One of the things I missed the most when I first became a mother was time alone. I craved solitude so much that going to the grocery store became fun — as long as I was alone. Sounds ridiculous, but I was able to walk the aisles in peace, able to read labels and decide between 2% or 1% milk without having to console or hold or bathe or negotiate with anyone.
So why do parents feel like children need to have every minute of their days filled with activities?
Must we constantly entertain our children?
I personally don’t think we do, but I know that in certain circles there is pressure to keep our kids busy — if not with activities, we’re supposed to be their playmates and teachers and parents all the time.
This article by Dr. Peggy Drexler on the Huffington Post explains some of the reasoning and why it’s ultimately flawed:
Many parents feel the need to be their child’s main source of entertainment because they want their kids to like them or fear that lack of stimulation will put their kid at a disadvantage and somehow their achievements will lag behind their peers. Others feel guilty — for working or for not giving their child a playmate in the form of a sibling. Others — and I see this often with dads — simply love spending time with their sons, playing catch, shooting hoops. That’s great. But when it interferes with a child’s ability to face alone time without something resembling panic or sadness, you’re not doing your child any favors. Other parents want to protect their children from being lonely. But if your child has trouble making friends, the answer is not to simply fill that role yourself. When you’re stepping in as a playmate, you’re preventing your child from developing the qualities needed to go out and make friends, and further compromising their ability to connect with kids his own age.
I remember taking the advice to stimulate your baby to heart. Tummy time, singing to the baby, talking with the baby, signing with the baby, rocking the baby — all noble pursuits and important to a baby’s development, but at some point I realized that maybe the baby was crying because he just wanted to be left alone already.
It made sense. I craved alone time — at some point kids do as well.
In our house, the kids have unstructured alone time, because we make them. It’s tricky during hectic weekdays, but on the weekends the older kids (ages 5 and 7) are to play quietly in separate rooms while the baby naps. No electronics are allowed (though they sometimes manage to sneak them in … it is 2012, after all). They can read, color, play LEGO, build forts, and pout huffily on the couch because they can’t watch TV — we really don’t care how they fill their hour as long as they do it alone. While they do that, the baby gets his nap, and Mom and Dad get to catch up on weekend projects … nah, I’ll be honest with you, we mostly get to laze about ourselves.
Because guess what? Moms and dads need time alone too.
Like Tim Kreider, who recently wrote an excellent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times called “The ‘Busy’ Trap“, I’m “the laziest ambitious person I know.” He argues for idleness, and I totally agree with him.
Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.
I simply cannot function without “wasting” some time every day. Maybe I take a bath. Maybe I read a book. On really hard days, I sometimes just stare into the distance for a few minutes while the house is quiet and I breathe.
I know I’m better for it, and I think and hope that my kids are benefiting as well.
What about you? Do you let your kids have unstructured time alone? Better yet, do you allow yourself time alone?
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