“I am not doing this well,” Brianna Sharpe told HuffPost Canada. The mom of two has been struggling to strike the balance between tending to the many needs of her energetic, “high-input” kids — who are three and five years old — while still carving out a few moments of peace for herself.
“These days, the windows for self care are much smaller and much shorter than they once were,” she says. “We’re two parents who have lots of resources, but the kids seem to need us a lot right now.”
Before the pandemic, Sharpe had a small but mighty buffet of supports available to her. There was preschool, grandparents eager for a visit, the recreational centre down the street, where she could drop the kids off to rock climb or swim and take an hour and a half to herself, while they were occupied.
But since COVID-19 closed schools indefinitely and everyone has had to stay home, Sharpe has been stuck in her 900-square-foot home, in a still-wintry Calgary, splitting her time between working as a journalist and entertaining the kids. Her partner is still working full-time as a mental health clinician, and when he begins to work from home in a few weeks, he’ll still be busy most of the time, toiling away in a makeshift garage office.
Like many Canadian parents, Sharpe is struggling to make time for herself.
The importance of quiet time for parents
The other day, Sharpe’s husband got off work early. They made a plan: at staggered times, each would take two hours out of the day to relax. Neither would do any work.
“We were just going to do self-care,” she said, pausing for dramatic effect, “but it turned out the kids wanted both of us at the same time. They kept banging on my door, and so my two hours got eaten up trying to help manage them. Self care just has to look different these days.”
If “self-care” has started to sound like an empty buzzword to your skeptical ears, bandied around way too much by lifestyle bloggers, it’s likely because it actually does bear repeating. As a parent, making time for yourself can often seem like a distant, glamorous, even selfish, luxury... especially now, in the time of coronavirus.
One 2018 study found that most parents have just 32 minutes of alone time every day, and that securing it is often achieved only through illicit, covert measures … a.k.a. through literally hiding from the kids. And that research was gathered long before we were all shut inside together, for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and told not to leave our homes unless we have to.
So how can a parent get a moment to themselves around here? How can they smuggle in some time to breathe amid the all-consuming chaos of pandemic parenting?
Here are a few ideas:
Find a hiding place
Did you ever have a hiding place as a kid? Maybe it was a secret location only you knew, where you would rush to when you needed to get away.
It turns out full-grown adults have those, too.
In 2018, a UK study found that many parents, particularly dads, would hide from their kids in the bathroom. Each year, they’d spend an average of seven hours trying to seek refuge from the chaos of parenting, and one quarter of those men said they couldn’t imagine coping with the pressures of home without those bathroom trips.
In the case of pandemic parenting, there’s nothing wrong with popping into a hiding spot every now and again to collect your bearings. Maybe you need to find solace in the bathtub for five minutes, or slip into the basement or the pantry. Go for it!
Other places to hide: in the car, under the bed, beneath the stairs, the garage … And you’re still allowed to sit on the doorstep and enjoy a cup of tea, when you feel like you’re about to explode.
Play “hide but don’t seek”
Hide and seek is fun. Everyone, even adults, enjoy it. Of course, that isn’t scientifically proven, but I’m sure that it’s true.
Suggestion: play a little variation of hide and seek, where they hide and you … don’t seek them out.
Kidding! But maybe, if you seek them out, just do it slowly. Just take your time and luxuriate in that space of total silence as they try not to get caught. You know they’re hiding under the bed. Let them hide.
Kids love to win (or at least believe they’re winning). So it’s win-win, right?
Temporarily up the screen time
“There’s always a lot of discussion in the news about the values and downsides to screen time,” Mary Crothers Bell, a stay-at-home mother in Thunder Bay, said to HuffPost Canada. “But I’ve found that sometimes, when I need a moment to myself, fixing them a snack and putting on a children’s program works.”
It’s true that headlines often skewer the prospect of too much time on our devices. The threat of our brains curdling and our skulls growing horns from hunching over smartphones is always looming. But you know what they say about drastic times.
They call for a Netflix subscription.
Sharpe, too, said she uses “Netflix as a nanny.” Both parents are careful to monitor how much of it they’re using, but they’ve found it’s helpful to slip it in every now and again. It keeps their kids occupied, if even for 15 minutes. (For children two to five years old, the recommended limit is less than one hour of screen time per day.)
“My kids also really enjoy audiobooks and readings, so that’s been a nice option as well,” Bell said. “Right now, in our current climate, maybe technology is a little bit more helpful as a crutch.”
Spa day (for you)
Not much to say on this one. Turning your self care into a game or task for your kids to complete is nothing short of brilliant. Cunning, sure, but brilliant.
Literally just tire them out
When kids exercise, it follows that they’ll get tired.
And seeing as they can’t exactly do playdates anymore, or run around tyrannically at your local playground, or, in Sharpe’s case, do any rock climbing at the rec centre, there’s a need to get creative.
“We have a backyard, so I’ll take some time to set up a cooperative obstacle course, which is really just some logs or rope or something like that,” said Sharpe. “It’s nothing Pinterest-worthy, but it’s enough for me to have a bit of time just to breathe. Even those five to ten minutes can be really valuable in a day.”
It doesn’t have to be an obstacle course; there are plenty of exhausting tasks you can give your kid, which will (hopefully) buy you a nap later in the day.
Train them as figurative painters
Art class has been cancelled until … well, who knows when? That doesn’t mean they can’t still train to be the next Emily Carr or Kris Knight. Inspiration, naturally, is everywhere, even in the image of a sleeping parent. Set it up as a game: “I’ll just lay here, and you paint me. Whoever paints the best picture gets a treat. You have 30 minutes.” Then, nap. Reward however generously you like.
“Last week, my triplets woke up at 6 a.m. every day,” Mari A., a parent to five kids in North York, told HuffPost Canada. “I’m stressed out with finishing my winter semester at university, and my older kids were acting out and didn’t want to do their daily chores. My husband had to stop working.”
Mari A. raised her voice, then felt bad about it. She decided she needed a break and arranged with her husband that she’d take a nap and watch an episode of “The Office” while he attended to the kids.
This sort of communication and structure is valuable, when there’s more than one parent or caregiver in the equation. Alternating days in the week for sleeping in can benefit alone time-starved parents too. And setting strict bedtime routines allows time at in the evening for to relax.
“You need some time as a couple, without kids. After they go to sleep, we’ll watch a comedy on Netflix and eat some chips,” Mari A. said.
Whatever this is
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