Sleep. Money. Silence. Peace of mind. Snacks.
These are just a few of the things you sacrifice when you decide to become a parent. (Don’t worry, they are replaced – by exhaustion, debt, headaches, scraps, and stress! Yay!) A lot of that is a side-effect of getting older – most of us accrue responsibility with age, whether we have kids or not – but there’s one thing that having kids takes away from you that you can never get back:
They say that kids are like sponges in the way they absorb information and soak up everything they see, and that’s not untrue. But kids are also like barnacles, in that they latch onto you and never let go. Just ask any breastfeeding mom. Or stay-at-home dad. Or co-sleeping parents.
Your children are impossible to escape.
It’s understandable, in some ways. When they’re young, Mom and Dad are their whole life, their best friends, their only friends. They like being around us. They also need to be around us, because as babies and toddlers and preschoolers and even early elementary schoolers with a modicum of independence, they rely on us for so much. They need us to feed them and bathe them and dress them and take them to school and pick them up from school and help them with their homework and bring them to playdates and buy them toys and take them to the doctor and basically keep them alive until they can fend for themselves. (This usually takes about 30 years.)
They need us for everything and they continue to need us even when they’re past the point of really needing us any more. Weaning kids off their parents and into independent human beings is one of the hardest, and most bittersweet, aspects of parenthood. We don’t always want our kids to grow up but at the same time we desperately need them to.
If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait until your kids go to bed. Not only because, if you’re anything like me, you hate your kids and never want to be around them, but because you need some time to yourself! Even if you can’t get enough of the little moppets, by the end of the day, you’re still desperate to be without them for a few hours, to watch some adult TV or have an adult conversation or get some bow-chicka-wow-wow. Even the most dedicated parents among us need a minute when we’re not parenting, for the sake of our sanity.
Sometimes that means staying up extra late just to get a hit of that sweet, sweet solitude. Sometimes, if you’re a sociopath, that means getting up extra early just for a little peace and quiet. Because for some of us, somehow managing to wake up before our kids is simply what it takes! It gets so bad that I’ve even written about the relief I feel when I go to work, and I’ve got nothing on stay-at-home parents like Mom and Buried who are lucky if the kid takes a nap for a few hours in the middle of the day.
Solitude is a precious commodity for all of us these days, but for parents it’s downright endangered. And it’s not always just about the kids. The constant clingy-ness and perpetual proximity of your children can drive you so mad that being around anyone, including other adults, even the love of your life, can be too much. You need a break from them too!
When I was single and child-free, one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday afternoon was to go to Tower Records (I’m old!) and browse, or take a walk around Boston with my Discman (I’M OLD), or drive around listening to music on the radio. The closest I come to that these days is if I am running an errand and get stuck in traffic. Or when I’m on the subway on the way home from work, surrounded by dozens of grumpy New Yorkers but lost in my headphones. These are poor substitutes for solitude, but sometimes it’s all you get. (And when you’re a stay-at-home parent, you might not even get that.)
It can be borderline impossible to have time to yourself, and that makes grabbing a little bit more essential than ever.
I get irritable when I don’t get some solo time. I learned this about myself in college, when I would inexplicably become a prickly jerk if one of my roommates so much as spoke to me when I was desperately seeking some solitude. Every now and again I just hit my limit of human interaction and I need you – need everyone – to leave me alone. This isn’t an easy thing to explain to your spouse, and it’s even harder to explain to you kids, which is why I don’t explain it to mine, I just sleep on the couch after I’ve yelled at everyone for no apparent reason.
To be clear, I don’t want to be alone all the time, and on those rare occasions Mom and Buried and I have gotten away from the kids, we can’t help missing them almost immediately, because biology is a motherfucker. But the occasional break is crucial, for my sanity, my parenting, and my relationship. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
No man is an island, and I don’t want to be one! But I wouldn’t mind if the bridge went out every once in a while.