One of the most common complaints among parents and everyone else is that they can’t afford the time to do what they need to do, let alone extra time.
And one of the most common refrains of motivational speakers is, of course, “You can’t afford not to!”
The motivational speakers are right. But just saying that you need to make time doesn’t actually allow you to have that time. What you need to do is help you and your child build the skills necessary that time to yourself is possible with your children around.
It is great if you have someone around in the family, or have hired help, or a friend who is able to take your kids a few times a week. You are lucky and you should utilize the time you have wisely.
But making time for yourself while your child is under your care alone isn’t just about you. It isn’t even just about your relationship to your child. It is also about him and his skills and abilities.
Children need to learn how to entertain themselves. As adults, we know how to occupy our own time without having anyone telling us directly what we need to do. If we are lucky, we built those skills in childhood.
But robbed of this opportunity, many don’t learn until after they leave college and need to make decisions for the bulk of the day without anyone’s help. Some make it their whole lives, going from toddlerhood, to school, to college, to work, always having someone telling them to do, or worrying about what they will do in those hours, for a huge part of their day. They use their alone time only to recoup for the next shift.
Give your child the gift of self-entertainment. With this may come a possibility of boredom, but that is okay. Depending on which line of thought you adhere to, boredom can be (1) a healthy time to breathe, calm down, reorganize, and recoup; or (2) it can be a sign that you are not good at self-entertainment. In which case, this is the time in which your child can build that skill.
While setting goals for our children and our alone time, we need to be realistic about what is developmentally-appropriate as well as what is skill-appropriate. There are many 18-month-olds who are happy to play alone for 20-40 minutes at a time. There is not doubt that with the proper entertainment (A pikler triangle, crayons, pattern blocks, stacking cups, etc.) these toddlers can spend a chunk of time by themselves without needing our input—especially in a Yes! Space.
But what if your little one has never had to entertain him or herself. Will it work to leave an 18-month-old for half an hour who has never spent 5 minutes by himself?
It will depend on him and his personality, which only you know. But you don’t need to assume. You can just try.
Start with 5 minutes. I suggest taking this 5 minutes to do a meditation or some stretching, something to keep you grounded. See how this session goes. Maybe you thought he would cry and he’s fine. Maybe you thought he’d cope without a problem, but is struggling. Whatever it is, accept that it is his reaction.
But wait the 5-minutes. You can call out to him that you’ll be there soon. Look in the door real quick to assure him you’re still there.
5 minutes is not going to do long term damage to your baby or your relationship with him. Often, we project our fears and anxieties onto our children, and this is a disservie to everyone involved.
Continue these 5 minute increments until everyone is comfortable and you can move to 10 minutes.
I’ve known 4 month olds to entertain themselves up to 20 minutes. Your toddler can do it as he gets more comfortable with the fact that you’ll come back, that he is safe, that he has the skills he needs to be alone.
While this period of learning may be a bit painful—possibly more for the parent than the child—this initial investment into means that in the long run, you will have a space most days to do a little bit of self-care, and that will allow you to parent from the place that you want.
It will also give your child the important skills of coping with boredom, being alone with themselves, creating their own entertainment, and it will cultivate a sense of autonomy and competence in problem-solving.
These truly are things you can’t afford not to give yourself. Your child needs these skills to thrive, as well as a parent who is present.