hour a day.
[Image description: In a dimly lit room, a laptop sits open on a table next to a steaming beverage in a mug. A window can be seen in the background.]