I came up with this column idea while sitting in my car on Alki, staring at the Seattle skyline and trying not to cry. It was 9:30 p.m. on Monday, and I’d shoved my darling baby at my darling husband, announced I was leaving for a while, and walked out the door. I’d been awake and parenting since 4 a.m., and I was done.
I’ve always treasured my time with myself. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my friends, family, or spouse, but you know what they say: introverts gonna introvert. Unfortunately, I’ve found that being an introvert (and taking solace in the solitude I love) is just about impossible as a mother. When I handed Gabe off to Josh, the longest I’d been alone (and by this, I mean “all by myself”, not “keeping an ear out on my sleeping baby”) in the past three weeks had been the half-mile drive to the grocery store. Once. I hadn’t had time to do the things I loved without worrying about stopping what I was doing and picking up a baby in three weeks. Every time I eat a meal, I do so with the knowledge that I might not get to eat it when it’s warm, or with two hands, or without goal-tending everything on the table from grabby baby hands. I’ve learned to poop at the drop of a hat, because I never know when my adventurous dude is going to bonk his head on something and need soothing.
Pre-parenting, I luxuriated in my online classes. I’ve always enjoyed being at home, and being able to nest and study at my leisure was delightful. I listened to the music I wanted, as loud as I wanted, when I wanted. If I wanted to sleep until 10, I could. I could go to bed when I was sick, I could take an hour-long bath, I could take the dog to the dog park. I could sit in the silence of my own home, surrounded by my own messes, in control of my environment. I loved it so much.
The birth of my child changed all that. As I said last week, sick days are a thing of the past–Gabe wakes up at 7 a.m. like clockwork, and even if he’s sick, too, he still goes nonstop. While I’m typing, small fingers are grabbing at my laptop, hitting ESCAPE repeatedly. If he can’t reach the keyboard, he swats at the screen, or pulls on my toes, or reaches for the dirty tissue on the couch. I love him, and I love that he’s a happy, healthy, energetic child who isn’t afraid of his world. But DAMN I would love to have a day where I could read dense scholarly pieces before I’ve been up and parenting for 12 to 14 hours. It’s hard to parse theory while someone learns spatial reasoning by banging toys together and hooting next to me.
While I sat in the dark car, I asked the other mothers I know how they found their solitude. The answers varied. Exercise was common (gyms with childcare, yoga, running, or fitness classes), as was depending on the kindness of spouses or family members to spell moms for a few hours, specifically Grandma or aunties. Babysitters were also mentioned, but that’s an option that usually involves leaving the house and thus not really the solitude I crave. A well-loved answer on Facebook was “Pooping. I used to [do] a two-minute in-and-out, now I take my damn time.” Target or grocery shopping was also cited as a mother’s haven. The sweet mindlessness of walking up and down each aisle without a child on you or in front of you really cannot be overstated. Someone said that her mother ended up getting a horse in order to get the solitude she wanted (I envy this woman so much). For many, work and their commute was their only time alone, which sounds like the exact opposite of what I’d hope to get out of solitude.
What I found interesting was something that one woman mentioned–the guilt and almost frantic need to fit as many things into “our” time as possible. We feel bad that we’re not doting on our precious spawn 24/7, as mothers are supposed to do. And when we do overcome that guilt and get away, we’re often consumed with a manic desire to do EVERYTHING. She specifically cited a 3.5 hour date with her husband where she managed to go to two different bars for drinks, saw a movie, got a cupcake, and then split a gelato. There are so many things that having a child with you bars you from doing or makes too tricky, so when you have that freedom, you try to shove everything you’ve missed into it. We spend weeks or months craving that time off, but when we get it, we exhaust ourselves trying to take full advantage of it.
Our challenge is to find this time, to re-establish our relationship with ourselves. It’s hard, sometimes almost impossible, to remind myself of my non-mom side. But I know that I appreciate my time with my family much more when I get the hell away from them.
21 replies on “A Womb of One’s Own: An Hour of One’s Own”
This is one of the things that make me fear motherhood. Will you ever spend enough time, is it bad that you want some of it for your own and how are you going to make it happen. I’m already pouty when le bf suddenly asks an hour of my time, what if there is a creature that can’t understand arguments yet and just wants, right now?
I don’t know if it gets any easier, really, but it does get different….or you get used to it, or something. It gets easier because as they get older, they are less needy in the hands-on-all-the-time sort of way.
You learn to make the most of the time you have, you learn to take breaks when they are available, and you learn to create breaks in creative ways.
Last year when I was home more (working very part-time) a friend and I did a child care swap- we took turns watching each other’s toddler. Sometimes I ran errands. A lot of times I just went home, did a few tasks and then settled in with a good book, just because I could!
All of these things are true. My son exhausts me. Last night, when the husband got home, I said, “I’m shutting the bathroom door and reading in the bath.” I did so for 45 minutes. And then I missed them both too much.
It’s all so bittersweet.
I have to second the horse suggestion, but that’s probably because I’ve been riding since I was seven (am now 27). We’re trying for a baby now and I’m slightly terrified of not being able to “get away” for a bit. Or ever. Riding is my solace and has been for years. If I’m angry, upset, stressed or just need to get out of the fucking house (I work from home), I just head out to the barn.
My sister lives near my mom and dad so they take turns babysitting the baby if my sister and her fiance want to go out. I won’t have that luxury so I guess I’ll just make my dog babysit the baby while I leave to de-stress. That’s OK, right?
I can totally relate to this.Â Card carrying introvert who tried for six years and then finally felt pregnant with my son.Â I feel like I should be treasuring every single moment.Â And for the most part I do.Â But there are times when i’m counting down the moments until his next nap and I’m actually looking forward to going back to work just so I can have a break!
Husband is great and will take him for me but one of us has to work!
It really can be exhausting to parent while introverting. My son is a card-carrying extravert, and requires being the center of attention ALL. THE. TIME. I will miss the days of him wanting to hang out with me, but I am eagerly awaiting a point in his life when he will appreciate the beauty that is a comfortable silence. And enjoy your free night! It sounds delightful!
One thing to remember, if you have a spouse.Â He is daddy and deserves to take time with your child.Â Dad is not a babysitter.Â Don’t feel guilty like you have to rush home every time!Â I did that with my first child but not with our second.Â To get my quiet time, I read cheesy books.Â Kids are in bed by 8 and I have two hours before I crash to watch mindless TV, play wii or lotrol, or read a book.Â A lot of times Mr and I play online games together.Â So we have our “quality” time too HAHA.Â Rest when baby rests.Â Let the dishes sit in the sink if you have too.Â Sometimes you need a break, so take it.
My therapist likes to remind me that taking care of myself IS taking care of my children.
That being said, I’m not above a quick cry in the shower as a de-stressor. In the past week, my son (stepson with an attachment disorder) got in trouble at school for starting a food fight in the cafeteria x2, saying “fuck” repeatedly, and peeing in a sink. My daughter decided to pull a type of sympathy/cry-for-attention outburst at daycare and went on an all day biting spree. It culminated in her telling me on the way home “When Josh and I were born, we had another mother and father, but they thought we were monsters so they runned away.” Broke my freakin’ heart. Both kids have dealt with a parent abandoning them as toddlers. The showers this week have been particularly nice.
It’s weird, as crappy as the above paragraph reads, I wouldn’t say that any stage of child-rearing is harder than another. The challenges of being a parent never disappear, but they do change….and our need for time-outs to recharge never disappears either.
A friend of mine a long time ago said to me, “Happy mom = happy kids”. It’s true. You don’t usually find one without the other.
I should point out that currently I AM IN THE HOUSE AND I AM GLORIOUSLY ALONE. Â Gabe is spending the day and overnight at Josh’s mom’s house, and YOU GUYS IT IS AMAZING. Â I listened to loud music on the drive home. Â I went to the mall and I walked around aimlessly. Â Y’all, I BROWSED. Â I haven’t browsed since I was pregnant, store trips have become like SEAL extractions. Â I tried on clothing I had no intention of purchasing. Â Now I’m in comfy clothes on the couch, eating leftovers directly from the container, and watching TV. Â Sure, the dog should be walked and the house should be cleaned, but instead I’m going to watch Legends of the Fall and swatch my nail polishes and drink tea.
Hmm… My mom used to give me a sippy cup of juice, put onÂ The Jungle Book (which I watched aboutÂ 1,564,876,810,568 times), and fall asleep. Good times.
Oh lord, I watched The Jungle Book, The Last Unicorn, and The Black Stallion so many times the tapes lost audio when I was a kid. My dad is on the hunt for a DVD of it for Gabe.
Hah, it was The Last Unicorn, Willow and the ewok movie for us. I don’t care what Star Wars fans say, I love me some jabbering half-naked teddy bears and Wilford Brimley.
Yes, television!! Might I suggest the Little Bear television series? My son loves it, it is very gentle and sweet and not at all annoying, even after about five million viewings of each episode.
love the last unicorn! Â there is also a cartoon series of watership down aimed at small kids, and of course pbs has a plethora of things.
I chose “sad” because I know the feeling so well – that feeling of wanting to get away but WHY SHOULD I WANT TO GET AWAY FROM MY CHILD I SHOULD APPRECIATE EVERY SECOND. Â And being unable to get away, and then being a worse parent for it. Â Sigh.
Oh man, I have been there. How I have been there. Sometimes I am STILL there. Even though I can be loud and I like being social, I am still at heart an introvert and I crave my alone time. I am extremely lucky to have a part-time babysitter so that I can get some work done, and when I work at home I am completely by myself. But before that, I remember being with my daughter and wondering how on earth I was going to get through the day with this little person by my side All. The. Damn. Time. Same thing with my son, since I kept him with me for a long time before asking the babysitter to take him too so I could get back to writing.
Part of the problem, I think, was that I always felt as though I had to engage my children in some fashion, especially when they were babies. But in reality, there are plenty of times I could simply just have watched them play while thinking my own thoughts. It’s easier with my son than my daughter; whereas she always needed more interaction, he is often content just to have me in the room with him, so we’re kind of alone together, which can be really nice. I also utilize television more than I ever thought I would, which of course makes me a “bad mom” in certain circles, but I have decided to say fuck it to the AAP on this one (especially after my mom told me that as a baby/toddler I watched about an hour or more a day, and I turned out to be a voracious reader and a great student, so there you go).
I love lazing around, and I really love lazing around at home, which becomes much harder when there are kids there! My husband takes the kids in the morning on the weekends, since he sees them so much less than I do during the week and he misses his time with them. I can sleep in, do some work, or laze around in bed for an hour or two and it is just lovely.Â I think it’s interesting that the women you asked cited activities as the way they have alone time, specifically activities that have ‘value’ in the outside world (exercise, food shopping, work). Do moms, or women, or perhaps just people in general, feel that guilty about spending their alone time doing nothing? Is it our Calvinistic society that makes us feel bad about doing nothing? Or do most people just not like to laze around as much as I do?
I am really considering finding a part-time babysitter (I saw one post on a local mom’s site and she has Montessori training and does PT in-her-home nannying which is AWESOME).
I think part of the “work” answer is just that we can’t afford or find childcare– I looked at a daycare near us, and it was, I shit you not, $1850/month. Â That’s more than our rent and bills! Â I think it’s interesting that so many of my friends seek their solace in exercise, because I’m actually more inclined to go for a run when I can stick Gabe in the jogging stroller so he can get out and see the world.
day care costs for babies are ridiculous. Â my one sister is expecting in july, so i am not sure what she and her husband are going to decide on the whole child care while at work thing.
It was my Mum who took the quite interesting step of getting a horse to get solitude! I can remember many time where it was CESY, WATCH YOUR SISTERS as she stormed out with a saddle over her arm. Ipo, if you ever come down to NZ, Mum has more than one horse now and is always looking for someone to go on a ride with.
I love reading articles like these. My husband and I are trying to get pregnant, and while I want a child badly, I just know that my introverted nature is going to be a major point of contention for me. My husband knows that I need time where he’s not there and understands when I want to go driving on my own, but a child? Ha, probably isn’t going to have that knowledge.
Knowing that you’re dealing with it – and doing it well, I might add – just gives me the hope that, yes, I’ll be able to handle it, too.