You know your kids need attention - from the time they're born, they need to be loved and played with and stimulated. But, that doesn't mean you have to be hanging over their shoulders every minute of every day. There's a line parents must balance between giving their children enough attention and overwhelming them with too much attention.
Allowing your child (and yourself) to have "me" time enhances both of your lives, and can even strengthen your bond with each other. The goal is to balance family time with solitude. Take a look at the benefits of solitude and how to find the time for it.
The power of solitude
There's a lot of power in allowing both children and adults to spend time by themselves. Experiencing solitude helps individuals learn certain tasks, think creatively and deal with their emotions. The right amount of time spent alone can even improve empathy and social skills.
Research shows that solitude helps individuals form lasting memories. One Harvard study suggests that people form lasting memories when they believe they're experiencing something alone. For example, a child learning a musical instrument may have an easier time remembering the notes and fingerings if they have time alone to practice it.
A certain amount of solitude gives a person control over their time, and a feeling of freedom. In solitude, they can work through complicated issues at their own pace or unwind at the end of a busy day.
That's not to say solitude is superior over social interaction when it comes to learning and handling emotions. The two work together to help people become the best they can be. For children, solitude may mean time spent learning new things without feeling self-conscious. For parents, it can give the time they need to relax and recharge.
The problem: no one gets alone time anymore
While many parents understand the benefits of alone time, they don't always find the time for it. Whether your time is eaten up by driving your kids to soccer practice and music lessons, or you're trying to get the family to sit down for a nice meal, the fact is that your life is incredibly busy.
What's worse is that if you leave your children alone - to ride their bikes around town, or to play games in their own bedrooms - there's a good chance you'll be judged for "neglecting" them. Remember this: solitude and neglect are not the same thing.
According to one study, time spent actively engaged in teaching and playing with your kids has increased in recent decades, even though parents are working more than they used to. That means parents and children are spending less and less time alone.
Why is this a problem? Without alone time to pursue your own passions and unwind, both parents and children burn out. You end up sacrificing your own self-care. And, at what cost? Studies show that the amount of time you spend with your kids between the ages of 3 and 11 isn't so important; what's important is how you spend time together. The amount of time itself has no relationship to your children's academic achievement, emotional well-being or behavior.
In fact, as you spend more and more time with your kids, the effect on your children can worsen. When parents don't get enough solitude, they become stressed and sleep-deprived, which adversely affects their kids. When you feel wiped out, exhausted, or anxious, you aren't giving your kids your best.
What does matter is the quality of time you spend with them. Again, balance is key. Both children and parents need time spent together and apart.
The solution: how to find alone time
If you feel overwhelmed and too busy for "me" time (don't we all?), consider working it into your schedule. For example, family members could go to their own bedrooms and enjoy "me" time for a half hour after dinner, or an hour before bedtime. If it sounds too time consuming to do this every day, perhaps you schedule this on only two or three days per week.
During that "me" time, you may work on your personal hobbies - whether that's sewing, reading, woodworking, gardening, or exercising. Your kids can take that time to develop hobbies of their own.
If your schedules don't match up, consider alternating your "me" time to suit each person's schedule. You could take your own alone time while your kids are at sports practice, and your children could enjoy their time of solitude while you're cooking dinner.
You don't have to spend a lot of time every day in solitude, but it's important to get some alone time daily to learn new skills, pursue your passions and take care of yourself.
If you find that it seems just impossible to get in a moment alone, perhaps it's time for your family to re-evaluate your schedules and drop an activity or two. Taking on too much will only stress everyone out, and for health and wellbeing, you all need a couple of minutes alone every day.
How to get the most out of your "me" time
Your time of solitude is a time to relax. It is not the time to do chores or check your work emails before bed. For your children, it's a time to have unstructured fun. While they can do plenty of learning alone - such as reading or playing music - the few minutes you've set aside for solitude shouldn't be used for homework or cleaning their rooms.
Try to take your "me" time day by day. Go with the flow. What will help you de-stress today? What are you in the mood for? Don't force yourself or your children into any activities. Otherwise, this alone time just becomes another stressor on your to-do list. Your kids might want to play with their toys one day, and practice their instrument another day. The beauty of it is that your children don't have to answer to anyone during this time, so they are truly free to do what's enjoyable for them. Think of this time as "free" time that's flexible with your mood - you'll all feel much happier getting some of this daily free time.
Taking alone time may seem selfish in the eyes of other parents. If you're met with judgment, remind yourself this is truly in everyone's best interest. Give yourself permission to take a break and recharge. When you take care of yourself, you can better care for your children, because you'll be operating at your best. And, so will they. It's a win-win scenario.
What will you do to unwind in your time of solitude?