Take The Hour — Your Kids Are Probably Sick Of Seeing You Anyway
By Janice Quirt
Photo © DimaBerlin/Twenty20
Sep 20, 2021
I've been thinking a lot about health lately.
And before you roll your eyes at "yet another story about the importance of washing your hands and social distancing," know that this isn't that. (Although, it's a good idea to do those things with the rising case counts in Canada's "fourth wave.")
Instead, what I've been digging into is my mental health. Making room or space for me is something I don't always give myself as a parent. But what I'm learning is that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.
After so many days spent with my immediate family, I’ve realized that we work better when we have time apart and get a chance to miss each other.
That’s been very challenging to do, of course, over the pandemic. But with some creativity and the now-loosening restrictions, it is possible.
Sometimes it means not going to the cottage/camping trip/virtual get-together with my better half, even though I would enjoy aspects of the experience. By opting out, we both have some time to be without the other.
It can start with splitting the weekend up into chunks of time and taking turns being with and without the kids. There will still be plenty of togetherness time; we just don’t need to live in each other’s hip pockets to be a successful and loving family.
That space can allow a couple, and a family, the opportunity to miss each other, and in so doing, really appreciate everyone again. The adult who has gone “kid-free” can hopefully recharge, whether they have had time away from the family for an afternoon or an overnight. The adult who has the kids can supervise in their preferred manner, doing the activities of their choice, and get the break the next time.
Ask for Help
Sometimes it is as simple as letting your needs be known.
Even just getting an hour-long break in a room alone with zero interruptions, a favourite snack and a great book or TV show can make me feel like a brand new person.
It also shows my kids that it’s OK for parents to take time for themselves and to enjoy activities that make them happy.
I am guilty in getting stuck in the asking, I think. Of admitting that alone time is sometimes preferable to being with our family members, no matter how much we love them. Cue the guilt, and the comparison to others who seem to parent with nary a misstep or cranky hellcat impression. How do these majestic beings get through each month without at least one snotty cry, à la Anna Kendrick finally watching The Breakfast Club in Pitch Perfect?
I know I’d exhibit a lot more instances of imitating a screaming banshee or dissolving into an emotional heap if I didn’t prioritize my alone time.
It’s time to shelve the guilt and ask for ways to make this reset time work, because I truly believe that we weren’t meant to spend this much time together.
Too much togetherness can fray nerves that are already jangled beyond belief. And being made to feel guilty for experiencing this stress doesn’t help.
Older Kids Can Be Alone, Too
When kids are older, I say let them fend for themselves.
Give them the boundaries of when they can and cannot interrupt you.
One of my happiest, most productive outlets of late is an hour of uninterrupted silent writing time with an online group. No phones, no interruptions and having my video on for these Zoom calls help me enforce these guidelines. I tell my family in advance when these sessions are happening, and to hold all questions and requests until after. This practice had yielded some of the greatest calm and productivity I can remember in recent years.
I think older kids, too, are looking for their own alone time. This doesn’t necessarily mean no rules or boundaries, but let them make the Rice Krispies treats on their own (microwave technique for safety, naturally). Allow them to retreat to their rooms. Let them try that walk to the convenience store solo — it’s not just independence, it’s finding those pockets of time away from everyone, especially after what was likely another close-knit summer. It might be just what they need, but every kid is different.
Maybe now is the time to let them skip the occasional family outing, or those nights when parents are getting together with friends that the kids don't really know. Sometimes the stress of jollying everyone along to attend kills the mood and joy of the get-together in the first place. Give them a pass, when the time is right — they’ll probably be able to fill up their buckets and be more eager for the next excursion.
Extended Family Exhaustion
Oh, how we missed everyone! We longed to be reunited with the whole family, and all of those friends. And yet… we’re still getting used to being together again, and maybe we need to make the re-entry gradual. Perhaps instead of a week away with everyone crammed under the same roof, start with a weekend? Making sure that everyone knows that they have permission to tap out and spend a few minutes — or hours — in solitude is important. Because all of that time apart didn’t magically erase any personality clashes. Group dynamics are still group dynamics. Did we overestimate how much we could all do together? Did we forget that, even at the best of times, tempers could flare? Starting small might be the answer. Gradually, we can build up and get to a new comfortable place with how we socialize again. It has been nearly two years, many of our needs have changed.
It can be tough, can’t it?
These days I screen for my emotional bandwidth before committing to groups or initiatives. I make sure I know what I have the reserves for, and when I badly need some alone time to better prepare myself for the current demands of family life and work. I try to be realistic, and know my own limits. In doing so it’s made for a more harmonious family life, and a happier me.
I want to still love spending time with my family — so I need them to give me space. I may only get a few minutes most days, but sometimes I'll get an hour. Maybe if I'm fortunate, I'll get a whole night off. I just want to use my time to reconnect with myself, and give us all the opportunity to miss each other.
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