Well, I don’t, but that’s what you hear so many parents (especially mums) saying these days.
“I need *me* time.”
“When will I ever get time to myself?”
“I don’t know how you can be around your child all day; I’d kill myself.”
“I give you credit, because I sure couldn’t do it.”
“I have my own life outside of Motherhood/Parenthood.”
“I can’t imagine being around them all day.”
“I was so thankful once they could start school/daycare/preschool and I could have some time to myself.”
“Don’t you want time for yourself?”
“The time I do spend with them is enough chaos for me already.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but…”
And so on and so on…things we’ve all heard and probably some things many of us have said at one time or another. The crazy thing is that in almost any circle of parents that you say one of these lines in, you’ll be affirmed with nods of agreement or smiles of understand or the occasional outburst of “oh, I know” or “I hear ya”. Is it wrong for parents to enjoy their children and enjoy being around them, sharing life together? Did I miss the memo about it being ‘uncool’ to be a mum?
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy taking showers by myself and going to the bathroom by myself, as well as a whole host of other little things throughout the day in my life that I do or would rather do by myself. I have hobbies that are not connected to or centered around the fact that I am a mother with a 5 year old and I magically find time to do them both with and without company. Furthermore, I actually like being around my son all day…not that we’re together all day, because Elijah rarely (actually, I can’t remember the last time) sleeps with us and he spends at least a couple hours alone in his room on most days, as well as other bits here & there in the day where he’s not involved with what I am doing.
I enjoy my son’s company. He’s a really neat person and has interesting and often profound ideas about things. I love to see and hear about what he’s been creating and doing all day. Lately, I’ve been extremely fulfilled by sitting for more than an hour or two building with Legos with him…can you imagine how great it is to forget about everything around you for a couple hours (until your stomach starts gnawing on your backbone from ignored hunger) by just clicking together little plastic bricks?! We have fun together every day with very little pressure if any at all about what time it is or when we have to start or be done with certain activities. It is a life full, free and spontaneous. Oh and it is ‘Real Life’, maybe not the ‘Real Life’ that you’ve chosen, but the ‘Real Life’ that we’ve chosen.
While it might seem hard to contrast the life of a stay-at-home-unschooling-mum to that of a say, part-time-working-with-kids-in-school-mum, I have some ideas as to why the latter mum says one or all of the above statements about needing time away from her children. First, let’s consider the most obvious: child is away from parents all day at school/daycare and parents are away at work or at home doing whatever they do without child all day. Then, once school ends there is a (almost seemingly) never ending routine of hurry, rush, cry, beg, bribe, sports/music practice, fast food, homework, bath fight, tv fight, pyjama fight, bed fight and then collapse. I am going to do my best to address each of the things that I mentioned, as well as some of the deeper issues behind some of them.
Bed Fight: You can not force someone to sleep…let me rephrase this: You can not force someone to sleep without wearing them completely down mentally, physically or by drugging them and even that is not a guarantee. A baby/toddler crying in the next room incessantly, finally gives up on you and after complete exhaustion from physical & emotional exertion falls asleep…they start to give up on you quicker and quicker and resort to sleep as an escape from reality — I’ve studied enough psychology (both on and off the record) to know how sleep works as an escape for so many, including young children. When children (starting from birth) can regulate their own sleep cycles, they find a groove that suits them and it becomes much easier for them to adapt that cycle for things such as appointments and even school later on — especially if those appointments and school are their choice.
Pyjama Fight: Do I really have to stress how unimportant it is to wear certain clothing (or any for that matter) to go to sleep? Sure, if you know that your child sleeps better not wearing her jeans, then reminding her of this and helping her find something softer and less binding/bunching might be nice, but it’s not worth fighting over…ever.
TV Fight: There are so many ways this one can go, but if the fight is simply because the TV watching is holding up the next hurried section of the daily routine, then maybe the routine should be changed or reevaluated and not the TV time. If you are against TV, then don’t own one — it’s hypocritical for you to limit a child’s TV time and not follow the same limits yourself…you aren’t setting a good example. But, “all he does is watch TV all day [really, all day?]“…I am sure that he does watch TV every moment that you allow him to, because it’s being rationed out and limited. If you removed TV limits, he’d gorge on it until he realized that he really could watch it whenever he wanted to and he’ll then move on to other things…especially if there are other interesting things in his life (of his choosing) to move on to. Either get over the TV/computer or don’t have one…you freely chose to buy them and bring them into your home, right?
Bath Fight: Attention, this is a blog written by a ‘dirty hippie’, so keep that in mind. Unless a child is literally covered in mud and her school wouldn’t allow her to attend in such a state, then either finding a non-coercive way to bathe her (unless you are ‘okay’ bathing someone against their will when it isn’t a life or death issue) or calling her in absent are your options. You control your body and when it is bathed; you either like to bath once or twice a day or go for several days without doing so — guess what, children are the same way, except that they don’t buy into social standards of beauty & such and you will find that most (unless they are absolutely filthy) will not bath daily or even weekly. Unless a child has a natural love of water, bathing is usually something that they will NOT choose to do regularly until some time around puberty. Being squeaky clean daily in body and environment (your house) is something that most of us are conditioned to be/do, not something that we freely choose to be/do.
Homework: Well, it goes without saying that if your children are not in school or not subjected to school-at-home(schooling), then there will be no homework! Imagine a life free from doing the same worksheets, chapter reviews & ‘creative’ projects that even as a child you hated and didn’t understand (didn’t understand both how or why). There is far too much homework and it is placing much unneeded extra stress on families who are already finding it hard enough to connect and be civil to one another, without schools dictating what goes on at home after the last bell rings. School is pernicious and finds it’s way into & controls every fiber of your life as a family…it’s like AOL (America Online), you can never really erase it from your computer entirely!
Fast Food: It doesn’t take a genius to realize that eating ‘food’ from the ‘Golden Arches’ every day is not a healthy way to live, but at least these children are being fed something and I credit at least that much, because sadly some parents (even without economic hardships) aren’t even doing that much. I also realize that many people out there who are parents don’t know how to cook or rather loath cooking, but I know that almost everyone likes to eat. As parents, we have an obligation to provide the best food that we can for our children and I challenge anyone who is raising their children on ‘food’ from the ‘Golden Arches’ to ask themselves if that is the best that they can do or if that is the best that they want to do. Real food that is cooked at home costs less and much of it can be made ahead of time to end up being as fast if not faster than ‘fast food’ and cooking & eating it won’t kill you. Once again, you choose to have children, so you choose to provide them with food and they are kind of at your mercy on that one.
Sports/Music (et al) Practice: In general, we all are over scheduled and trying to cram yet another extracurricular obligation into our lives to add to our list of ‘look what we are doing’. Children don’t need scheduled stuff. They can have an interest in something and freely choose to take classes/practices/lectures/camps centered around their interests, but they don’t need their parents trying to impress grandma, neighbors, colleagues and possible future colleges with a laundry list of forced sports, dancing, instruments, clubs, scouts and community service time. Yes, we all want our children to be successful, but our definition of success and their definition might be worlds apart.
Parents & Children Separated Most of the Day: Unless a child is lucky enough to be with his parents constantly for his first 4 to 6 years before being sent off to daycare/school (and even if he was lucky), he longs for his parents, for love and for a home that is free from the oppression, rules and limits of school. Of course a younger child might be almost intolerably clingy in the evenings and on weekends. Parents are simultaneously full of relief that they are free of their children and guilty that their children are away…not realizing that it’s this constant separation that makes being with one another total hell. We miss out on so much when we aren’t with our children and this can play havoc on our conscience, not mention that we just don’t ‘know’ our children well enough to try and help them meet their needs when we miss out on the parts of their day that they are away plus when they are asleep. We are equipped poorly to deal with stressed out strangers. And let’s face it, it’s just not fun to be around people who are stressed out and boy are schooled children stressed out to the max! They leave school only to return to a traditional parenting home full of more oppression, limits, rules, punishment and so on.
Hurry, Rush, Cry, Beg, Bribe: Whether most people are willing to admit it or not, they equate a ‘good child’ with one who is not loud, always clean, uses social niceties, does exactly what you ask & when you ask and never behaves in a manner that you or society find ‘unacceptable’. This causes otherwise seemingly intelligent people to engage in odd & futile parental rituals of rewards, punishments & conditional love with their children — all in an attempt to produce to the world a ‘good child’ or rather a quiet, clean and blindly obedient shell of a child. If this is really how you think children should be, then please do your possible future children a favor…don’t have them, instead have a beta fish on your desk or some ivy in the bathroom. It is completely unnatural to view children like this and completely unreasonable to expect them to adhere to this misty-eyed made up picture of what a child should be.
Children are naturally messy, loud and oblivious of their impact on their environment* (furniture, wall & etc.) and naturally self absorbed to a degree.
*an adult can stare off into space and unconsciously pick at the edge of a Formica counter top and when they wake up from their daydream, they tisk-tisk at themselves for picking at the counter and then find some glue or tape. When a (traditionally parented) child does it, they try to lie about it or hid it, because they will be punished for having no respect for their home and their parents’ hard work/time/money and when they are asked why they did it, they won’t have an answer, because they don’t know why they did it…they were oblivious to the fact that they were doing it.
Children are also oblivious of their impact (or not concerned with it) on other people when they are constantly punished for doing something ‘unkind’ or ‘unacceptable’ — the focus is on them and not the other person they effected. Their behavior then manifests into ‘how can I not get caught or punished?’ instead of ‘how will this effect others?’. I know first hand, as I was raised in a home that used all kinds of rules, limits, forced bedtimes, spanking, grounding and the like. My father always asked me, “do you just not think about anyone but yourself?” and it wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that yes, I didn’t think about anyone but myself, because that’s who I was taught to focus on by finding ways around punishment and how it effected me. I was solely focused on what I wanted and not what others wanted or needed. I wasn’t taught empathy or respect for others, I was taught to be self centered, to seek out praise and to avoid punishment and I am still painfully unlearning it. Children have no reason to lie & sneak unless we lie to them or they are trying to deflect the effect of pain from punishment. Because many mainstream parents are self centered (often through no real fault of their own), they focus on how their children’s lives effect themselves and not how they are effecting their children’s lives…they expect their children adapt to them and do what they want, without them ever having to work with their children to find consensual ways to live together and because of this, they make both their children and themselves miserable and continue the cycle of self-centered humanity.
It is no wonder most mainstream parents find themselves chanting “I need time away from my child…”. I wouldn’t much want to be around a child or adult who is obliviously self centered; constantly stressed from the oppression of being forced into school or work they didn’t freely choose; stressed, oppressed and depressed from being controlled by others with rules, limits and punishments; having their natural curiosity and inclinations thwarted at every turn and being repeatedly told how dirty, loud, rude, messy and bad they are.
I find more and more that being a mindful/authentic/peaceful/radical unschooling parent is the best ‘couch therapy’ around. The commitment forces the parent to look deeply into themselves, to remember and assess their own childhood, to question their personal & social obligations & standards, to learn to fully take on the perspective of another human being and see that person’s life through his eyes, to embrace the empowerment of deschooling his own life and mind of what he’s been force fed and to trust that his children will learn what they need and when they need it. By committing oneself to this way of thinking and living, one finds that her world is huge, rich and crammed with options that she can freely choose, whereas before or instead she would be oppressed and limited by self imposed power struggles, undue stress, judgments and forever trying to live up to a perfection perspective that is both unnatural and unreasonable.
If more than anything, most parents need more time with their children (the children definately need the time with their parents) and time that is free of rules, judgments and punishments. Go take some time or make it by canceling that soccer practice that your daughter hates anyways or do something even more radical and let whether or not to go away to school be your children’s free choice and then figure out what you can do to make it work for your family’s situation. When there is nothing but freedom and unconditional love, there is always a way.