Privacy and Balance

A few weeks ago, my husband went out of town unexpectedly on Saturday night. I had scheduled a babysitter, so I went to the movies alone (Juno) for the first time in about 12 years. And I have to admit, I experienced a kind of bliss. I didn't have to discuss which movie to see, how early to get there or where to sit. No one wanted to sit in my lap. No one asked me to go potty in the middle of a critical scene.

There is a balance between giving yourself over to your family, your work, your volunteer responsibilities ... and keeping something for yourself, even if it's just going to the movies solo once every dozen years. This issue comes up more and more in my family, as we confront "family bed chaos" (how many children and adults can you fit on one mattress and still fall asleep?), kids calling us incessantly at work and when we're out and whether or not we can sneak away for a couple's weekend this year.

Like most issues of balance, this one keeps shifting, based on our children's ages and our own professional and marital needs.

So the question today is: How do you find balance between the needs of your kids, your job, your spouse, your volunteer or church activities, your extended family, and yourself? How has the seesaw tipped over time? What are your tricks and tips? What's the solution when your time commitments get totally unbalanced?

Heads up: I will be on vacation until Monday, March 31. In the meantime, Send me your tips for talking to your kids about sex so I can include them in next Monday's Top 10 Tips.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  March 21, 2008; 8:30 AM ET  | Category:  Free-for-All
Previous: Religion's Role | Next: Your Money or Your Life?


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Could I possibly be first?

My mom used to occassionally go to movies by herself when I was in Jr HS and HS, back then I thought she was nuts, but I completely understand now. She should have done it when we kids were small, but hiring a babysitter was a luxury during those years and she waited till leaving me at home was free.

My husband is great about giving me time alone and I do the same for him. If you want to give your wife a great Mother's Day gift, give her the afternoon off to shop, sleep, read a book, exercise or go to a movie alone. I don't feel guilty about taking time for myself and I hope everyone gets some time alone (as needed)to recharge their batteries.

Posted by: cmac | March 21, 2008 9:01 AM

Could I possibly be first?

My mom used to occassionally go to movies by herself when I was in Jr HS and HS, back then I thought she was nuts, but I completely understand now. She should have done it when we kids were small, but hiring a babysitter was a luxury during those years and she waited till leaving me at home was free.

My husband is great about giving me time alone and I do the same for him. If you want to give your wife a great Mother's Day gift, give her the afternoon off to shop, sleep, read a book, exercise or go to a movie alone. I don't feel guilty about taking time for myself and I hope everyone gets some time alone (as needed)to recharge their batteries.

Posted by: cmac | March 21, 2008 9:01 AM

I love my daily commute because of the alone time it gives me. (There's not much traffic here in Richmond, and I work a modified schedule and leave at 4:00, so I miss the bad stuff.) I do concede what people in Richmond consider to be bad traffic pales in comparison to anything in NoVa. Anyway, I love being able to pick the radio station myself and having time to decompress between work and home.

Posted by: RiverCityVA | March 21, 2008 9:13 AM

I use that old saw, scheduling it in. I block out time each week both at work and at home. At work, its a meeting every Friday called PD. At home, its Saturday mornings from 7-10, labeled MT. After a week like this one, when I haven't even had the time or energy to journal, its just what I need.

Posted by: babsy1 | March 21, 2008 9:16 AM

My balance comes from running -- by myself during the week and with similarly paced friends on the weekend. I actually notice grumpiness when I have to ditch a run. As babys1 does -- I take a week at a time and figure out where the work week runs will be slotted in based on work, family, social committments.

Posted by: tntkate | March 21, 2008 9:38 AM

My 20-minute train commute gives me some time to myself to listen to music, read, nap, or just think. I also work out in our office gym during lunchtime; that can be a stress reliever. Other than that, because I have a 10 month old, I don't get much else in terms of "me" time but I'm thankful that I do appreciate those moments. I'll be glad when my son is older so I can feel more comfortable leaving him with a babysitter and can carve out more time for myself. But of course then . . . it is likely that hubby and I will be trying to get pregnant again. The cycle continues. . .

Posted by: mrsbookaddict | March 21, 2008 9:54 AM

tntkate....

Running works for me as well. If I don't run, I'm unbearable. My husband sometimes tells me to go for a run.

When you run, you cannot do work, do schoolwork, do anything for your husband, take care of your kids (well sometimes they are in the baby jogger and you cannot avoid them) or clean your house. Staying in shape is just a bonus.

Amy
Mom to 3
www.sofiabean.com

Posted by: amy | March 21, 2008 10:00 AM

tntkate....

Running works for me as well. If I don't run, I'm unbearable. My husband sometimes tells me to go for a run.

When you run, you cannot do work, do schoolwork, do anything for your husband, take care of your kids (well sometimes they are in the baby jogger and you cannot avoid them) or clean your house. Staying in shape is just a bonus.

Amy
Mom to 3
www.sofiabean.com

Posted by: amy | March 21, 2008 10:03 AM

tntkate....

Running works for me as well. If I don't run, I'm unbearable. My husband sometimes tells me to go for a run.

When you run, you cannot do work, do schoolwork, do anything for your husband, take care of your kids (well sometimes they are in the baby jogger and you cannot avoid them) or clean your house. Staying in shape is just a bonus.

Amy
Mom to 3
www.sofiabean.com

Posted by: amy | March 21, 2008 10:04 AM

I also do some of my best thinking and relaxing on the metro. No interruptions I don't even carry a cell phone.

Sometimes I schedule a DH/DD night when I am stressed. Sometimes I go to a museum at work sometimes I curl up on the tv and watch shows DD and DH detest.

I had very little time for myself before I went back to work. I also appreciate my lunch hour which is normally about me (except when it isn't).

Posted by: shdd | March 21, 2008 10:26 AM

I think it was harder for me to carve out some personal time than it was for my husband. Women have such expectations laid on them.

I started going to church because I enjoyed the worship service, while baby was in the nursery. No sooner did I join that church than I got a call that they needed volunteers in the nursery/Sunday School. There went my time!

If my husband took the kids somewhere then it seemed like he always expected me to be doing something with my time. As in - how come you didn't pick the house up while we were out? The idea that I'd spend an afternoon at home not doing anything more taxing than reading a novel was foreign to him.

In the end I ended up with my commuting time (of course I was going to/from work), and evening workouts at the YMCA.

It was always like whatever I wanted to do that took me away from my usual family responsibilities needed to have some worthy purpose or it didn't rate.

To that point I'd ask Leslie -- would you have hired that babysitter if you'd known your husband wasn't going to be around on that Saturday? I kind of doubt it.

Posted by: RedBird27 | March 21, 2008 10:28 AM

I'm picturing shdd "on the TV" like a kitty cat but can't quite figure how she watches shows from that position.
I have what feels like a huge need for solo time. I run but right now it's at the gym on a treadmill and it isn't much fun, though it helps keep me sane. It also helps my problem-solving skills so as far as I'm concerned, my workplace benefits from allowing me to hit the gym at lunch! It always amazes me how much work I can get done by not working. Brain is a strange organ.

Posted by: anne.saunders | March 21, 2008 10:32 AM

I never had much of a problem with alone time, because I just tend to shut down when I don't get it (introvert and all). So either I make it happen, or my brain makes it happen for me. But kids also go to bed by 8, so there's at least a built-in time every night to recover, if I choose to use it that way.

The bigger problem I have right now is what Redbird mentioned -- if I have some down time, it's hard not to be thinking of the 87 other things that I could/should be doing. Funny, though, the same thing doesn't really seem to apply to my husband: when he'd give the kids a bath, I'd run around, do dishes, pick up, fold laundry, etc.; but when I'd give the kids a bath, he'd putz on the internet for 20 minutes, so I'd come downstairs and nothing would be done. After probably a year of being slightly peeved, I figured, hey, if he doesn't think he needs to use every possible free minute to get stuff done, why the heck do I? So now, when he gives the kids a bath, I read the paper or click on the DVR.

Of course, sometimes those chores can be a break in and of themselves. Last night, after 4 solid days of husband being out of town, I was THRILLED just to do the dishes while my mom entertained the kids in the other room. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | March 21, 2008 10:40 AM

OT to anne: I too hate the treadmill (actually call it the dreadmill). Maybe you do this already but what works for me is to interval train -- do a few minutes at a faster than normal speed, recover, rinse repeat. (3 minutes on, 2 minutes off is good because it's easy to keep track on the timer). You can play the same games with the incline. Start at 0 or 1% and go up and down. The more it's a game, the longer I can go...

Posted by: tntkate | March 21, 2008 10:47 AM

This is a subject that is very near and dear to me right now. With a 15 week old baby in the house, along with an 8 year old, my husband and I are really feeling the couples pinch these days. We hardly have time for each other, never mind each of us individually. The kids, especially the baby, are reallly taking precedence over everything else. We also make a special effort to give our 8-year old individual attention, because until a few months ago, he was the center of our universe, and we don't want him to feel neglected. And when the kids are asleep, I mostly want to sleep myself, and have little interest in romance, because I am just so tired. But I think that this is just part of the first few months of having a baby, so we are being as patient as we can be until things get better. Right now, I feel lucky to get 4 hours of sleep without interruption, and even that seems like blissful alone time. Even so, I am not eager for this stage to end, because in its own way, it is so such a sweet feeling to care for a baby and feel so needed. It is almost like the rush of first love, so very powerful and exhausting, and thankfully, temporary.

Posted by: emily111 | March 21, 2008 11:08 AM

One bit of balance is to parent your children and DO NOT let them call you at work. I am a middle aged women who was called then a "latch key" child, yes, I wore a house key hanging on a shoelace around my neck. My parents both worked at professional jobs while I was growing up. I knew that I could call them at work only for a true emergency.

Parents need to learn who is in charge!

Posted by: peonymom | March 21, 2008 11:10 AM

I get out of bed around 3:00 am most mornings, that's my lone time. Other than that and an ocasional empty house, I've become so dependent on others, I'm not sure that I Can do, or even Want to do anything on my own.

I had an empty house break a few weeks ago and wundered what it would feel like just to lay around for a few minutes and listen to the boob tube all by myself. I gave up that idea in less than 10 minutes after trying unsuccessfully to turn the damned thing on and get a channel that wasn't complete static. I remember thinking, "Where is my 5 year old when I need him?" Oh well, so much for TV. After this season of American Idol, I'm going to find a cliff to drop the idiot box off of!

Posted by: DandyLion | March 21, 2008 11:14 AM

Dandylion,
Getting up early is a great way of getting alone time. The other night, the baby had me up in the wee hours of the morning, and around 4:30 am, I decided to get up and stay up, since I felt pretty much awake. I made myself some scrambled eggs and coffee, and heard the paper thump against the door soon afterwords. The next two hours were absolutely blissful, as I read the paper and then watched the early morning shows, with absolutely no one wanting anything from me.

Posted by: emily111 | March 21, 2008 11:21 AM

The thing is, part of the chaos and lack of strict boundaries is a good thing. I don't want my kids to be afraid to call me, or to feel they can't trust me. We have many friends who are very strict with their kids. I see the benefits -- but there are downsides too. I don't want a family where the kids call their parents "ma'am" and "sir" or today's equivalent.

Last night in the airport my three kids were acting crazy after they got off the plane (where they had been very well behaved). We had to get in the car for a long drive and so I actually wanted them to run around. They were not being reckless or dangerous or knocking over little old ladies. Another mom standing at baggage claim with two mini automatons gave me and the kids a nasty look. Felt like saying, "But guess who's having more fun?"

Posted by: leslie4 | March 21, 2008 11:36 AM

Hi Emily! So you enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning. Great! I just want you to know that I've been carrying around a Starbuck's coupon since the office Christmas party. I think I'm going to save it just in case we bump into one another before work one day. :-)

Also, I hope you are getting a chance every now and then to put on your shoes and get out of the kitchen. LOL!

Posted by: DandyLion | March 21, 2008 12:05 PM

My Alone Gift of late has been running related, big surprise. My husband has spotted me several solo marathons and watched the kids while I did them. On the other hand, we're extremely thankful for family members watching our kids so we can run marathons together. For our Alone Gift we've taken long run dates now that we have a magnificent sitter. With longer days we can run with the kids in the evenings. The best is still the runs we do as a family because we've been able to combine wonderful passions. But the solo marathons remind me of a time when Momma wasn't part of my identity and reinforce that I have been so blessed to have him and my two little running partners.

Posted by: StrollerMomma | March 21, 2008 12:20 PM

OT to tntkate: I do play with the buttons on weekends when I have more time. Weekdays I just try to run, sweat and zone out. My best treadmill runs are almost always when I'm ticked off at someone ... At least the snow is starting to melt around here finally. There's hope.

Posted by: anne.saunders | March 21, 2008 12:31 PM

When I was a SAHM, every once in a while during a weekend, i would tell DH that I needed to get out for breakfast for a few hours, and I'd go get some alone time. Now that things are crazier cause I'm working - I don't need it as much. The kids are in bed early ish each evening, and I get to do what I need to do. Every once in a while I need to go shopping for clothes (or something I can't take kids with) and i get my alone time then, I guess.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 21, 2008 12:46 PM

The getting up early strategy has some benefits, but it's also got some problems.

When my kids were younger getting up early meant I tip-toed around to avoid waking them up. If they did get up then I felt grumpy because now I had to entertain them when I'd hoped to be doing something else.

I wish I had worked harder on training them that I get time alone, even if they are awake and think they need me. My husband did a much better job of not responding to their every call, and now they don't come after him all the time.

It's not that I want to ignore my kids, but I would like for the sight of me reading a magazine to not always make them think that I'm not doing anything and should be doing something for/with them!

So part of this balance is the notion that your children need to learn to entertain themselves (in good ways) so you aren't always on call.

Posted by: RedBird27 | March 21, 2008 1:12 PM

I've tried giving myself "time out" for cranky behavior. My son figured that out pretty quickly, though, and decided that my behavior didn't warrant a time out. Darn...

Posted by: gottabeanon1 | March 21, 2008 1:37 PM

Did we lose everyone to church or the church of basketball?!?

And Laura LOL on the comment about seeing 20 minutes "off-duty" as a chance to x,y, and z instead of zoning out. Sometimes I think the multi-tasking mind-set makes women (with children and without) our own worst enemies.

Posted by: tntkate | March 21, 2008 1:52 PM

I am that person in the Metro you may think to make fun of but secretly wish you could be. I spent my 30 minute daily metro commute with a good old-fashioned bodice-ripper trashy romance novel. No serious biography, no newspaper, no phone, no blackberry. And if, I'm lucky, I get a hour during naptime on the weekends to lay on the couch with the dog and read then too!

Posted by: hill2003 | March 21, 2008 2:22 PM

I'm another daily-commute-downtime user. It's the only reading time I ever get anymore.

My other downtime is yardwork/gardening. Something about pulling weeds, pushing a lawnmower, or using a weedwhacker just zones me out and lets me relax.

My younger son sometimes joins me for planting or harvesting the veggie patch. He's very excited about the baby Brussels sprouts plants - after blood oranges, those are his favorite food, so he's really looking forward to tasting some he grew himself. I've promised him that we'll get a blood orange tree next fall - here in CA it will grow and produce fruit, and just before the rains come back is the best planting time.

Older son would only be interested in gardening if we got him a hamburger-and-fries plant. The only thing that might possibly entice DH out to the garden would upset the neighbors and get DEA attention, so that's not gonna happen in *MY* garden! And consequently I don't have to worry about those two intruding on me.

Posted by: sue | March 21, 2008 4:47 PM

I worked part-time from home before my kids were in school all day, and shortly after the youngest started kindergarten, I hit the theater IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY! I felt so guilty like I was doing something wrong, like having an affair (just without another person). I should be home doing laundry! Vaccuumming! Volunteering somewhere! Cooking dinner! I remember coming out of "Lara Croft Tomb Raider" into the the sunshine with a big smile on my face. Loved seeing a bit of mindless female-dominated action totally on my own.

Posted by: vchandler | March 21, 2008 5:15 PM

Dandylion,
If you let me know when you usually ride the metro, I'll consider making myself known to you (since I doubt that you'll see me). I also have a Starbucks coupon in my wallet.

Posted by: emily111 | March 22, 2008 2:09 PM

Emily, a few years ago I wrote a computer program to help my 8 year old son learn his multiplication tables. It was very effective so I posted it to a website so others could download and use it to teach their kids the basic math facts. It's quick, easy and free. Here's the link:

http://mysite.verizon.net/vze35fvj/MathFlash.htm

Anyway, even if you don't want the program, there's a email address listed on the web site that you can use if you want to drop me a line. I would appreciate it.

Of course, everybody is welcome to download the program and I'm always happy to read comments, good or bad.

Posted by: DandyLion | March 24, 2008 8:44 AM

Well we all know that tennis is out of bounds when it comes to enjoying alone time from previous posts.

I'm trying to think what key scenes could be involved in a movie you'd take someone who needed an escort to go to the bathroom with?

As a latchkey kid myself, I was REQUIRED to call my mom at work for several things- to let her know I'd gotten home safely (and you did NOT want to miss that call), to ask what to cook for dinner and whether I'd be on my own and to ask permission to go somewhere else.

This issue is actually one of the key reasons I choose not to be a parent- I'm just too happy doing my own thing that I don't think I'd enjoy adjusting my entire lifestyle in order to bring up another person.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | March 24, 2008 2:20 PM

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