Tag Archives: alone time

Alone Time

Of all of the proposals I make about how to use your time as a mother, this one is going to sound the most insane and pie-in-the-sky: Get some time alone.

We are going to bend the definition of alone to make it a bit more reasonable.

Being Alone Together

Zander and I went to the park the other day. Quiet and breezy, he crawled around the plaza and explored the world. Grabbing onto the side of the fountain, he tries to pull himself up. He is learning to stand.

For my part, I stretch out on the ground and check on him every few minutes. He’s always in my peripheral vision.

But instead of scrolling through my feed, reading a book, or listening to a podcast, I am just there. Laying. Being alone, with my thoughts. No intrusion of other’s ideas.

We are there for a bit over an hour and then I head home. I feel so at peace when I walk in. I pick up my copy of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport. I say thank you for finally making clear to me what’s been missing in my life.

The Importance of Solitude

albertcamus

Albert Camus, my favorite philosopher, said: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

Different figures throughout history have boasted the benefits of solitude, from Aristotle to Audrey Hepburn. They may say the practice boosts their creativity or mediates their sanity. East and West both agree that solitude is necessary for a well-lived life.

Modern science is, unsurprisingly, finding that this is the case.

When you spend time alone—not taking in the thoughts of other’s or meeting the expectations of your social group, you get a jumpstart to the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the rest-and-digest part of your nervous system. Lower blood pressure, slower heart rate, and more relaxed muscles are all signs that your parasympathetic nervous system has been activated.

You also have time to reflect and flex your insight muscle. Taking yourself out of the social context allows you to see how you are being affected and how you are affecting in a way that you wouldn’t be able to when you’re in the thick of it. When your brain is in input processing mode, whether the input is books, podcasts, or friends, it can’t do the hard work of figuring out who you are and what you’re here for.

Shocking!

In a study done by the University of Virginia, researchers found that a quarter of women and two-thirds of men who were involved in the experiment would rather be subjected to an electric shock than be alone with their thoughts.

We are losing our ability to be alone. We haven’t analyzed its value—or maybe, like the participants in the mentioned study, we’re afraid to spend time with our thoughts.

And if we are, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves scattered, stressed, and burnt out.

Fancy Tech

Not being with my phone, I’d heard that. I knew you weren’t supposed to have it on you all of the time. But I forgot that books are another new-fangled technology that intrude sometimes on my solitude. And while I love phones, podcasts, and books, they aren’t as essential to the well-being of a human as blocks of quiet reflection sprinkled throughout the day and week.

Set an example for your children. Spend some time alone. Be bored. Teach them how to sit with boredom by not providing constant entertainment and noise.

While the perfect arrangement may not exist when you’ve got one kid strapped to you or four running around, make true solitude a priority. Go to the park without the phone. Ask the partner for a half an hour walk by yourself on Sunday. Find a way to make radical decompression part of your daily, weekly, or monthly ritual.

Self-Care, in the Name of Your Child

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.

Then 15.

Then 20.

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.