Of course everyone has their own unique set of issues during this pandemic, but for those quarantined with their families, one of the universal challenges is not getting enough alone time. If having a little time to yourself seems like a fond memory, read on for some creative solutions to creating some—even if you have kids who seem to need you every minute of the day.
In ParentsTogether’s online support group, Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic, the lack of alone time has been one of the major pain points for members. Many parents say they use showers or baths, extended bathroom visits, and checking the mail as their only dedicated solo time. Some have been lucky enough to expand that to sitting in the car, on the porch, or in their bedroom to read, put on headphones, or have their coffee in peace. Meanwhile, others have offered more intentional strategies for carving out some time to recharge.
One helpful starting point is to talk about the issue openly. Have a family discussion about how everyone needs space to themselves sometimes, and see what solutions the kids and adults can come up with. One mom in the Facebook group shared a brilliant solution that her family devised: they have a “safe word” or code word for when anyone in the family is feeling overwhelmed and needs space. As soon as the word is said, that person gets 15 minutes of alone time, no questions asked. Even if they don’t have to use the safe word frequently, knowing that it’s an option can provide some comfort.
Another approach is to structure the family routine around the need for self-care time. Start the homeschooling activities after you’ve had a chance to exercise and shower, for example. And if your kids don’t nap anymore, you can designate a mandatory “quiet time” where everyone has to read, do puzzles, or listen to a kids’ podcast on their own. Having built-in time every day designed to occupy others while you get a few moments to yourself is a great way to make sure your needs don’t continually get pushed to the back burner. And just knowing you’ll have that period available, even if it’s only a few minutes, can help reduce stress throughout the day.
If you can’t budge the kids’ schedules, then consider rearranging your own. Wake up early each day to go for a walk or do your sudoku. Or get ready for bed early to squeeze in a little time to read or watch something that you enjoy. One member of our Facebook group revealed that right after the kids go to bed, she and her partner take 30 minutes to themselves in separate rooms to do whatever they want, before cleaning up or watching a show together.
No matter how chaotic and demanding your days seem, try to have a scheduled time each day to read, exercise, or take care of personal hygiene—to make sure the whole day doesn’t go by without you fitting in any “me time.” But even if the only alone time you end up having is walking the dog, doing the dishes, or going on a car errand, you can claim it as your own by putting on a podcast or audio book, or calling your BFF.
Parents of younger kids who are having a lot of trouble finding these windows of time may be wondering: Is it possible to get your kids to actually play on their own for 20 minutes without needing something from you? Some kids simply have little experience playing by themselves or are feeling particularly clingy these days, but that doesn’t mean they can’t (or shouldn’t) learn to play more independently.
Parenting experts Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., author of the book Playful Parenting, and Laura Markham, Ph.D., founding editor of the website Aha! Parenting, outlined this strategy in the New York Times for giving your kids the confidence to play independently, while reinforcing your emotional connection to them: Start by putting your phone away and dedicating some one-on-one play time with your child, letting them lead an activity while you offer encouraging comments. Then after 20 minutes, tell your kid that you loved watching them play and look forward to doing it again later. Leave to go do something else, and your kid might just keep on playing independently for a while.
Other hacks for getting young kids to play on their own for a bit include letting them play with something messy in a designated area (washable paints in the bathtub, or buckets of ice and water on the patio) while you stay close by but do your own thing. Unveil a new sticker book, a toy that’s been stashed away in the basement, or some other activity that they rarely get to do, and step away for a while. Encourage kids to build a block tower, draw a picture, or set up a fort to show you later, then go into the other room to do something by yourself while you wait.
With young kids around, you may only get a few minutes for some deep breaths and stretches, or you might get half an hour to do a crossword puzzle. But one thing is for sure: Even the smallest moment to yourself can reap huge rewards for your sense of well-being.