Janet Hicks Ph.D.

Raising Parents

Help! I Need "Me Time"

Understanding limitations and advantages of child-free time.

Posted Nov 03, 2018

Recently I was talking to a mother of three young children who said she wants to spend a few hours away from her kids. She was obviously feeling guilty for even discussing these thoughts and it was clear she loves her children. Is it normal to need time without our children? How much time away is acceptable?

Before I answer this question, let me be clear, we are not talking about leaving children unattended or without adult supervision. This would never be okay. We are also not talking about leaving children for extended periods without parent contact or communication.  Too much time away from children can be detrimental to an otherwise healthy parent/child relationship. By "extended time",  I am also not referring to those who work and leave their children with caregivers during the day and come home and spend time with their children at the end of the workday.  By “extended periods” I mean leaving your child for weeks on end without communication or connection. Obviously, this would not help family relationships or communication in an otherwise healthy family.

So, what am I talking about? For this post, time away refers to spending several hours doing things you enjoy while your children stay with their grandparents or another trusted caregiver in a safe environment. Is this type of time away helpful or harmful to children and families?   

Let me start by saying that children benefit when their parents are happy and mentally healthy. A parent’s frustration and anger are felt by children and can negatively impact the child, parent, and family well-being. For this reason, I recommend that parents take time for their own wellness and this often means leaving children with another caregiver while they hang out with friends, go to movies, participate in sports, art activities, or whatever healthy activities they desire.

If children like their temporary caregiver, the time spent in their company can also be good for children’s well-being. Consider children who get to spend time with a beloved grandparent, aunt, uncle, or build connections with another warm caring adult.  These caregivers have the opportunity to share what a couple of researchers named Lew and Bettner (1995) referred to as the “Crucial C’s” (i.e. helping children feel Connected, have Courage, know they Count to others, and that they are Capable). These Crucial C’s have the potential to enhance the social and emotional well-being of all children.

So how much time away is too much? The important thing here is making sure your child knows you love them and that they are very important to you. Unfortunately, I have seen what I would refer to as absent parents who are absent even while sitting in the same room as their child. These parents are continually distracted by other influences (i.e. the Internet, working, gaming, etc.) and communication and caring suffers. I don’t recommend this type of negative  “away time” whether in the child’s physical presence or out of their sight if it impedes your relationship, connection, and communication. If you have built a caring relationship with your child and you leave them in good, caring hands, however; a few hours away can be helpful to you both.

References

Lew, A., & Bettner, B. (1995). The crucial C’s and Rudolph Dreikurs short range goals of misbehavior.