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Parents, Kids and Time Alone

By Dr. Margaret Paul
December 31, 2006

What are some of the ways in which you explain to kids that mom and dad need time alone, without feeling guilty about it? This article answers this question and describes the importance of time alone.

"What are some of the ways in which you explain to kids that mom and dad need time alone, without feeling guilty about it?"

A journalist, writing an article on having time alone and couple time when you have kids, asked me this question.

Parents will feel guilty only when they believe that they are doing something wrong by spending time alone and couple time without their children.

This is a false belief.

The truth is that children grow up far healthier emotionally when their parents are happy and fulfilled, even if it means that their parents spend less time with them. When parents understand that they are being good parents by talking loving care of themselves and their relationship, their children will understand this.

One way of helping children understand this is to introduce the concept of "time alone" very early in a child's life. By the time a child is three, he or she can easily understand the concept of time alone. If, each time you spend time alone with your child, you say, "This is our time alone together," your child will begin to understand the concept. When you have time to yourself, you can say, "This is my time alone with myself." When you spend time with your partner, you can say, "This is Mom and Dad's time alone together." Parents can tell their children, as soon as they are capable of understanding the words, "We need time alone with you, with each other, and with ourselves. All of us need to respect this about each other."  

Our three children fully understood the concept of "time alone" because we spent time alone with each them. They came to understand and respect at a very young age the need for time alone.

If you put yourself aside and don't spend time with yourself and with your partner, you are giving your children unhealthy role modeling. You are teaching them that others are always responsible for meeting their needs. You are teaching them to feel entitled to your time and attention rather than helping them learn to respect others' time. You are teaching them that it is okay to demand that others put themselves aside for them, which may create narcissistic behavior.

Healthy parenting means finding a balance between being with your children, being with your partner, and being with yourself. For your children to grow up taking responsibility for their own needs and feelings, they need to see you taking responsibility for your needs and feelings. Constantly sacrificing yourself for your children does not role model personal responsibility.

Children need to experience you and your spouse enjoying your time with each other, as well as with yourselves. They need to see you pursuing your work, hobbies, creativity and passions in order to understand that they also need to find their passions. If you are always there to meet your children's needs, how can they discover who they are and what brings them joy? Always being there to meet your children's needs for entertainment creates a dependency on others rather than finding these resources within themselves.

Many people grow up not knowing how to be alone with themselves. Because they were either always in front of a TV or being entertained by their parents, they never discovered how to "play by themselves."

Of course it is very important to have enough time alone with your children. But it is equally important to have enough time alone with your spouse and with yourself. When you understand this, you will stop feeling guilty about taking your time alone. When you no longer feel guilty, your children will learn to stop guilting you and respect your needs.


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