A Mother's Need for Guiltless Solitude
- 2006 18 Sep
I clearly remember the day that The Mother Load overwhelmed me, and I sought refuge in our walk-in closet. I was sleep-deprived, exhausted, and surrounded by crying, needy children. My four-year-old had missed the toilet, wetting herself and the floor. My two-year-old had dumped his cereal, complete with milk. The kitchen was strewn with undone dishes from breakfast, the family room was littered with toys from the toy box, the phone was ringing, our pet birds were chirping, and the dryer was buzzing. My mind was swirling with sound, and I couldn’t hear myself think. What I needed was a moment of solitude before I exploded into a thousand pieces.
And so I did the only thing I could think of: I hid in the closet.
On that particular day, it was just what I needed. Three minutes to calm my nerves, take a deep breath, reassure myself that I was a good mother (even though I was, at the moment, hiding from my children), and gain my composure so that I could face the rest of the day. The bad thing was that it was only 9:00 a.m. when I took cover.
If you’re the mother of young children, I know that you, too, have sought refuge from your children. It’s okay; you can admit it. You may not have actually shut yourself in a closet, but I’m sure there have been times you’ve wanted to.
Mothering is an intense, around-the-clock job. Being physically and emotionally available to other humans—often with no concern for your own needs—is tough work. But the tough work is made easier when we can find, or make, small pockets of time in order to reconnect with ourselves, organize our daily work, plan for the future, and communicate intimately with the God who created us.
Do you need solitude? Here are some possible indicators:
• You lose your temper more quickly and are more frustrated with your children than usual.
• You cannot think clearly.
• You’re disorganized, unable to find things you need, and are forgetful.
• You feel disconnected from yourself, your family, and your Creator.
• You feel overwhelmed.
Although I’ve craved solitude almost every day since becoming a mother, I didn’t discover its true power until lately. One night my kids asked me to join them in a game of Hide and Seek. I told my daughter to cover her eyes and count to ten while my son and I hid. He went to my room and I went to his and hid in the closet. (I seem to spend a lot of time in closets, don’t I?) Minutes passed. Then more minutes passed. I relaxed and started enjoying the solitude in the closet. As I sat amidst the clothes and the shoes, I marveled that in my hiding spot there were no clothes to fold, no sandwiches to prepare, no school parties to organize, no appointments to keep and no groceries to put away.
I closed my eyes and leaned back against the smooth closet wall. More minutes passed and I used the time to reassess how I had spent my day and to make a mental "To Do" list for the next day. When that was done, I began to pray, thanking God for kids and closets and the unexpected solitude I’d found.
More time passed. I couldn’t imagine why my kids hadn’t found me yet. Then I heard my husband’s voice. "Honey, are you up here?" he asked. I whispered back, "Are the kids still looking for me?" My husband followed the sound of my voice to my son’s room and entered just as I slid the closet door open a crack. When he saw me, he doubled over with laughter. "What’s so funny?" I asked, feeling a foolish staring at him from the depths of the closet. He was laughing so hard he couldn’t answer. Finally, when the laughter subsided, he confided that the kids had stopped looking for me long ago and were now involved in a game of "Farm Families" in our bedroom.
As I climbed out of my hiding spot, I realized that I had just experienced solitude in the truest sense. The dictionary defines it as "the state of being alone or remote from others; isolation." In the closet, I was truly isolated. The moments alone gave me the opportunity to be a human "being" rather than a human "doing," as I usually am. Instead of furiously working, I was "busy" sitting still.
My minutes in the closet helped me discover what solitude is all about. It’s really about the beauty of silence and how it touches our soul. It is in our quiet times that we are most able to concentrate on what’s important, and in so doing, we are able to simplify life, regain our focus, and gather the energy necessary to continue along life’s path. Now, when I’m alone, I try to practice the art of simply existing for at least five minutes. It’s difficult. But spending time doing nothing often produces great results: ideas flow, thanksgiving wells up in my soul, peace settles in, energy is restored. And more than anything, I reconnect with the deep sense of purpose that encouraged me to become a mother in the first place.
I used to feel guilty and selfish when I set aside time for myself, but the more I mother, the more I realize that one of a mother’s greatest needs is time to rest and refuel in order to be able to keep on giving of herself. When I’m depleted, it’s difficult to find the means to assist and respond to my children and their varied needs. But when I’m well-rested and rejuvenated, I find it much easier to embrace the Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
More importantly, I find it easier to pass these same fruits along to my children.
Adapted from The Mother Load: How to Meet Your Own Needs While Caring for your Family by Mary M. Byers; copyright 2004 by the author. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR; Used by permission.