I gave up sitting at the computer to try and write this. Unfortunately, pen and paper is turning out to be no less difficult. I can sit aimlessly on the porch watching the kids play in the yard, but as soon as I start doing something they're all over me like pink at a princess party. Arguments over toys and personal space abound. They're thirsty, hungry, bored, and have to pee. My hair is a handy and conveniently located rope to an attempted siege of my lap. My pen-wielding arm is a perfectly positioned ladder rung. What is up with all this sudden attention-seeking behavior? It's like they can sense as soon as my mind wanders away from trains and tiaras on to something more...adult-like. How do they do that? And when's a girl supposed to find time to think?!
Apparently, "finding time to think" is a common problem--common enough that there are businesses out there dedicated to helping you find it. Go ahead, Google it. Almost all the links I encountered were for businesses/consulting firms promising to help you find time to think...at work (HUH?! if you can't find time to think about work when you're at work, try doing it in the presence of four children under the age of 5!). Now, try searching for "stay at home moms time alone" and pretty much every result stresses the importance of finding time for yourself when you're home with kids all day. Ahh, that's better. I wholeheartedly agree. Anyway. No matter who you are or what it is you need to think about, it's apparently a fairly common human phenomenon.
In the realm of parenthood, this issue can be exceptionally challenging. I find it difficult to even make it all the way through a bathroom break without an interruption. A little creativity is often in order to make it through the week at least partially sane (I'll shoot for totally sane when the kids are a little older).
Today, I have invoked an extremely powerful (and highly looked-down-upon) trick for finding a few minutes of relative peace: TV. It's a method I try to avoid, but like all guilty pleasures, it often entices me when I'm feeling weak and desperate. I know for some letting TV "babysit" is a cardinal sin, but I find that, in moderation, it can be a sanity lifesaver. Wisely choosing what your kids watch takes away a little of the guilt, although this form of distraction is hardly the best option to find some much-needed "quiet time." Use it sparingly, but don't feel terrible if you give in to it now and again. For the record, I'd like to remind you that "The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids under 2 years old not watch any TV and that those older than 2 watch no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of quality programming"(source). Take the kids out and run 'em around the block to shake off the TV coma afterwards.
20 minutes of TV was ample time to let myself relax and focus on writing. Here are some other helpful "thinking time" aids:
-Get them involved in something.
A game, drawing/coloring, Play-Doh...something cooperative and creative that you can step aside and let them do without having to totally focus on supervision. I find stuff like this to be especially effective when I'm doing something like writing, since the kids think that I'm "drawing" and they are only too happy to do the same thing that I am. Of course, if your child is under 2, this might be more of a headache than a help. Use your best judgment.
-Get 'em OUT.
Now that I have kids of my own, I can completely understand why my mom was always ushering us out the door to play. Getting the kids out to run around is an excellent way to focus their attention on something other than having your attention. I definitely notice how much needier my kids are on days when we can't go outside. Even better than heading out the front door: bring whatever you're working on to the park. This is especially effective if there are other kids around.
Naptime doesn't always pan out in my house--someone decides to take nap at a different time, wakes up early, or doesn't fall asleep at all. But on most days this is at least one hour of pure solitude!! Make the most of it. I used to try and fit as many chores as I could in to this time of day, but I've learned that it's much more wisely spent as a resting period for me, too.
-Let someone else take over.
Unless you leave the house entirely, this one is not necessarily effective. I can tell my husband he's in charge for a while, but that doesn't mean my kids will agree to leave me alone :p Working this out with Dad so that he gets them involved in an activity while you sit and have a cup of coffee can really make you feel refreshed, though. And FYI, on average moms spend more time alone with their kids than dads do so...you're doing Dad and kids a favor by encouraging them to spend some time without you (source). Don't forget about grandparents and aunts/uncles if they're nearby-- I know mine always want to take my children whether I'm interested or not. Let them take your kids for a few hours and treat yourself to uninterrupted silence!
-Take a nice long bath/shower.
Just remember to lock the door. And see above suggestion, since you obviously can't lock your kids out when you're home alone with them :D
-Use household chores to your advantage.
Sometimes if my kids see me bent at a task like dishes, they'll find something else to do and leave me to it. Tasks like this have the advantage of taking minimal brainpower to accomplish, so I can let my mind wander while I wash.
I can't say that any of these suggestions are foolproof, and a lot of their effectiveness will depend on the age and temperament of your children. But they do offer at least a chance for you to focus and spend time doing something that matters to you. It might be slightly interrupted "thinking time," but it's good to find it when and where you can.
Kids are amazing, fun, and challenging. I love spending my days with them. But I also love an occasional moment or two of peace and quiet. It's not too much to ask for. I believe it refreshes me enough to be even better at my fight-resolving, snack-making, lap-offering parenting tasks. If you have other suggestions of good ways to find a little "me time," please feel free to offer them up. I'm always interested to see how other moms make life with little ones a little less hectic.