Sunday, May 26, 2024
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Carving out ‘alone time’ for parents

Leslie Streeter

THE WASHINGTON POST – I have just turned off all the lights in my room and nestled in as the ominously velvet voice of Dateline NBC’s Keith Morrison introduces yet another husband who’s totally up to no good, when I hear the tentative footsteps of an eight-year-old outside my room. “Mummy? Are you watching crime?”

“Sure am!” I said, as my son’s little feet retreat back down the stairs, because now he knows that it’s officially Mummy’s True-Crime-Time, an hour of purposely kid-unsuitable programming that is mine alone. And I don’t feel bad about it. At all.

Parenting has never lent itself to alone time. But in our pandemic-worn, work-from-home, remote learning era, finding creative ways to create that dedicated space, whether it’s a solo walk or binge watch, is all the more crucial. The issue is evergreen, pandemic or not: Parents are often in desperate need of some space, some quiet, some way to recharge. The pandemic just heightened that need, and caregivers are finding ways to keep that space going, even with kids back in school and adults back at work.

“Many of us internalise (the message) that parenting trumps all (and) everything is pushed aside,” Minneapolis clinical social worker Marit Appeldoorn said. “But this (time) is not a luxury, not dispensable. We really have to give ourselves permission to do our thing, even if it’s just 10 minutes with a cup of coffee. It’s good for physical health, mental health and really, really good for our parenting.”

If the pandemic has been good for anything, perhaps learning to carve out some quiet time alone or with friends – and not our children – is a true benefit. Finding time to be ourselves and re-energise after being caregivers to everyone else is imperative, and many parents have found some ways to make that work.

Cynthia Ntini-Jacobson, 38, who lives in Chevy Chase, DC, proves the tricky balance between Mom-Time and Me-Time during this interview, as her four-year-old son, Khozi kept adorably wandering into frame on the zoom. “He said, ‘Why are you sneaking around the house?’ ” she said, once she’s successfully shuffled him into another room.

Time alone was always hard to find because she home-schools Khozi and his 10-year-old brother, Khaya, but the pandemic closed all of the museums and activities that provided “a little reprieve, an outlet for being around other people”. She finds refuge in her (carefully curated) Twitter feed, and in her 5pm dinner prep time, during which the kids and husband Paul, 43, know “that’s the time when I want to be left alone, and nobody bothers me until I’m done”.

“I close the bedroom door and fold laundry and listen to podcasts,” like You’re Wrong About and The Office Ladies, staying “up long after I should just to get some time alone”, said Jill Grundy, 39, who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with husband Adam and kids Bennett, 10, Julia, eight and Cecilia, four. “The other day I was folding laundry and Julia said ‘Can I help you? I really want to spend time with you.’ I felt terrible, but I had to say ‘This is my quiet time’.”

Husband Adam, who, like Jill, is employed by the Census Bureau and has worked virtually since 2022, said he’s made time to go running with a neighbour each week, plays soccer regularly Sunday mornings and writes for a music blog called Chorus.FM. “These are things that I do just for fun, for me, that keep me sane,” he said.

Instead of getting the kids out of the house, Kara Higgins, 43, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, actually added two to her previous brood of four – a Japanese exchange student who came to the States in fall 2019 and stayed, and a foster baby who came as “a pandemic surprise” right around Mother’s Day in 2020. Higgins and her husband, Ryan, are now in the process of adopting her.

Higgins, who works in healthcare and risks covid-19 exposure on the job, sought out activities that give her dedicated time for herself and “not expose other people to all my cooties”, she said. One is a live fitness class app called Open Fit, “where I found an online community working out with other people. I needed to be distant but I’m also an extrovert, so it’s a way to have some community. It’s been really great”.

Of course, with that much work responsibility and that many people in her house, there are times “where I try to disconnect”. The practice started in the beginning of the pandemic where she “would strip down and tell the kids, ‘Let me get a shower and get the covid off me. Give me a few minutes and I’ll be ready.’ Now everyone knows my boundaries. And I find it’s really important to not feel ashamed or guilty if I need to go for an hour to be by myself”.

There doesn’t seem to be a template or a rule for how to get that time, as long as it’s time set aside away from the kids. For Janet Max, 45, of Takoma Park, Maryland, it was a regular walk with neighbours “for the first solid five months of the pandemic. We’d get a text that said ‘See you on the corner’ and we went”, she said. “Those walks were my saviour.”

Kelly Durkin, 33, a mother of three in Columbia, “has definitely been on a podcast tangent”, along with TV binges with husband Scott for shows like Outlander. She sometimes eludes her kids using chores as a cover. “I’m like, ‘Gotta go fold laundry!

So sorry’!”

She, of course, is not sorry, and social worker Appeldoorn said that’s the right attitude. She lists our current societal Wordle obsession as “the best example of collective play I’ve seen in the 10 years. Self-care is anything that helps our nervous systems feel safe and reset, and also gives us fuel in our tanks that we need in order to keep at it. Just taking breaks is not enough anymore. There’s nothing selfish about it. And whatever it is, it has to be for you”.

Which is why I’ll never feel bad about Mummy’s True-Crime-Time. That’s what it takes for me to feel more like myself. And the only crime being committed is on the screen.