In late December, I published a micro post on my blog social pages where I described an argument I had with my daughter over leaving her mother alone so she could have some personal time. In it, I mentioned how my wife and I give each other three hours a week to ourselves, and I couldn’t believe the outpouring of responses and private messages I received, particularly from women who had gone through a divorce, or were in the process of going through a divorce, because they were never allowed to have time alone and realized how important it is. Here’s one comment from a mother that really hit home: “Men wonder why women don’t have time for them. It is because women don’t have time for themselves. You can’t pour from an empty vessel.”
Listen, friends: I’m going to make this clear right now, I don’t know if there is anything more important to the stability of a partnership than alone time, particularly when you have young kids. Children are wonderful, sure. They are sweet and funny and we all love the heck out of them. But they can also be suffocating, and exhausting, and humans need time to recharge. My wife and I discovered this pretty early, gratefully, and it’s been one of the cornerstones of our marriage.
This isn’t all that hard of an arrangement. Go up to your spouse, and say “I will watch the kids once a week so you can have some time to yourself, and I’d like you to do the same for me.” Then set a schedule.
What works best for us is the three-hour rule. Mel takes Thursdays after dinner. We usually eat at 5PM. I clean up, finish any chores around the house, and get the kids to bed around 8:30PM. Then I give our children a pretty stern warning that if they have any problems in the night, they need to come to me. She always gets at least three hours alone, but often times more than that because she’s a night person. I take Sunday afternoons, between about 1PM and 4PM. I’ll admit, it was easier pre COVID-19 because we could leave the house. But it’s still totally doable if you have a good lock on your bedroom door.
This is what works best for our marriage. We’ve done it for years. We’ve swapped nights and afternoons, and sometimes we’ve moved things around if there is something going on that one of us would like to attend. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: once the deal is made, stick to it. Don’t give up the time. Be territorial about it. Own it, because you deserve it. And fight for your spouse to take it, because this is about an equal partnership, and you can’t take time for yourself if you are not going to make sure your partner takes their time.
And guys, this goes out to you. Chances are, the kids are going to fight to see mom, and it is your job to engage with them so they will leave her alone. This is no easy task. I set up the boundaries pretty clearly with my kids, almost like a mantra of “it’s mom night, so you better leave her alone, or else.” Do what you have to. Take them for a drive, or a hike, or put on a movie. To be honest, I kind of enjoy Mel’s night off because it gives me time to just be with the kids. And I can say, with time, they will begin to understand that mom deserves free time, same as anyone else. Plus, you can’t expect your wife to give you free time once a week, when you aren’t willing to give her adequate top cover. And my goodness, for the people in the back, no asking for “favors” in return. No expecting something special. No knocking on the door, or phone calls, or text messages asking questions. You can handle this. No letting out loud grunts, or acting all flustered when your spouse returns, because that just makes everyone feel guilty. And keep up the duties of the house in your partner’s absence. Nothing ruins the buzz of some time alone like returning to a bunch of work that didn’t get done because you took time off.
But the most important rule of all is to discuss all of this as a couple, and come up with ground rules and expectations, to find out what works best for your partnership. And then give each other one of the most important things any partner can give another: time to themselves. It really is the best gift you can give, and I don’t know if anything can make someone feel more appreciated when raising kids than time to recharge and reset with no expectations attached.
As we are in the deep weeds of a pandemic, after months of staying home, and having our kids home all the time, getting time to yourself might just be the most refreshing drink of water imaginable. We all need it, without a doubt — so now, right this very moment, is the time to make it happen.
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