You give and do and give and do and give and do for others, day after mind-numbing day.
Spent and fried after weeks with no breaks, you fall into a funk, lose it with your kids or freak out at your partner.
You realize that you’re way overdue for some alone time or time away.
You jump through a dozen mental, emotional, and logistical hoops and finally carve out a half day all to yourself!
You buy a new journal, gather your candles and crystals, dust off your yoga mat, make a new playlist, and force yourself to whittle your pile down to the three books you’ve most been dying to read.
You almost cancel your date with yourself because the needs around you are so many and so intense. Some part of you actually wonders whether your family will be okay without you.
You’re finally alone for a WHOLE ENTIRE AFTERNOON and all you have energy for is scrolling, enough yoga to remind you that you’re totally out of practice, getting a chapter into a book you know you may never read again, and wondering how you just managed to piddle away the only time to yourself you’re likely to get for weeks to come.
You return to your family more discouraged and defeated than before you left, only to be greeted by immediate demands, a messy house, and a partner who now “needs a break.”
Maybe this is you. Or maybe you’ve graduated from this phase, you’re finally advocating for your needs and getting time alone on the regular, and you’re still having a hard time accessing creativity, making much progress on your projects, or tapping into divine nourishment and connection.
I’m here to tell you something, dear mother:
There are plenty of reasons you’re not “making the most of” your alone time, and your personal inadequacy is not one of them.
Here’s what I’ve learned not only by experiencing decades of seemingly self-sabotaged alone time, but by bearing witness to hundreds of smart, passionate, intentional clients who also happen to be mothers in the thick of it:
We aren’t sabotaging our alone time. It just seems that way because the true causes of our frustratingly “unproductive,” precious few hours alone are–like so many other suboptimal maternal realities–hidden beneath the lie that there’s something wrong with us. Here’s a start toward a truer story:
We have so many unmet needs, and so little time away. Our culture not only expects mothers to give endlessly, but it erases our needs from the picture all together, or expects us to meet our needs through consuming, when it’s things like community support, soulful connection, stillness, and a sense of belonging we need most. Of course we try to pack too much into our alone time. We feel desperate to meet not one, but many basic needs that are not being met (or even acknowledged) within the system as it stands.
We’re settling (and asking) for crumbs. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who–once we finally work through enough limiting beliefs that they feel worthy of any time to themselves at all—plan or ask their partners for the bare minimum, such as an hour or two away. This is often just enough time to drive to their destination, order their tea or set out their picnic blanket, shed a few tears of relief, and jump back in the car again. This is like asking for crumbs when we’re starving and don’t know when we’ll eat again. It doesn’t come close to fulfilling the need, it simply illuminates the fact that we’re malnourished.
Our nervous systems need time to unwind. Accessing the kind of flow state we long for during time away is nearly impossible until our nervous systems have had time to unwind and return to a more grounded, regulated state. It’s not realistic to expect instant productivity, creativity, or embodiment after weeks or months of constant overstimulation. (For more on this, learn about the Window of Tolerance.)
Our grief finally has an outlet when we’re alone. It’s really hard to find space for grief when you’re on with kids 24/7, and often, we don’t even realize the degree to which we’ve repressed our grief until we’re finally alone. It’s also common that when we get still, that ache for something we can’t quite put our finger on, intensifies. I believe much of this ache is rooted in our need to be held within a community and sisterhood, to be guided and loved by elders, to be initiated, and to feel connected to the wild within and around us. When we don’t know what it is we’re aching for, we often mistake our grief for ungratefulness or inexplicable depression and beat ourselves up. Then, before we know it, our precious little time away is over.
Creativity isn’t typically born from a place of stress. It’s born from spaciousness. It arises from quieter parts of ourselves that only feel safe to show themselves when the chaos dies down. Expecting ourselves to quickly be creative, never mind our mental or emotional state, is unrealistic, and in many cases, unkind to ourselves.
We know we hold the medicine. I believe that the medicine this world needs most is trapped within its mothers, and that many of us feel this truth deep in our bones. This knowing can lead to a sense of desperation; a sense of responsibility and urgency to access, harness, and be of service with the wisdom we hold. I also believe that we cannot force it out of us, but that we must create more spaciousness for its natural, organic, and gradual emergence. This rarely happens in a matter of hours.
We often have hell to pay when we return to our families. I hate that it’s true, but so many of my clients’ partners really don’t seem to realize what a slap in the face it feels like to come home to a trashed house and unhappy kids (or kids who’ve been babysat by screens all day), especially given how hard it is for many mothers to feel worthy of the time away in the first place. It can, in fact, feel like a punishment for daring to take care of ourselves and prioritize our needs, and often drives an even deeper wedge between already disconnected-feeling partners. The cost, in this case, often feels greater than the reward.
We’ve become reactive instead of proactive. Modern motherhood necessitates constant reactivity and responsiveness. This can make it hard to know what to do with ourselves when no one is demanding something of us.
Our inner critic’s voice grows louder. “Why did you even bother taking time away if you were just going to waste it on your phone?” “Shouldn’t you have something to show for yourself? You told him you were taking this time to make progress on your business.” The presence of our inner critic often causes us to freeze, which not only hampers our productivity, but makes it nearly impossible to rest and/or enjoy our time away.
We’re so “in our heads.” Getting out of our heads and into our bodies is an important part of any healing process or creative journey. It takes time and practice to be able to access embodied wisdom. We can’t force embodiment (and a ticking clock doesn’t help).
We need the time for integration. I see this as one of the greatest sources of mothers’ anxiety and overwhelm. Our hard work, challenges, and epiphanies are rarely followed by downtime for integrating the experiences we’ve lived. I believe this leads to emotional repression and/or explosions, and that integration is actually the thing that’s happening when we get time alone and end up doing nothing but staring at a wall.
Our emotions are so raw and so many. Finally getting still and experiencing a few hours of quiet can bring up all kinds of raw emotions which we either have to try to repress so that we can be productive, or take time to feel at the expense of our efficiency.
Our confidence is compromised. Because motherhood isn’t honored, revered, and/or adequately valued within our culture, many mothers find that they lack confidence when they first decide they’re ready to nurture a fuller sense of self. “Who am I to_____?” narratives often sabotage our creative ambitions once we finally have time to pursue them.
We struggle with single-tasking. I believe we actually have to retrain our brains to single task once the perpetual multitasking necessitated by motherhood has become our norm. Our minds are constantly scanning for more things that need our attention, which makes focusing on one thing difficult.
Our littles are deeply bonded with us, exclusively. I am all for attachment parenting, baby wearing, co-sleeping and any other parenting practice that supports and promotes healthy parent/child bonding. AND, I believe that young humans are meant to bond with more than one or two caregivers. Bonding with so few adults makes it much more challenging to get the breaks we need without stress for the child and stress and guilt for the mother. Time away that’s laden with guilt and worry feels anything but restorative.
Obviously, pandemic parenting both amplifies the need for time away and makes meeting this need more challenging than ever. However, I believe we’re experiencing not only one of the most collectively stressful but potentially transformative times modern-day mothers have yet to endure.
I believe that this is a critical and potent time in history, when so much is being revealed and illuminated, both around and within us, and that we have a TON to gain as mothers, in the long run. But we have to stay focused on some specific things. Keep reading to hear what they are.
Wishing for you the nourishment you need,
Why it’s so hard to enjoy the little alone time you get