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July 14, 2009

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michelle

I take all the time I need and so should you. That said, I explain to my son that his mother needs alone time. Period. It's important. Then I send him off to spend some time with grandparents who spoil him rotten and he and I are both happy.

Do what you need. It pays off, I think.

Vampdaddy

Amen, brother! My life these days seems to revolve around the tension of being "Dad of the Decade" while at the same time maintaining my sense and clarity of self. I am one who has tried the "a few hours to recharge" method, and it has left me wandering aimlessly through Barnes and Noble, trying to find myself in the discount bin -- only to return home with an empty wallet (if it wasn't empty to begin with) and a tummy overly full of soy-with-whipped-mocha.

MJ

Wow. I've felt these things but, in my desire to be a great parent, I know that I've subsumed them for the benefit of my child. Thanks for your honesty, MD. Once again, it's why I can always come here.

Jesse

Some of the most powerful writing I've ever read about parenting, MD. Thanks. In all honesty, thank you.

JDG

Shit, man. I fucking love you. Don't know what you're going through but I often feel the same way. Thanks for expressing it as openly and honestly as you can. You're not alone.

Amy Sue Nathan

I've known both physical and emotional solitude - separately and together. They are welcome until they're not. The key is to be able to end your solitude when it's the company and comfort of others you seek - and that's something I have not yet mastered.

There is inherent solitude with having teenagers I guess, since they shut their doors and spent 99% of their time with friends. I'm alone but I still have to be there when and if they call, and always when they get home.

While I'm glad I can go to the bathroom without company, to the grocery store alone and no longer have to indulge in outings to Chuck E. Cheese -- sometimes I miss the consistent presence.

Perhaps some of this is single-mom stuff -- I reveled in my solitude when I knew it would end - now that I see it stretching out before me, sometimes giving me a headache, it's not always so wonderful.

Heather B.

My husband abandoned me when my daughter was born.

Trust me, all I needed (and wanted) to do was bury myself in self-pity and isolate myself so I could figure out how I even got in this position. Like you, I realized that my child was part of the equation and I couldn't separate the two. That's what kills me.

I'd never admit it to anyone else.

Julie Kang

Ooh MetroDad, this one's a toughie, and an issue I face quite often. What the clincher for me is that when one parent asserts their right to some solo adult time, that means the other parent has to pick up the slack and the associated guilt would just kill the buzz for me.

I think when our kids are still young, they need so much of us, so much of the time, it's virtually impossible for a parent to develop his/her Self...but I sincerely believe (or blindly hope) that the situation will be remedied when all one's kids start school and can take care of themselves some more. They will need us in different ways, but overall I think less than they do when they're younger than, let's say, 10.

I hang on to that hope for now, and in the meantime I try crazy shit like take my oldest with me to Hong Kong (which was awesome, actually, since it was a vacation from my husband + youngest) to keep my urges to run away at bay for a little bit longer.

Maternal Mirth

I'd help, but I am at Michael Jackson's star on Hollywood Blvd and after that I am headed to Marilyn Monroe's grave ... I am another lost parent.

Kira

One of the best things I've ever read and it resonates in me feelings that I'm not comfortable sharing. Thanks for being so openly cool and honest. In a way, it makes things easier for the rest of us.

Grace aka blackbelt

I loved being alone. I loved being single. Now I'm a wife and mother. I would love to just take off. As a wife and mother, I know I can't. And as a wife and mother, I know I wouldn't really enjoy it. It's only in one corner of my mind that I think I'd love taking off like I used to.

Jrock

So funny you wrote this tonight. 17 days in, and I found myself with a free 20 minutes or so, while Baby Girl and Momma were napping. The first 10 I just sat there thinking about how both my wife and I like to break away from the world for some "me time" and how that was going to be possible now that we have Baby Girl in our lives. We both have seen what its like when we don't get this time. It's not pretty. I need a run, or a ride to clear my head and find myself again. Or sometimes I just need to geek out on my computers. I wonder how often those moments will come to me now.

Staring at the liquor cabinet full of my favorites (Hendrick's, Basil Hayden's, Jameson, and nice collection of wine) I think I'd love to be drunk right now, but I'm just waiting for Baby Girl to wake up for another feeding . . . waiting to get drunk off her locking on to my face and thinking she's actually working on cracking a smile when she sees me.

Ahhh, parenthood

Thanks for sharing MD!

Tina Forsyth

damn - you so hit the nail on the head for me here! this here is THE challenge of parenting imo

"the key to parenting is finding the nexus between making the ultimate sacrifice of always being there for your child while also allowing the time to be alone so you can better know yourself. "

i haven't had any decent solitude in 3.5 years... and have just recently started to see the 'breakdown' of myself as a result. (aka - i'm getting pretty grumpy about life these days) been really feeling the need to get away and recharge/revise.

Rachel

Great post. This really resonates for me. I need a lot of alone time, and the hardest thing about parenting has been the lack of solitude.

I loved your story about the spontaneous middle-of-the-night road trip. I've taken a few of those myself, and I'm long overdue for one now.

Rachel E.

This past October, I went to stay at a beachfront condo in St. Augustine for a whole month. It was probably the most selfish thing I've ever done. My daughter was 12 and in the early part of her 7th grade year, which we all know can be a bitch. I had never even been away from her for a long weekend so this was extreme. But I knew, I just KNEW, that if I didn't do this then I was going to somehow lose myself completely and never be able to get myself back. Ever.

So I went. And it was wonderful. I missed my girl terribly but she got to visit and the whole trip renewed my commitment to my life back home in a way I couldn't achieve while I was still there in the middle of it. There were many reasons that are too involved to get into here about why I had to go, but I did nonetheless and it was one of the best adventures I've ever had in my life.

So, I say yes to solitude. It may be hard and it may make you feel guilty (especially when you're a parent) but I firmly believe that there are times in everyone's life that it is absolutely necessary.

MetroDude

2 hours by plane and 30 minutes by rental car I can be sitting by myself on the East Cape of Baja just Northeast of Cabo with a board, towel, bottle of water and sixer of Modelo chilling in a styro igloo - sitting under a palapa and just staring at the waves grinding down the point with no one around for miles but rattlesnakes and stray mules. That only happens once a year or so but it makes everything complete. 2 days later I just want to come home and hug the kids so hard that it hurts. Ahhh, parenting.

Jason

As usual, a great damn post! You are Kedes, Kerouac and Kevin Smith rolled into one.

Everyone, parents included, longs for that introspective time. Unfortunately, our single counterparts have more means and ease to get this. I know how you feel as well. I've had many trips where, even when it was with someone else, I still had solitude and time to think about myself away from the wife and kids. The longest I've ever driven away from home, by myself, is about 90 mins away to Iowa City. Just for an excuse to get somewhere, away from home, where I felt lost because I had no bearings in the town.

Parents need to be introspective, but in the young, formative years of their children, it's hard to get it, but the good news is, the Peanut should be old enough by now to be a big girl. My oldest tries to be and still isn't in some ways more than others. It's easy for you to get away for a couple hours now.

I'm wanted so much by the little one, at times it seems stifling, but when she looks at me with those big blue eyes, it's like looking at my own face. I could get lost in those eyes!

I'm longing for the day that I can get back out there, and just road trip for the sake of doing it. I want to find some things. Hell, I'm tempted to take a road trip to KC when I'm back on my feet just to shoot the shit with a couple friends, visit some landmarks, and then come back. Alone.

I need to also kick the wife out of the house.

kei

Hi, first time posting a comment. I'm from Singapore by the way. I can so relate to your post.

I'm a stay home mum with 2 young kids, 2.5yo and 1yr. I have no help whatsoever but a great hubby and supportive mum/mum-in-law. I didn't have any me time before my 2nd one came and after he came, I could see the effects of that. I was headed for breakdown. I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. I felt like M and B's mummy and not myself anymore. I can't JUST be a mother. But they take up sooooooooo much time and need soooo much attention. I want to be a great mother.

Finally, I decided that I had to have me time once a week. Got my mum-in-law-who-lets-my-girl-runs-in-the-house-with-dirty-shoes-on to come help for that few hours. Didn't like the idea much because she spoils them rotten but well, now I'm grateful.

Honestly, all I wanted was to sleep during my me-time but I had to go out. It's actually pretty tiring just to drag myself somewhere, away from the kids.

But it helped a great great deal. I ended up exhausted physically, but greatly rejuvenated mentally and emotionally. I think I'm a better mother after that. Anyway, all kids should learn that they cannot expect their parents to be there for them physically 24/7.

Eagerly waiting for them to go school! :)

Rob O.

There's a balance needed, to be sure!

Last year, my wife & I adopted a 2 year old and 2 weeks after we brought him home my Mom (our only real relief pitcher option) passed away very suddenly. So we've been mostly without anyone we've trusted enough to be an occasional babysitter and it's been tough. A couple of times, we've managed to sneak away for a couple of hours or an evening, but the guilt and worry nags on my wife so fiercely that it's hardly worth the night out. So, "date nights" are a rare commodity indeed.

As for individual solitude, I think my wife is much more aware of my needs for solo time than her own, which are just as pressing. She'll get wrapped up in a phone conversation with some old friend that'll last from just after dinnertime through playtime, bathtime, and bedtime for our son and not even realize that she's been on the phone for 2 hours.

The saving grace is that I'm a very early riser, so I get to eke out a little dab of some very private, very quiet time for myself most mornings. I've snuck off after bedtime to a pal's for poker night a couple of times and that's been a nice battery recharger, but I often pay for those late nights the following morning when it's back to the usual routine.

jen

Thanks. This hit home today. I had my 3rd child 6 weeks ago today. For the most part things are going well, but my eldest (4 1/2) is starting to act out a bit. I was just thinking this morning that he treats me with less respect than he should because I allow him to... and that I allow him to because I have somehow lost sight of who I am. I get up at 5/5:30 every morning to have some alone time (hence being able to read this right now) but until I read this I didn't realize that I need more than physical solitude. Yeah, I need to not hear the constant demands and questions of a 4 year old, and the bipolar crazy of my 2 year old, and the feed me now screaming of my baby. Yeah, it's nice to pee and flush it by myself. But your post reminded me that I need a break IN MY HEAD too. I shouldn't be reading babycenter message boards on my time off.

Now that I've blogged in a comment to yours.... Thanks for the as usual insightful post and helping me this morning.

NG

Well said. I had a similar experience in college with the Grand Canyon. I've struggled with this dilemma for the last five years and, truth be told, my entire marriage. Finding the balance between my need for solitude and being there for my family has been the most sought after and enigmatic themes of my life. But it also seems - for me at least - that things are always easier not necessarily when I've found the balance, but when I'm aware of the need and searching for it. I wonder sometimes if the whole point is to be seeking that balance and not necessarily attaining it. Balance is a hard thing to maintain, after all.

Jason J.

Thank you for writing this post, MD. I've often thought I was unique in my constant need for isolation. While I'm not a loner, it's always been important for me to take time out for myself so I can be a little introspective and take stock of my life at various times.

Being a parent changes all of that immediately. I don't want to go hiking by myself for a week. I want to stay home with my kids. But how do I find the time to think and really work on myself?

It really is the solitude dilemma, isn't it?

!

I've often thought that most people (for whatever reason) are afraid to be alone. Spouses and children are a way for them to avoid that loneliness.

Gina

When I was in my 20's and single, every once in awhile I would come home from work on Friday, unplug the phone, and stay inside until it was time to go to work on Monday. It wasn't always just about being introspective. Heck, I don't even remember what I was doing half the time (probably watching re-runs of 90210.)

I miss those weekends.

Being a wife and a mother is hard. While my husband understands my occasional need for some real alone time, my children certainly don't. Even if they did, I'd probably still feel guilty for leaving them without me for an entire weekend. Woe is me.

Todd H.

Ironic that I'm reading this amazing post now. It's 4:00 am in L.A. and the walls are closing in on me. In my quest to find time alone, I've turned into an insomniac. That can't be good. Thanks for writing this.

mysuestories

When my kids were younger (Now 18 and 12), I used to force myself to take 30 minutes of solitude (usually in the back yard alone or in my bedroom, door closed). Kids were instructed not to knock/enter for anything less than emergency room situation. It helped tremendously. Now, occassional weekends away are a must. It makes all three of us a better family.

Concerned reader

Everything ok, MD?

Chris

So what you're really saying is you really need a road trip to visit Bruce Lee's grave in Seattle. I'm so with you, man.

ShotgunDaddy

For as long as I can remember I've always known that occasionally I get in moods when I need to be alone. Nothing dark or depressing, just a feeling that I have to retreat into isolation. I still get those feelings from time to time, but it's obviously difficult to reconcile them with the needs of three children under ten. It's odd in some ways. I know that most men feel like they need to get away for a weekly poker night or an afternoon with their golfing buddies, but I've never felt that. Instead, I look forward to those evenings when my wife is out with her friends, the kids are in bed, and I have the house to myself. Glad to know that I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Liberal Banana

MD - you know I can't really relate to this because I've chosen not to become a parent, but I can appreciate your post nonetheless. I feel for all you parents in your need for alone time vs. enjoying time with your kids. I think mysuestories has it exactly right: just set aside some me time, inform the family that you're not to be interrupted unless it's an emergency, and then enjoy yourself for 30 minutes or whatever. It's not going to always go off perfectly, but even to just schedule the time is a start!

Also? "...the sky still looked as tortured as Elvis' soul"? Love it!

Faiqa

This is amazing, and like all phenomenal pieces of writing touches on something I couldn't quite articulate myself. But, I feel it. I'm one of those people who you might never guess is solitary, but really is. Having been a wife & mother (and a stay at home one at that), I've forgotten *how* to be alone.

I just know that sometimes I desperately need to be. I think your post has inspired me to revisit this habit which used to be pretty integral to who I am.

Lana

This is some of the most honest, profound and amazing writing I've ever read about parenting. This needs to be published somewhere.

kittenpie

I think time to myself is the thing I miss the most, actually. I'm an introvert, too, and sometimes it drives me nuts to constantly have someone picking at me or talking at me. Especially when they wait until I'm in the bathroom and the have me as a captive audience. My bit of sanity these days is my hair appointment - every 7 weeks, I get away for a whole afternoon during which someone else washes my hair for me - that feels so decadent! But I'm going back to work soon, and then I will have more time alone. Phew.

Katrina

I've been a loner my entire life. It's not that I was lonely. It's just that I enjoyed being alone. I found that I was good at it.

When I got married, it was hard for me to learn that part of the deal was that I couldn't always be by myself whenever I wanted. Not only was it selfish and cruel but it could harm the one great relationship I'd ever had in my life.

Now that I have a child, it's been even harder. Naturally I love my daughter more than anything in the world. It's just that now I really have no chance to be alone.

Like you, an hour here or an afternoon there doesn't really do it for me.

Thank you for writing this post. It helps to know that I'm not alone.

Bookgal

"We should never forget that occasional solitude is occasionally critical."

That is wise advice and wonderfully written.

Have you ever read any Thomas Merton? He's not exactly a solipsist, more of an eremetic. I think you'd enjoy his writing.

Black Hockey Jesus

If I don't spend hours and hours alone, my kids become obstacles. And they hate being obstacles.

That Chuck D line made me want to get defiant and tell someone to fuck off.

JG

I so get it.

That's the worse about this summer. I have alone time. But my "road trips" are biking to work or any where.

I separated my shoulder. I'm now just getting back on the bike. The crash was stupid. My daughter saw it. She now knows why I make a big deal about wearing helments. She doesn't want me to jump curbs or anything dangerous. I told her I've only had two bad crashes. You need to have fun. Or as I like to say, "go big or go home".

Thanks

elizabeth

Thank you.

I've never posted before but lurk - and admire.

Your writing has saved my sanity on more than one occasion.

Diedre

Wow touching post. Being a parent of one child, my wife and I are able to take the breaks we need. Bosslady sounds like a wonderful wife - if she's understanding enough she should both be able to comfort your soul and give you what you need to develop personally. And vice versa.

Selena

Hi MD,

I'm a long-time reader, but this is my first time commenting. Your post is completely relevant, true, and necessary. I think too often, the parenting culture becomes heroic self-sacrifice that sometimes ultimately morphs into something that's not about the kids to begin with and more about feeding the parents starving sense of self-worth (um, not that i'd know anything about that). So yes, I completely agree that giving first entails receiving; providing more for others begins with making sure you're cared for.

However... I really don't think these things come in neat, chronologically correct packages. There are days I want to escape from my 4-year-old and 1-year-old boys for longer than a spa day.. more like a month-long sojourn somewhere, anywhere, alone. And I'm sure a lot of parents feel that way. I was always the kid in the corner reading mounds of books, too (including the dictionary, sadly). But 99% of the time, of course, running away is just not possible. One thing I've come to terms with is indulging my need for (cue cheesy after-school special music) solitude of the soul. I think my first fight-or-flight instinct to nurture my starved soul is to physically separate myself from others, which is sufficient, but not necessary, to finding the peace that I desperately want. So, at least for me, I find myself asking the more basic question, what is it that I really need, rather than what I think I need?

And I think the great irony is that somewhere in our journey for solitude, we end up reaching out for community (I found your public post about solitude mildly ironic). I personally don't think that for most people there's such a thing as going away for a while, getting fixed up, and coming back all better and ready to be a parent and loving spouse all over again. I think it's a delicate balance, as you've said, between self-feeding, allowing yourself to be fed, and in turn feeding those around you.

Have you read any Henri Nouwen? I love the guy. A semi-tortured soul with uncanny insights.

I'm sorry for the disjointed comment.Best wishes, and I mean that.

Shawna

Where does marriage fall into this careful equation? I was surprised that you did not touch on that issue. Maybe that is a post for another time.

chiquita

I think it is important to do it on a regular basis, not just a once a year blowout. I am working on making that happen, regularly, without guilt. It makes me a better mom and wife.

Anna M

As a stay-at-home mother of 4 children, this post resonates strongly with me. To make matters worse, my husband frequently travels for work so there are times when it feels like I'm doing everything by myself for an entire month. I'll admit. Sometimes I get so stressed, I want to tell my kids that I'm going out for a pack of cigarettes and never return.

My husband realizes this about me. Before marriage and kids, I was fiercely independent. I liked traveling alone, dining alone, going to the movies alone, etc.

My solution (really OUR solution) is that twice a year, I go off on a short vacation by myself. Sometimes it's a road trip. Sometimes I'll just go to a nearby bed and breakfast. It's a time for me to recharge and, like you said, work on my personal development. Sometimes it's done on a long run. Sometimes it's done in the bathtub with a good book.

I guess it works because by the end of the week, I'm always dying to come back to the insanity of being a wife and mother.

Diedre

Shawna i get the feeling from the post that MD is having issues with the marriage.

Phil

You put into words what I struggle to even say to myself. Thanks for this. It helps me more than you can imagine.

stephanie

My husband and I both need alone time...and even by saying alone time, I mean just him and I together, not with our almost 4 year old son.

We tried a 5 day vaca in Jamaica one year..and the mommy guilt was just too much for me, but I have found that I can "handle" a 5 day retreat to our cottage only a few hours away while my son is spoiled and reprogrammed by grandma and grandpa. Somehow, the distance matters???

And it is NEEDED.

Ben

This is exactly what's been on my mind. Can't do much about it because, by being a good dad, I've made myself indispensable. Plus we still haven't found a good babysitter, and the grandparents... that's a whole other can of worms. Great description of a universal problem. Now, how about some solutions?

connie

I'm not married or with kids and I feel like I struggle with solitude. I see this struggle among my friends who are married and/or with kids and it can only imagine how much harder it gets.

Thank you for this open and honest post.

Jane K.

I'm not married either. I think part of the reason is that I'm so used to being alone. Like others have said here, I like being alone and I'm good at it.

But I want to be married. I want to have kids. So I know that this is an area that I need to work on for myself.

Ironically I work on those things best when I'm alone.

Solitary in Seattle

It's posts like this that keep me coming back here all the time. I'm not married. I don't have a kid. And I don't know when (or if!) those two things will ever change. I just know that you've got a very unique perspective on life that always makes me think about my own. Thanks for writing this.

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