Mental stimulation amid child-rearing? You can do it if you try

If you've ever prayed for bedtime just so you could go to the bathroom by yourself, you know how tough it can sometimes be to keep your sanity while alone with young children.

Sometimes I want to do something absolutely crazy, like go to an evening meeting at bedtime

It may look idyllic, but the mind-numbing nature of family routines can leave parents seeking something more. (Svetlana Fedoseyeva/Shutterstock)

If you've ever prayed for bedtime just so you could go to the bathroom by yourself, you know how tough it can sometimes be to keep your sanity while alone with young children.

Having kids is a sudden shock — a lack of privacy and huge shifts in your lifestyle and routines. Nothing can prepare you for the change.

Yet even while mastering the hard parts, parents must remember a lot of absolutely mind-numbing details to make it through.

In our efforts to raise twins, we've resorted to rigid routines to keep everything on track.

We start with an empty dishwasher in the morning. We run and empty it after dinner every night. We do at least one load of laundry every evening.

There's always a grocery list tacked to the side of the refrigerator. Play dates, vet appointments, work trips and other details are scheduled in detail on our kitchen calendar.

In reality, parenting can feel a little more like this photo illustration than the idyllic mother and child sleeping in a cloud of white. (Shutterstock)

It's not easy — and it's not very intellectually satisfying. It's the brain's equivalent of wearing a grey dress … serviceable, but not sexy.

It doesn't make my neurons dance with delight in learning something new.

There are times when I want to do something absolutely crazy, like go out to an evening meeting that starts during kid bedtime.

I joke that getting out of my house for a 7 p.m. event is like launching a space shuttle. Lining things up so only one parent can manage? Well, it's safe to say I don't get out too often.

There's a part of me that is desperate to have more.

How can you keep thinking while cranking out the chores?

Audio books

Whether you check them out of the library or buy downloads, there are lots of audio book options online.

Audio books have helped me cope as I folded sheets, cooked meals, made beds and more. Housework may be physically demanding but it keeps me awake and chores go faster when my brain is busy, too.

Making things

If you knit, crochet, sew, weave, make art or do woodwork … making things (anything) from start to finish can be remarkably satisfying.

Following directions and completing something with a lot of steps can keep your brain solving new and interesting problems.

I have spent many afternoons refereeing kids in the yard while knitting. I need to watch them and being outdoors is important, but while we're kicking the ball and listening to birdsong, sometimes I need to feel a sense of accomplishment, too.

There is nothing better than cranking out a pair of mitts or a scarf for winter while the sun shines.

We can buy it all, but creating things ourselves gives us something handmade and original, is good for our mental health and builds dexterity. It allows our minds to dream and create while keeping our children company.

Join a group

It could be a book club, a non-profit or a discussion group. Maybe it's a reconciliation circle or a chance to plan political activism.

Make the extra effort of planning ahead to take an evening or a couple of hours away from the family and your work life.

Yes, it's like launching that rocket ship, but the few hours of discourse with other adults is so worth it. Believe me.

Take a moment to chat

My mom liked talking to other parents and I remember dallying for what seemed like hours, waiting for her to finish.
I promised myself I wouldn't be like that.


Some promises are made to be broken.

There are days when the few sentences I exchange with another adult at the kids' school can change my day entirely. Just knowing someone else has been there or the support of another parent makes a difference.

Also, all those hours of eavesdropping on (fairly benign) adult conversations can actually be good for your kids. They learn patience, conversational manners and a lot of vocabulary.

We all love our kids … but as you change another diaper, you might be wondering if this period of your life will ever end.

This morning as we said goodbye to the piano teacher before school started, I mentioned how essential these other activities are to maintaining my sanity — especially getting out to talk to smart people.

She smiled, and suddenly one of my kids joined the conversation, catching us by surprise: "Mommy! You're smart, too!"

Suddenly I felt better, like all of this was going to be worth it someday.

Take the time to take care of your intellect, even during this time that can feel like one long slog.

Eventually they stop wearing diapers. Someday, your kid will be able to discuss it with you.

It will be worth it.

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Joanne Seiff is the author of several books, including Knit Green, about textile sustainability. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.


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