Of the things I crave most about my pre-baby life, stretches of time alone ranks high. Before my partner and his teenaged son moved in with me when I was eight months pregnant, I lived alone for three years. A month later I gave birth to a baby who hated to be anywhere but in my arms.
I wasn’t alone again for more than a few minutes for nearly nine months.
I love my family. I do. But it wasn’t until I learned how to carve out small amounts of time alone that I started to feel like myself again after all of those changes. That was too long to go feeling like a stranger in my own skin.
Are you also someone who craves alone time? Maybe you are an introvert, a writer, or an artist. You need stretches of silence to process your inner world, to make sense of your thoughts. Maybe you just like to read books without people interrupting you. Maybe you have a meditation practice, or would like to have one. Maybe you just crave some time where you aren’t at someone else’s beck and call and can truly sink into rest.
If you are struggling to find space to be alone in your life, here are some strategies that may help:
Recognize Your Edges
The best time to create a little time alone is before you storm out of the house and threaten never to return. I may have done that once or twice in those first nine months. But since then I’ve learned to recognize my warning signs. I get edgy and twitchy. My attention span dwindles to zero. I start to snap at my partner when he really isn’t doing anything deserving of my harsh tongue. I vacillate between daydreams of impassioned projects I want to start and despair that I never have time to do anything I love anyway. I glaze over when people are talking to me because I cannot possibly process any more input.
What are your tells? Do you know when it is time to walk away for a bit so you can recharge before you are all the way to empty?
Stake Out Private Space
In 1929, Virginia Woolf published an essay titled “A Room Of One’s Own,” that talked about the need for both literal and figurative space for women writers and female characters in fiction. She wrote, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
Likewise, I believe that if a woman is to raise a family without losing herself, she must have space of her own to plant her feet, hold on to her individual identity, and house the things that make her a woman separate from being a mother.
Your space might be as big as a room with a door you can close or as small as a reading nook or an altar of items that are meaningful for you. In our house we have a tiny room off of our dining room that I can close off with a baby gate, although the walls are only half high and open to the rest of the house. But it is mine. It is where I write, where I keep my art supplies and my journals. Others are allowed in only by invitation.
Where in your house can you stake out some space that is just yours? You may need to get creative and you will need to set clear boundaries, especially if this is something you haven’t done before.
Cultivate Solo Habits
After my daughter was born it was hard for me to even imagine being alone again. She nursed so often and needed my physical presence so much. I took her everywhere with me. Even when I probably could have left her with my partner or my mother for an hour or two, it didn’t occur to me to try. But I should have. Instead, I waited so long before I started making space for myself that it was hard for me to even envision how to do it.
If I were to do it all over again, I would have asked my partner to take a more active role in bedtimes much earlier. I would have gone for walks and taken yoga classes more regularly, and I would have taken a couple of hours on a weekend afternoon to go sit, alone and in silence, at a coffee shop with my journal.
You can take a break. Your children will be fine without you for a little while. They need time with their other parent, with other adults, and with other children. It is actually quite good for them.
What do you enjoy doing alone? Are you a runner? Would you like an hour at the gym a couple of times a week? Can you mark out two hours on Sunday afternoons as Mom’s official off duty time? Mark these spaces on your calendar and treat them like the important appointments that they are.
Once you are in the habit of creating and maintaining space to be alone, you may find that you are much more resilient. You won’t feel as desperate for a break when you know you have something scheduled in the next few days. The up and down stresses of life with small children are easier to navigate when your personal cup is filled.