One of the hardest parts about being a stay-at-home parent is that there are no breaks, your kid is always there.
Maybe that’s a bad way of looking at it, but if I’m honest, I consider parenting a type of work, and like all work, it’s not always fun or pleasant. Rewarding, for sure. But everyone needs a break from their job, a little time off, and for the stay-at-home parent that can be hard to come by.
At the office, breaks are easy to come by: put on headphones and listen to music, goof off on the Internet, gather around the coffee pot or water cooler to chat about this or that. At home, during the day, when it’s just daddy and son, I have trouble finding the opportunity to take a break. Not only does a child requiring some attention, half an eye, say, to make sure he’s not getting into any trouble, but Felix often wants me to play with him, or has questions to ask about the world and how it works, or needs help of some sort.
A funny feeling develops as the day goes on: in some ways, I feel very alone, because I’m the only adult, the lone voice of reason in the loony bin, and yet really I’m never by myself, mini-me is always there at my feet, wondering what I’m doing, and can I have some cheddar bunnies?
With all this in mind, here are six suggestions on how you can cultivate some private time during the day with a child.
Look nice? Click on to find out how to have a coffee break, even when watching the tot… 1 of 7
Let’s start with the obvious: Give your kid a little screen time. 2 of 7
I know parents who don't allow their children to watch television. I also know parents who don't let their kids play with their smart phones, or give them any access to a computer or tablet. None of these parents stay-at-home full-time.
Every stay-at-home parent knows the TV is their best friend. Almost like a partner in parenting, really, a confidant. In our house, the television even talks. When you move the remote control, a light flashes, which Felix claims is the TV going "Use me! Use me!"
While I limit my son's access to screens, I do provide him access to both the television and my phone. These privileges provide an incentive for him to behave well, and also give me a little breathing room too. Often, while he's watching TV, I'm getting my own screen time on the computer.
Take long showers. 3 of 7
Felix understands that people need baths or showers. He doesn't often like the fact that they need to clean themselves, but he gets the concept. If I put music on for him, he'll lay on the bed daydreaming, playing with a truck, or moping about (sometimes kind of grumpily), but he won't usually bother me. (He used to, calling in: "Are you washing your butt-butt yet?" But I told him that stopping to talk to him slows me down, and now he rarely does it.)
So on some days, I take my time. Soak up the steam. Lather my hair nice and slow. And then I shave. And clip my nails. Maybe gargle with mouthwash for a minute or three. I take care of myself, you know? And while I do that, I relish my privacy. So really, I'm taking care of two needs at once.
Play audio storybooks. 4 of 7
When all else fails, I read aloud to Felix. I used to do this as a classroom teacher too. I put on a performance, with funny voices for the different characters, lots of dramatic pauses, and plenty of inflection and energy. I can captivate a classroom of unruly fifth graders, and dammit, I can keep a toddler's attention too. It's one of the few things I know I'm good at.
Of course, my voice gets tired, my energy lags, and after a few go-rounds of Fox in Socks I grow bored of the Fox's silly games well before Felix does. So I turn on an audio storybook and let someone else read for me while Felix lounges on the couch, snacking, rapt. Sometimes he'll ask questions, as he does when we're reading too, but often, if he's heard the story enough — and the kid listens to his Toy Story audiobooks almost everyday — he zones out, freeing me up to have a little private time.
Reward your kid for spending time alone. 5 of 7
A little bribery never hurt anyone. So, when you see your kid doing something on her own, give her some praise, or even a reward. I'm not talking about buying them an expensive present, I'm talking about a tiny pleasure, one of those special things kids get a kick out of — "You were so great playing by yourself, I think we should treat ourselves to an ice cream cone!" That kind of thing.
Last week I talked about how we reward Felix with stars on a chart when he manages his temper. He earns stars for spending quality time alone, too. This might sound strange — encouraging solitude? — but being alone is something we all have to do sometime, so in a way, you're building a necessary skill. Also, the best imaginative play happens when a kid gets bored, I think.
And while he's building a train track or rolling cups around in the sand pit, pretending to be a steam roller, Daddy gets a breather. It's a win-win.
Put ’em to work. 6 of 7
I've written before about how kids should do chores, and I've recently discovered another reason: Felix likes feeling helpful, and he'll gladly spend twenty minutes or so dusting random things around the house with a damp rag. Even if those things don't really need cleaning, or, say, if it's just stopped raining and he wants to go outside to water the flowers, I let him do it anyway. The kid feels like he's participating in the family, and, better yet, he's doing it on his own. Incidental messes are sometimes made — water spilled and such — but that's a small price to pay. (And just more to clean!)
Go outside! 7 of 7
Nothing occupies a kid like the great outdoors. When I'm really feeling punchy at home, I take Felix out, even if only for a trike ride around the block. Sometimes this doesn't give me much of a break; a kid can ask a lot of questions about this beautiful world we live in while riding down the street or walking through the park. But often, there's enough to look at that there's some respite for daddy, a little solitude in the midst of a busy day of parenting. And, better yet, there's sunshine and fresh air and sometimes people to see and talk to as well.