But some of the time I did manage to eke out some stolen moments for myself. And isn’t it kind of sad that they have to be stolen? Can’t we be good moms, and take care of ourselves, too?
Well, to help, here are some of my own strategies:
Babies can spend a lot of time nursing. That can be a wonderful bonding experience or a bore—or both. I would balance a book (paperback is recommended) on my baby’s head and get some reading in while snuggling. Baby was none the worse for wear and may have even become a precocious reader through skull osmosis!
With small children who have too much energy and not enough distractions, here are some games that can buy you some quiet time.
One of my favorites involved suddenly shouting in an enthusiastic voice: “OK, everyone run upstairs, touch the bathroom sink, and run back down.” While your darlings do this, you can make a quick phone call, leaf through a magazine or just sit and enjoy the quiet.
When they come back downstairs, say, “Now jump up and down two times, do a somersault and count to 10.”
Continue these challenges as long as they are willing to play. Note that this game has a shelf life—after a while, your children catch on to the fact that something is up.
Leslie, our wonderful sitter from my children’s younger days, introduced us to another great game that can buy you some peace and quiet: Little Red Schoolhouse.
The game is simple yet elegant. You yell (again in an infectiously enthusiastic fashion) “Little Red Schoolhouse, go!” Then everyone has to stop talking, and the first one to talk loses. Get it? More peace and quiet for you!
One foolproof way to clear a room for some quiet time is to ask children to help you. For instance, say, “I need some help paying my bills. I’d like to teach you how to write checks.” Either the children will leave, or they will actually give you some help, and then you will have cleared some time in your schedule.
I know some parents who have great conversations in the car with their children. This has happened to me from time to time. But I’m thinking of those more common drives when the response to any question I might have asked was a grunt or querulous comment such as,“Mom, I don’t really feel like talking.”
Take advantage of this by not even trying to have a conversation—but at the same time, don’t allow the child to control the radio, as some parents may be bullied into doing (unless you happen to love Justin Bieber yourself). You’re the driver, you get to pick the entertainment. Use this time to listen to NPR or to books on tape from the library. A side effect—you may even find yourself in an interesting conversation with your child, which could be relaxing, too.
I've read about families who find mealtime a wonderful opportunity for close family interaction. That was not the case with our group of three antagonistic competitors at the table. Efforts to spark cooperation and expose children to novel cuisines were met with strong resistance.
For that reason, some of the most serene moments at meals were from the concept of the "Casual Dinner."
This means that everyone at the table gets to read their own book and ignore each other. Cuisine may be similarly neglected—instead of a locally sourced, lovingly prepared homemade meal, Kraft macaroni and cheese or Domino's pizza is the perfect pairing for a serene evening.
I remember rushing between work and home when my children were young. I felt the pain that they felt when I left them with their sitter and was obliged to get back home ASAP to relieve them of their anguish.
There were times early on when this was really the case. There’s nothing like leaving a nursing baby who will not take a bottle alone—and coming home to hear they cried for the full two hours you were away. It's enough to traumatize you into an acute state of never leaving home again without a stopwatch.
However, this reflex can continue far beyond its expiration date. I learned (over and over) that they were usually just fine while I was away and hadn’t really been watching the clock for my return.
So take some stolen moments to walk slowly from work to home. Take a look at the people around you. Or walk quickly, and get some exercise in before you get home. Walk down the stairs or walk up some stairs.
Instead of setting up playdates for your child, invite a friend and their child over. Do this only with mothers you like. Then, sit and chat while your children play.
Or invite a slightly older child from down the block over to play with your kids. Call her a "mother’s helper," and pay her a small amount. You can still be in the house, but not at the kids' beck and call at all moments.
New Year’s Eve
We always threw a New Year’s Eve party when our kids were little. This served a number of purposes: We didn’t have to get a babysitter. We could hang out with our friends while the kids played (see above), and at the end of the party we could jump right into our own beds, avoiding a cold drive home with tired and/or grouchy little ones.
When kids are little, they don’t understand time well enough to object to going to bed before midnight. As most parents are happy to pack it in early on New Year’s Eve, as well as any other night, all were happy: a nice holiday get-together, with stolen moments at the end for marital celebration, too!