Friday, 4 May 2012

Quality time apart?

One of the major things that strikes people about allowing our children to learn at home seems to be the fact I will not get a 'break' from them. I've heard many people say "I can't wait for my so-and-so to go to school so I can have a bit of time to myself". Who can blame them? Parenting is an exhausting and all-consuming job, and one of the big debates I've had with myself has been over whether I will miss out on 'quality' time with Callum and Charlie because their older brother is about all the time. Even expressing this thought in writing is making me very uncomfortable, I just couldn't send Joseph to school for any other reason than because I strongly felt that this would be the best place for him to learn, and because I don't have that feeling in the slightest I cannot send him.

I've done a great deal of soul-searching over the last year or so, asking myself where all this is coming from and whether I am responding to a need or some unresolved issue in myself. I feel I can confidently say that this is not the case. I've also had to think seriously about the time commitment that will be required on my part and the fact that all three boys will be with me pretty much all day every day. Recently another parent we know approached Oliver and told him that there's no way I'll be able to put up with having Joseph around me all the time and that he'll be in school within 6 months! I'm not offended by this, I completely understand the need of parents to have time away from their children and this statement probably reflected a fair amount of projection on the part of the parent involved. Who knows maybe Joseph will be at school in 6 months, I'm planning to go with the flow and do what seems best for him so I wouldn't rule anything out. What I do know though is that if and when he does ever go to school it will be because that seems to be the best place for him, and not because I need a break from him at home.

People have often asked how I cope being at home with the boys all the time, and commented on how difficult it must be not to have the 'break' of paid work. As I have grown into my role as mother though, I have found that I don't find it a 'break' to spend significant periods of time away from my children. Of course I love a bit of time alone, as I write this I'm sat alone in a cafe on a sunny afternoon while Ollie is at home with the boys and it's positively blissful! There are also times when I would say I need time alone too; at the beginning of the year I had a lot on my mind, decisions to make, and needed time alone to think it all through. Never more than a few hours though. What I've learned about myself is that I feel more calm and peaceful at home with the children the more time I spend with them, and I think there are two main reasons for this:

The more time I spend with the boys, the more 'in tune' I feel with them and the better I feel able to respond to their needs.....and the better I am at responding to them, the more peaceful our relationship is. Because I'm with them all the time I understand their flow throughout the day, I feel better able to read their cues and can often anticipate issues before they arise. I do a better job when I'm with them more, I'm not saying everyone does, but I do. If I've had a few hours away I find it really difficult to step back into the pace of home life, pick up on where everybody is and respond accordingly. It often takes a little while to readjust after all we have three small boys, our home life probably seems 'chaotic' to some, but not to me if I don't step outside of it!!

The other reason I feel more peaceful the more I am with them is the whole issue of rushing around. Unless I am leaving the boys at home with Oliver, leaving them takes a lot of organisation and planning. Recently I've been working 4 hours, two afternoons a week for a short period and this has caused far more upheaval than I expected; we all need to be ready (and I need to stay clean!), everybody needs a lunch made (although I often forget my own!), car seats need to be transferred between cars and the children need to be delivered to their Grandad. In reality I spend as long getting to work as I do working. Then there's getting home, transferring car seats again, packing up belongings and taking three tired children home for baths and bed. The tired end of the day is not the best for any of us, I'd be sad if this was all I saw of them during the week. Being with them all the time means that our time is not pressured, we can just be together. Our time feels of greater 'quality' the more of it we spend together, and the less we spend it rushing about trying to get somewhere else.

I know from speaking to plenty of other women that this is not how it is for everybody and some people really do feel that they benefit from time away from their children whether that is work, holidays or just time spent doing something else. No parent should feel guilty if this is the case for them because in my opinion the most important thing is that you feel able to give the best of yourself, and if you achieve this by spending time elsewhere then that's a great deal better than feeling frazzled at home! For me, getting out for a coffee with a friend or having a morning at home alone is usually enough of a break, anything more starts to get a bit stressful although I'm sure this will change as they get older and are less dependent on me. I've no doubt that the time will come when they will happily let me know when they need a break from me!! So where learning at home is concerned I'm not worried that I won't have a break while they are at school, our home will be messier for it but I do believe our family will be happier that way. In any case I love being with the boys, they are wonderful, interesting, thoughtful company and I learn a great deal from being with them. 'Me Time' is not something I get from being away from them for significant periods of the day or week, I am the best part of me when I'm with them, and I don't feel ashamed of that.