The Solitude Fantasy: Why Parents Have It, and Why Make It Come True

By Nelle Myrica Donaldson

I have no time to myself. Speaking these words aloud recently brought me to big, hot tears – as a mother of young children, it holds new meaning. With a tight throat I cried, “It’s just…I haven’t been alone in a really long time!”

I don’t mean that I generally prefer solitude, but as a mama, there are desperate moments when I have very little to give because I have missed quiet, creativity, relaxation, and curiosity for too long; and when I am not allowed those parts of myself, I stagnate, and I don’t relate well with others. For these reasons, the constant companionship of being “home with the kids” can be hard and lonely, even though it’s exactly where I want to be.

Sometimes I call the luxury of doing one thing at a time (or perhaps doing nothing for a minute) “whole brain, two hands”. As heartening and engaging as time with my children can be, they claim significant portions of both my mental and physical being whenever we are together, which is most of the time. Thanks to my “village” (a supportive spouse, the kids’ grandparents down the road, and friends who indulge what my son calls “go playdates” [the ones where someone’s parents leave]), I do find moments when I have myself to myself – openings for conscious breath, unique observations, gratitude, and imagination. It’s refreshing to have the peace of mind to notice a thought-provoking or beautiful thing, to form a question or an idea that is unrelated to the needs of others.

Still, the other evening, after we put the kids to bed, I told my husband that I felt like I needed a treat or something before calling it a day. Actually, I was whining – even though I’m trying to get my three- and seven-year-olds to back off on that behavior, just a bit. And while no one likes an egomaniacal complainer (OR that grating octave my sons are somehow able to achieve), I’ll ask for the same slack I try to remember to give them: people don’t whimper and moan because it makes them feel good, they do it because they feel bad and they don’t know how to feel better.

Thankfully, my understanding husband said, “Sounds like your day wasn’t good enough; we should work on that.” I had been thinking a finger of whisky with a side of chocolate or comedy; however, I took his big-picture assertion to heart. Yeah, I thought, I bet people would spend less time on escapism (food, drink, screen-time, or…) if they felt more content. I know it’s usually angst that drives me to my vices.

It may be time we stop disregarding leisure as a choice to do nothing and return to revering it as an opportunity to do anything.

Culturally, we stigmatize leisure-time as “bougie”, a snobbish pursuit for the lazy at heart (think tee times, tea times, and zero meaningful contribution). Meanwhile, we praise mind-numbing drudgery as “hard work”, we celebrate over-commitment (calling it “doing-it-all”), and brag about sleep deprivation (attributing it to our laudable “busyness”).

Tom Hodgkinson, author of the charming book, The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids, writes, “In our quest to give our kids everything, we fail to give them the two things they need most: the space and time to grow up self-reliant, confident, happy, and free.” In other words, we fail to teach the value of leisure and solitude. Yet, doesn’t everyone, at any age, deserve room to become self-reliant and confident? Aren’t we more contented by freedom than by anything we can click-to-buy?

Throughout history, leisure-time has allowed for the study of thought-provoking things for their own sake, which has led to discovery and invention. Experimentation, exploration, innovation, and debate don’t happen unless people have time to experience the world around them: to form passions, to focus, to reflect and revise their philosophies. It may be time we stop disregarding leisure as a choice to do nothing and return to revering it as an opportunity to do anything.

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