Updated: Aug 31
I think it is safe to say most moms with young children do not get nearly enough personal space. This is even more true during the pandemic. If you live in an area of the country where schools are closed, like in California, your kids have likely been home 24/7 for almost a year! I couldn't even begin to calculate how many hours a child has been glued to me. As I am writing this, my one year old is on my lap taking my glasses on and off.
Finding a babysitter is so much harder now and the usual parental escapes from the house are closed. (Not that dates are impossible, you just have to think outside the box.)
I read a few articles about the psychology of personal space and the science behind why humans need it. I was going to link them here, but really, do you need any convincing? I KNOW I need personal space to maintain some level of sanity, just a few minutes here and there, where no one is touching me.
What moms need to do is not only recognize that we need some physical space to ourselves, but actually figure out how to get it.
I'm sure you've seen viral photos of mom's breastfeeding on the toilet or trying to eat dinner with a kid on their lap. These photos are usually accompanied with an article about why its impossible for a mom to even go to the bathroom alone.
I'm here to say, do something about it! Mom's needs are usually last on the long list of things to do. This is one small thing that you can prioritize that can yield big positive affects on your mood/mental health. Which in turn, helps the whole family.
Every household is different, and every kid's needs are different. If you have a newborn, or if you are the only adult in the house I recognize its more difficult, but not entirely impossible.
Here are some ideas for gaining basic personal space when you can't leave the house, maybe some can work for you.
Have your own bathroom, or at least use the bathroom alone: Now, this one is going to seem crazy to some because they can't imagine this ever happening. Ever since my oldest son was old enough to potty train he has had his own bathroom. My husband and I have our own. He never questioned using only his bathroom and when D2 potty trained, he joined the now "kids" bathroom. They just use that and it doesn't bother them at all. I have never taken them with me to my bathroom and its never been an issue. It is my (and my husband's) personal space. There are plenty of other practical benefits like I don't find my kids using my lipstick like a paint stick after washing their hands at the sink. I also don't have to pick up 20 bath toys to take a bath. If you can't create your own space and practicality requires you to share a bathroom, you can still try to teach your little ones about privacy. Ok, I know what you're going to say next, "a kid screaming on the otherside of the door is not any better than having them in there." Personally, I only have one screamer - the one year old. The other two kids 4 and 6 know not to run in the bathroom unless there is an emergency or someone is at the door. (See Watch Daniel Tiger below.) For D3, my screamer, I always set him up in a room that has a baby gate. We have 2 baby safe, gated rooms. I turn on a show and/or make sure he has toys. If he cries, he cries in a safe place for 5 minutes. I'm ok with that, especially since his older brothers are almost always with him. (Of course there are times when you just have to go and the baby just can't be left alone, but hopefully these occassions are few and far between.)
Wake up 10-15 minutes early or go to bed 10-15 minutes later. So we all know the practical reasons to get up early. But, experiencing a quiet house to yourself before the chaos starts is also a nice way to start your day. Even if it's only 10 minutes. If you just need those extra minutes of sleep in the morning then by all means do that. (I myself am not a morning person.) I try to spend 10 minutes by myself before bed without a screen. Some ways to make the most of your 10 minutes are reading a book, meditation, mindfulness, visualization, listening to calming music, or writing. OR, try this. Eat a healthy dessert!
Adequate space to sleep: Co-sleeping has many benefits for the family and a lot of moms find it easier to have all the kids in the room with them. If it works for you, great! However, when my third was born, I found myself sleeping in the recliner because even in our King size bed there was no space. We slowly eased out the older two kids into their own beds and now they enjoy sleeping in their own (but shared) room. Luckily, it worked very smoothly for us and having space to sleep greatly improved my mental health.
Get Outside: I never had a name for it before until I recently saw an article someone linked on Facebook about mom's experiencing sensory overload. This is basically when there is craziness all around you, bombarding all your senses. The TV is on loud, 2 kids are wrestling around in front of you, 1 is on your lap crying because he got bumped into, you can smell he has dirty diaper and you are starting to feel hot from everyone moving around in a small space. Head outside. The kids will have more space to move around, you can feel a breeze and maybe smell some flowers. (I plan to do an entire post on sensory overload and will link lots of studies.)
Watch Daniel Tiger: First off, if you aren't watching Daniel Tiger, you are missing out on some great toddler and preschool lessons. There is an episode of Daniel Tiger called, "I want to be alone." My kids have used what they learned in this episode plenty of times, particularly D1. They know they can say, I need space and whoever is in their personal bubble needs to move out. And, especially since they understand they need it, they have been particularly receptive if I say, I need to go to the bathroom for a few minutes, please stay in here. Now that doesn't mean if I take more than 5-10 minutes or if I'm taking time outs frequently they are going to be patient. I too hear the constant, "Mommy can you cut me an apple... Mom can you turn on a different show...Mom I can't find my nintendo switch charger."
Talk to your partner: Your partner might be great at watching the kids while you go for a spa day or brunch with your girlfriends. But, if you aren't leaving the house for work or play right now you really need to explain to your partner that you need time to yourself. Your significant other may be helping ALOT and still doesn't realize you are never alone. You don't even have a drive to work to be alone and listen to music. Explain the importance of setting aside maybe one hour a week where they can completely take care of all the kids needs. Where even if your partner is doing the majority of work at that time, you still don't have to change a diaper or distribute goldfish. The entire hour you can be in your own space. Sleep, clean something you've really been wanting to get to or maybe do yoga. Imagine the possibilities! (Work or cleaning only counts if its cathartic for you.)