You have had four hours sleep, the house looks like you’ve been burgled, the kids are screaming at each other, and the baby has colic.
We have all been there and it’s not pretty.
You feel overwhelmed, under-appreciated and – let’s be honest – R.E.S.E.N.T.F.U.L.
You want – no CRAVE – time away. Time to recharge, time to be yourself, time to not feel like a raving lunatic mummy – for just a short-while. You have fantasies about reading a book in peace, wearing a pretty dress (minus the stains), or having an uninterrupted conservation over a long, calm, adults-only lunch.
This isn’t a good head space to be in, it can feel so imprisoning, yet we all feel it at one time or another.
What are we encouraged to do about it?
Modern parenting advice tells us to seek out, and actually insist, on that ‘Mummy Me-Time’ away from our kids. We are told it is vital for us (it helps us to recharge and have interests outside of motherhood) and important for our babies and young children (they learn to be independent from us).
But is it really such a good thing all-round, and does it even work?
In my opinion it is a big fat NO to both.
What I have learnt from my own experience as a mother-of-four, and as a parenting counsellor working with many mothers in this situation, is that grappling for time apart from our kids often leaves to more frustration and upset all around. It rarely recharges us enough, as promised, to feel better when we come back and we are stuck in a vicious circle of craving more and more (and feeling frustrated when we can't get it).
Children typically react in various negative ways too due to our absence from protesting widely when we leave, to being very clingy or challenging when we return. Why is this? Because when they are young children only want to be once place – by our side.
By the time kids reach puberty, certainly, they’ll be able to understand other people have needs too. But if they reach puberty experiencing that the way to meet needs is by ignoring someone else’s, that’s how they’ll treat others.
Expecting to make time for one’s self with multiple young children is an unreasonable expectation. It may be possible if the children have a strong attachment to someone else, but in most cases they just want Mum! I understand that moments away have value but the more we hold on for time away – for an hour, just an hour, to ourselves – the less we enjoy our moments with our kids. Getting a ‘time-out’ even for an hour may help in the moment, but it sure won’t fix it. It is like sticking a band aid over a severed limb.
So what can we do to retain our sanity?
Switching gears from needing a ‘Mummy Time-Out’ to refuel to being able to refuel by being even more present with our kids is a much more practical solution.
The fact is when our children are young learning how to be contented, to be happy, to get joy from being with them is pretty pivotal. But how can we make this shift in consciousness when we are at our wits end?
Ironically enough what really does help is to do the exact opposite of what we feel we need ‘in the moment’. Rather than run for the hills, actually get down to their level and really be with them. Bring them food, play a game, sing, chat, dance, read, tickle, run around outside – whatever helps us to reconnect. It sounds trite, but remembering to savour those moments, and remind ourselves that loving our children right now is something we really want to do is so important.
It is something we chose and many people aren’t lucky enough to have what we do. That’s the kind of voice to add in and listen to any moment we feel frustrated and are getting wrapped up in the ‘hassle of parenting’. Rather than focus on changing them or getting away, we can focus on changing our perspective. Not once-and-for-all-forever – that’s too overwhelming – but a small step, just right now.
Does this approach really work?
Many of the mothers I work with say it helps enormously. When my oldest child was small I honestly didn’t have these skills at first as it just didn’t come naturally. In fact it was excruciating. I loved being a mummy but as an avid reader I craved stretches of time to do that and I HATED being interrupted. I kicked and screamed, mentally. I wanted my brain back.
However, once I started to step away from the expectation that I *should* have stretches of time to myself I found I could snatch little moments throughout the day which helped me recharge – a deep breath, reading an email, looking at the sky – and completely accepting that I could and would be interrupted.
I also got into the habit of relishing those moments, no matter how small, as well as appreciating being able to really play with my kids and reminding myself they wouldn't always need me this much.
It took practice for sure but the rewards are immense. It just takes mindfulness and courage to ignore the rest of society who actively encourage us to push our children away at the earliest opportunity and start pulling them closer to us – even when it might be the last thing in the world we feel like doing at that moment.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem