I started to write about how I’m better with my husband, or how my kids are better off together. But darn it, I’m struck by one hard truth that I just can’t avoid: I’m really, almost always, a better person when I’m alone.
Let me first say that I’m an extremely present and engaged parent, running co-ops and carpools, bike-riding and woods-exploring. I love my children more than I love to be alone – that’s why we have them after all, it was indeed our choice. But I parent a lot.
Yet I’m not always my best self with them. I have a limit on how many times I’ll answer the same question until I either stop answering and ignore, or worse end up speaking in a voice too close to yelling. Then comes the inevitable guilt at yelling at my kids, especially the sensitive one. I feel like crap, they feel like crap and we end up piled onto the couch together to comfort and watch TV.
I often find myself saying to hell with the neighbors’ desired sleep and send my kids into the backyard before 8am, hoping their energy will get diffused and buy me a few quiet minutes before I really have to start the (long) parenting day.
I sometimes make them leave the playground “early” because I just can’t stand the piercing grind of metal-on-metal from those old rusty swings. At the end of a long day, the last thing I want are sounds that grate on my soul.
I’ve recently taken up running with our dog, just to get some alone time to clear my head. When I try to hide away in our small office to work, I’m inevitably found. I’m a kid-magnet stronger than any tracking device available. They find me and talk incessantly. So I’ve begun to run away, to allow the repetition and motion to throb all thoughts out of my mind, making room for peace and thought.
The incessancy of child rearing is rarely spoken about, along with the utter lack of clarity of mind when spending a full day parenting, moving from one task to the next all day long. When the sun is close to setting, I can sometimes dissolve into a person I don’t like, the kind of mother I’m determined not to be.
When alone, I can breathe, think, complete a recipe from start-to-finish, write to my hearts content. When I’m alone, I feel once again like a whole person and am able to love them more. I appreciate the sweet (albeit loud) sound of my daughter’s voice as she narrates a book or the pure innocence of my son’s excitement when he finds out I made his favorite dessert.
When I’m alone I can remember who I was, am, and hope to be. If in the middle of the day I can get an hour or two alone to breathe, drink coffee and hear the birds outside my window I can tolerate a few more questions, clean up one more spill, and step barefoot on one more lego before I lose my cool. When I can exhale and consider what it’s all for anyway, I want to be with them more. I long to be the patient and engaged mother they deserve.
I’m better alone, because alone time allows me to be the parent I want to be. At least until my husband gets home and he can practice being the parent he aims to be while I take our dog out for a run.