How can I get alone time as a (new) parent?
January 31, 2009 11:48 PM   Subscribe

Fellow introverts, and others who need lots of alone time: How did you deal with becoming a parent?

We just had our first baby, which I am incredibly excited about. I'm also apprehensive, for many reasons, but one in particular: as a classic introvert I need a lot of alone time, and I gather that new babies (and children in general) are hell on that.

I don't feel like I get enough alone time as it is, partly through my own reluctance to ask for or demand it. (It feels "antisocial" or "selfish," or both.) It's been especially lacking the past nice months of the pregnancy when my wife couldn't do much and we ended up at home, together, a lot.

I'm thrilled to be a father. I want to share parenting duties as much as possible with my wife. Since we're both freelancers working from home, this will be easier, but it also seems like a recipe for no time to myself whatsoever for maybe years, and that's terrifying.

I don't want to be a remote parent, always looking for a way to escape from my family--either by literally going away (I travel a lot for work) or into the computer, books, etc at home. Yet I need serious amounts of solitude for my own sanity. How can I get it?
posted by El Curioso to Human Relations (12 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
You wake up in the middle of the night when everyone else is sleeping and read AskMe. Seriously (it's 3 AM where I am).

Being with a little baby is a lot like being alone, in some ways. You don't need to make conversation. But once they start talking you're done for.

I don't know what to tell you, man, other than *please* *please* don't just check out and put the burden on your wife. Talk about it, and figure out a way, together, to get a little alone time. You're going to have to recalibrate your expectations. You'll probably feel cranky and jaggedy at times, but you suck it up and do what you need to do, trying to be cheerful all the while. This, for me, has been a harder adjustment than the sleep deprivation. Ultimately, recognize that you chose to have a family, and they need you present, engaged, pretty much all the time.

Oh, and just because you're both working from home doesn't mean you don't need childcare. You do. Get a babysitter so you can at least work uninterrupted.
posted by libraryhead at 12:17 AM on February 1, 2009 [7 favorites]

Father of 9-month old son here. Firstly, let me say I understand *exactly* where you're coming from. Your fears were, and still are, my fears.

Your life will never be the same. Get used to it. Your partner is a grown-up and can look after yourself; your child, not so much. You will have demands being made on your time either by your child directly, or by your partner when she can no longer cope without your help. The fact that you're asking the question at all suggests you're concerned about these things, and that's obviously a great start.

I sometimes catch myself being 'absent' even when I'm looking after baby_in_oz by myself. I'm there, but only in body. The thing that motivates me to snap out of it is remembering that you get out what you put in. He's more fun to be around when he's getting input from me. And the sort of energy return I get from a beaming baby - whilst different to the energy return I would get from, say, pottering in the shed by myself - well, it's still energy, and it keeps you nourished.

One thing I have started to do, that works well for the missus as well, is take him out of the house for an hour or two at a time. A couple of weeks ago, he and I went and sat in the beer garden at a local microbrewery. This morning we went to a local cafe for an hour or two. Again, it's not-quite-solitude, but it has its own rewards.

The other thing we have started to do is plan our wekeends. mrs_in_oz wants time off from the kidlet. I want time by myself. We plan for both. It doesn't always work out, but them's the breaks.

The final thing I can offer is this. The only constant is change. The demands of a newborn are unique. It'll be like that for about 6 weeks. Then it will change. Then it will change again. And again. So, if you look at your situation now and despair, just remember that in a month or so it will be different. Now the boy is going to sleep at 7pm, suddenly I have evenings back.

Good luck.
posted by tim_in_oz at 12:26 AM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Introverted Dad here, too. Being with people always wears me down, and for years I've taken copious amounts of alone time to recharge. But the kid is an exception. She's the one person that doesn't drain me. In fact, for 34 years pre-parenthood, I had never really experienced "missing" someone when I was away. But I miss her enormously.

She's 2 1/2 now, and since she was a newborn, the two of us go out and do something together at least once a week. In the baby phase, we might just sit at a park or in a coffee shop for a while. Now we go out and play or get ice cream cones. That is just as good for me as alone time--maybe because I'm under no pressure to interact in any particular way, or to make small talk.

Even so, alone time happens. Babies sleep a lot, and little kids go to bed early. I've got a few hours in the evening that are mine to do with as I please. I hadn't thought about it until you asked, but in retrospect I'm surprised that this hasn't been an issue at all for me. But it hasn't. Maybe you'll be similar.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:32 AM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

Very introverted stay-at-home Mom here. What I found most difficult at first was being very literally connected almost all the time (breastfeeding, baby-wearing), and equating that with being on a very short leash. Not exactly resenting it, but it left me desperate for an out I didn't have. I guess one thing that changed was that after the initial couple of months of typical newborn craziness, I began to be able to reframe my time with Baby Cocoa as being "alone together." Like Dads above say, going someplace I like with the baby and being there alone together. Or wearing baby and doing what I want was my alone time.

Another thing that helped immensely was getting true "time off" when Mr. Cocoa would take the baby for an entire day. That didn't happen for a while because of breastfeeding, but we transitioned to times when I would meet them nearby and nurse a few times a day, or I could retreat to someplace in the house and shut the door and do my thing. Soooooooooo delicious after not having it. And knowing clearly when I was expected to be back "on" gave me the ability to let go a lot and just be alone when it was my time.

In some ways it does get harder. "Baby" Cocoa is now 3.5 and as libraryhead says, once they get a little older, alone time has to change yet again. I have a big talker and very social son, so our time together is no longer me nursing while I read a book--it's me fielding request after request after request, conversation after conversation, interruption after...well, you get it. On the plus side, this age comes with a lot of independence (at least with Toddler Cocoa) and so 30 minutes may go by where he's puttering with his trains or in his room and he doesn't want or need me around. He likes to come back to "us" and tell me what he's been up to. Also, I can be transparent with Toddler Cocoa in a way I'm not usually with other friends or family. I can say, "Wow, I'm getting a little cranky because I need some time alone. How about if I spend 15 minutes reading and you build your city and then you can show me?" He's been flexible enough to go for this, and in fact has been able to tell me "Mama, I need some alone time. Can you go away for a little while?" Fantastic!

So adapt again and make sure you have a good book or article torn out from a magazine in your pocket, or a place to put your feet up and look out the window and do nothing while you can. Oddly, the thing now that gets me is still feeling like I should be doing more rather than doing nothing. Like "now is when I should fold the laundry" instead of recharging. But recharging helps me be more present, and the laundry is a great activity to do together, so I try to let go of thinking I'm lazy or shirky.

What tim_in_oz's says about being present is really true and helpful--being more present makes me feel more solid, less eroded by time with the kid. As an example, lately I've changed my approach to "activities" together. It used to be that I'd try to say, make brownies together. This is something I enjoyed doing alone pre-parenthood. So with Toddler Cocoa I'd get all the stuff out, corral him, and try to get through what should be a 15 minute task to Get. Brownies. Made. Ugh, it was disaster. It just felt like he was in the way of the thing I wanted. I've since learned to step waaaaaaaay back and it's helped my ability to be present a lot. Making brownies now means breaking the steps down to things like, "Let's find the right size bowl. Where do we keep the bowls? Oh, you're right, there are metal bowls and plastic bowls. Ok, now we need two eggs. Can you get those?" Slowing down has meant a lot less frustration, less attachment to the final product, better time with Toddler Cocoa, and more fun for us both. We might end up with brownies, or with batter, or with a pile of stuff we can come back to later to make brownies, but I rarely have the experience anymore of him getting in between me and something I used to take pleasure in doing alone.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:23 AM on February 1, 2009 [22 favorites]

Ah, introverts and the web. Here we all are. New parents need to remember that this child is not going to be your constant companion for any more than about 5 years. Because in the brilliance of our system, they go to school when they're 5 at the latest. Gone for hours and hours every day. That's still several years, but this is not a life sentence. Once they hit about the age of 10 they don't want anything to do with you anyway. They then leave for college. It will fly by so fast you won't know what hit you. (Trite, but true).

Anyway, if by "solitude" you mean "utter silence on a schedule made by me" then you have a little more of an uphill climb. Children tend to fill a space disproportionate to their actual size and to understand "leave daddy alone" as meaning "leave daddy alone until you need him to put in a new game cartridge or reach a high shelf or go to the store for pencils". If your income can stand it, I would suggest renting a small storefront so you can get out of the house, by yourself, to work. You can share this boon with your wife, who frankly is going to need it more than you.
posted by nax at 5:09 AM on February 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm an introvert as well- with three kids. Everyone has given you excellent advice and insight, so I'm here to underscore the point made earlier that you should GET A BABYSITTER even if you are both working from home- even if it's just two mornings a week.

And- one thing that has helped me immensely is to wake up an hour or so earlier than the brood and get out for a run, do some yoga, or read the paper.
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 6:10 AM on February 1, 2009

I get up 45 minutes before my kids do to do my computer time.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:45 AM on February 1, 2009

Jesus. I was about to ask this exact question. It makes me feel less alone knowing I'm not alone in trying to be alone. Dumb but true.

Our daughter is six months old. I love her but your apprehension is warranted. libraryhead nails my dilemma, in that I am trying to come to terms with how to satisfy my own emotional needs without just checking out and dumping on my wife. My recent attitude has been sort of a survivalist mentality, and FWIW, that hasn't been very rewarding. Had me a little breakdown yesterday. ;_;

Regarding freelancing from home — I agree with others in that it is very difficult to have a baby in the house without eroding what were previously implicit personal time and space boundaries. If you're anything like me, you can't concentrate effectively on tasks while being constantly interrupted and just depending on your family dynamic it may be very emotionally costly to enforce those boundaries even if you're "at work" while at home. Dunno where you live, but in major urban areas you might be able to find some affordable modular office space outside of the house (google "flex office space" etc., I think that's the term of art for it) that may be worth checking out.

Hang in there, man.
posted by mindsound at 9:54 AM on February 1, 2009

OK, this is what we did. Mr. Squirrel and I are both introverts who need a lot of alone time. And Mr. Squirrel is also one of those people - more than me - who gets absorbed in something and just doesn't realize what's happening around him. After the 3rd or 4th time he wandered out to the garage to putter and left me with all child-care duties for the entire day, I decided we needed a schedule, or I would lose my mind.

We basically split the week into shifts, day/evening, and different days depending on our work schedules. I had the entire day Saturday, and he had the entire day Sunday.

So whoever's shift it was, was responsible for the baby. The other could come and go at will, although to be honest, most of the time we stayed home, because hey - we were a new family and we wanted to be together a lot. But I could also plan an evening with a friend or even just to go out grocery shopping without having to check in with him, as long as I planned it for my off-shift. And he could do the same.

By having a schedule that we both agreed with and followed, we each were able to devote our full attention to our daughter, because even if we felt a little trapped at times, we knew we would soon enough have several hours of our own time to recharge. And neither one of us resented that the other was doing less child care then the other because except for the first year when I was breastfeeding, we each were doing our share.

The great thing that came out of this arrangement (that lasted for about 5 years) was the wonderfully close relationship my husband and daughter share, because he was so involved with her from the start.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:44 AM on February 1, 2009 [4 favorites]

Introverted mom here, who was also a single parent who freelanced from home with my kid until about two years ago. (She's six now.)

I hate to say it, but here's what you have to accept about being a parent: your need for alone time no longer matters nearly as much as it did before you were a parent. For me, my idea of alone time had to change entirely--there was literally no one else to watch my daughter, so it was me

What I found helpful was figuring out exactly what I needed from my alone time. Was it time to read a book? Was it the ability to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling for an hour? Was it time to do household chores, or listen to music, or go out for some coffee and people watch?

For me, it was a little of all of those things, and when I realized what it was that I wanted from the alone time, I was able to reframe it. Especially when you have an infant (under, say, a year old) it's fairly easy to do most of those things with them. I bought a baby sling and used it constantly. My daughter would hang out in there and chew on a teething ring or whatever, and I'd go about doing what I needed to do. Young children are often soothed by movement (and a sling is constant movement, since she'd pick up that I was breathing and shifting slightly in my seat or whatever) so that went far to keeping her calm and happy. It also meant that I had my arms and hands free, so I could play the piano, get a sandwich, read a book or whatever without disrupting her in any way. If I felt up to it, I'd sometimes talk about what I was doing as I was doing it. If I didn't, I wouldn't, and she'd (usually) be fairly happy just watching what I was doing.

I had to reframe my alone-time activities into something that she could be present for without interfering in. For some things, that meant doing it when she was asleep--if she fell asleep, I got the first thirty minutes of that sleep cycle to read, say, or to nap. For others, that meant giving her something to entertain herself with and letting her play next to me while I did whatever I was doing. Children don't need constant interaction or stimulation, and many are perfectly happy to examine a board book/a plush ball/the kittycat long enough for you to have a little time to yourself. Learn to get some of your alone time in fifteen or thirty minute chunks during the day, and resign yourself to sacrificing an hour or two of sleep in order to have a solid chunk in the evenings/at night.

Finally, I think that it's worth remembering that if the baby-baby-baby is getting to be too much for you, it's okay to put your child down and walk away. I (probably) wouldn't do it to a child who was hysterically upset, but if you're getting stressed out and unable to deal, twenty or thirty minutes of playpen or crib time hasn't ever hurt anyone. It'll gain you a few precious minutes of relative solitude--put them in the crib with something they like (stuffed animal, whatever) and then walk out of the room and close the door behind you.
posted by meghanmiller at 1:39 PM on February 1, 2009

My husband and I are both introverts (and INTJ and an INFJ), and we've noticed that our baby is showing signs of being one - when he is in groups with other children, he sort of plays intensely by himself, and while he will kind of check in with the other kids from time to time and isn't really antisocial or uncomfortable with other kids when they do interact, he doesn't seem to need the interaction like I observe most of the other kids do. We gently encourage him to play with other kids, but he tends to gravitate back to his own world. Too early to tell, but he certainly isn't a social butterfly.

What we have perfected, organically, is being alone together. We kind of dwell in the same space together and do our own thing, reconvening occasionally to chat or hug or show each other something of interest, but focussing quietly on our own pursuits in each others company. To me, this is bliss - to look up from work or a book and be able to chat with my family, but for it not to be a draining focus for us. For this reason, home is the haven it should be.

If your partner is less intorverted than you, communication is the key. You just need to talk about your need for solitude. Your home and family life doesn't have to be something you've seen elsewhere, even in your family before you got hitched and started your own. I always have in mind that we are allowed to create the culture of our home and family. Our child will discover other ways of being when he gets amongst it, but we can only be who we are, and that is, bookish people who like to potter in a quiet, TV-free home, reading, cooking and being loving with one another. It's sort of how we put our values (love of learning, etc) into action. Our baby gets tons and tons of attention and love, but when I notice he is playing happily with blocks or something, I cut myself a break by sitting with him and writing or something. When he shows interest in playing, I put it aside and get silly with him, because it's not all about me anymore.

Just create the balance you want to have through communication.
posted by lottie at 2:32 PM on February 1, 2009

The comments here are really sensible.

I think the key is being flexible and , above all, communicative. When our baby ( who is now four ) was first born I thought that I'd go mad with the attachment. I could barely leave the room without her wailing, and she wouldn't let anyone other than me, my husband or my mother hold her. It put other family members' noses out of joint for a while! I just wanted to say " It's not my fault. I wish she wouldn't cry for mummy every second. I just need some time alone!!! "

And then my husband said: " These are the the halcyon days. We're all together. She's new, she's ours. We can dote on her. It doesn't get better than this."

For fear of sounding slushy or sentimental I have to tell you that I think of that every time I feel irritated or claustrophobic. The time goes so quickly. Having a small baby can put you into the depths of despair, but equally make your spirits soar. Don't run away from it, or close off, or feel aggrieved that you're missing time alone.

Of course, you do need time to breathe. You can carve out a few hours when the baby is sleeping. And they will sit in their buggy pretty happily for ages just looking around, whilst you read or have coffee, or just look around too! My husband and I initially got hung up on who had had more 'time alone,' and it became a kind of crazy currency. "You went to the supermarket by yourself and took two hours ! " " But your friend came over all evening and I had the baby.." etc . etc. Eventually, we respected each others' need for some kind of private time and it kind of works itself out now.

It gets better. But as babies become more independent, go to nursery, go to school you will wonder where their babyhood went and miss them as you get more and more time alone.
posted by musgrove at 1:39 PM on February 5, 2009

« Older 5th Year PhD Blues   |   How do I earn some a small steady income in an... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.