The Importance of Solitude

I'm a stressed-out stay at home mom of 3 kids (ages 9, 6 and 3) and feel exhausted. My patience is shorter than ever and I need some advice on how to recharge and be a better mom, which to me means being more patient, more willing to answer question after question, and finding more effective ways to deal with many parenting issues that come up each day.

On the day I received this email, I had gotten up early to enjoy several uninterrupted hours in the mountains, and was stunned at how much better I felt, even though I was already feeling pretty good before I went.

So ... for this mom, I have one word of advice. Actually, three words:

Solitude is critical.

Raising kids is sort of like being devoured by small piranhas. They'll eat you alive one little bite at a time with their constant questions and requests and need for attention. And it's not their job to notice that we need a break and give it to us! We need to take responsibility for realizing that we are burning out, and take care of ourselves by retreating into solitude.

We don't have to go to a spa or get a massage or do anything exotic with that time. It's unbelievably refreshing just to be quiet; to finish a thought without interruption, to move at our natural pace, to let our minds and bodies settle into stillness, and to have no agenda except honoring our own impulses.

It doesn't even take that much time to recharge. A couple hours is usually enough for me. But those hours have to be absolutely mine -- no cell phone, no visits with friends, no paying bills or running errands, no accomplishing anything or being productive. All else being equal, I like to get out of my house and into nature, preferably near some running water.

The details don't really matter. What's important is that we all need time alone. Parents of young children need it even more than the rest of us, but often have a harder time finding it. No parenting advice or technique will be helpful if you are too burned out to apply it. To instantly and organically improve your parenting, calm your mind and settle your soul by taking some time for yourself.

My 13 year old girl sent a provocative picture of herself to a 15 yr old boy! 13 year old girl sent a provocative picture of herself to a 15 yr old boy! I don't know what to do!!! I feel like I am all over the place when I try to discipline her... and when I try to talk to her. What are appropriate consequences for this stuff?!?!

The email was quite a bit longer than this and contained much more information. I think you can understand my response without all the details, though:

A: First, let's examine the things that went right.

She TOLD you. Yes, you had her phone in hand and were going to find out anyway, but nonetheless, it speaks highly of your relationship and her trust in you that she did not just wait for you to find out when she wasn't there to face the music, and she also did not gamble that you wouldn't see it. This is a big deal, and worth celebrating. It demonstrates good character that she came clean. She did not have to say it to your face but she did. You can be proud of the fact that she trusted you with a very vulnerable situation.

asking nicely

In response to my post "Ask, Don't Tell" a parent wrote:

I often ask my children nicely if they will do some task, and they answer just as nicely, "No thanks."

"How about you help me set the table for dinner?"
"No thanks, I'm playing.".
"Well - I really could use the help."
"I don't really want to right now."

What would you do about that?

A few options come to mind to experiment with:

I might say, "Hmm, you don't want to do it, and I'm too busy cooking to do it. That's a dilemma! What can we do?" and then wait to see what happens.

I might ask them if they think they could do it in 5 minutes.

I might change my question to, "When can you help me set the table for dinner?" or "Let me know when you are at a good stopping place and we can set the table together."

Knowing this is a pattern, I might try giving them more advance notice to let them bring their current activity to a close. "Honey, I'll be asking for your help setting the table in about 15 minutes."

I might bring it up during a warm and connected time together, and ask "Hey, you know that setting the table thing? I would really love to have your help, and I wonder if we could figure out a better way for that to happen."

I might try responding, "Okay, no problem. As soon as the table is set I'll serve up dinner."

I might just grab a plate for myself and fill it with food and enjoy it, and let everyone else do the same.

I might go ahead and set the table myself, which might then delay dinner or impact my post-meal enthusiasm for kid-friendly activities because I need time to recover from all the extra work.

I might set it myself and not say anything at all.

I might walk over to where they are, touch them or make eye contact, and say, "Honey, will you please help me by setting the table for dinner?" Sometimes it takes close proximity and/or contact for your request to penetrate their awareness enough to divert their attention and momentum.

To capture their attention in a light-hearted way, I might pretend to have a tantrum and lay on the floor kicking and screaming, or I might laugh and make a joke of it by chanting please-please-c'mon-pretty-please-I'm-begging-you-on-my-knees.

If I was cranky, I might take my voice up a notch or two in volume and intensity and ask again, to see if I could capture their attention that way.

I might say nothing and do nothing -- just sit at the empty table and wait.

So there are lots of ways to respond to this without resorting to orders, demands, or shame. When we are mentally caught up in thinking about how wrong our children are for not helping us, or how we must not be good parents or they would jump eagerly to please us, it's harder to think of creative ways to get the table set.

To generate even more options, ask yourself what you might do if you politely asked a co-worker for assistance, and she declined to lend a hand.

I hope this helps.