I am an introvert in a house brimming with extroverts; five to one they have me beat. I have taken to retreating to a hot bath or shower at the end of the day to recharge, two kids usually trailing after me, intent on asking me all their questions or ‘having alone time with me.’
On one such occasion, one particularly precocious child asked me seriously why I had so many children if I wanted to have alone time. I stood there washing my hair and considered her question. “Having alone time isn’t a reflection on you,” I responded. “It’s just what I need sometimes.” She turned and left the bathroom muttering “Well, when I have kids, I’ll spend all my time with them and never want alone time.”
I laughed to myself as she closed the door, but still her words stung.
I remember a time when I would have given my right arm for living children. Thirteen years ago, my house was so quiet and empty. My first three pregnancies ended with devastation and empty arms. Our firstborn son was stillborn during my last month of pregnancy, just weeks before my due date. And my next two pregnancies were precious babies lost in the first trimester.
My heart aches as I recall the sorrow and quiet of that time. My husband and I grieved our much too quiet and empty home. And I vowed never to take for granted our future children, should we ever have them.
Now, our three bedroom house is now full of children. Four of them to be precise, vastly outnumbering my husband and me. Their shouts and busyness wake me up in the morning and I am lulled to sleep by the snores of our youngest, still sharing our room.
My desire for alone time sometimes sneaks up on me, startling me with its neediness. One afternoon, as I was cooking dinner with the usual chaos of 5pm filling all the space in my small kitchen, I caught a glimpse of my neighbors. They were gardening; slowly walking through their yard pulling weeds and stopping to smell the newly blossomed flowers. In an instant, I felt intensely jealous. Knowing their children were grown and out of the house, I suddenly wished I had an empty nest and no one tugging at my shirt yelling for chips before dinner. “Must be nice,” I muttered bitterly.
As quickly as the thoughts came, guilt and shame showed up too. I knew empty nesters missed their children and felt their houses were too quiet and lonely. But instead of shaming myself further, I recognized the desire behind the thoughts. I didn’t want an empty nest. I simply wanted some time to myself.
I think back to my daughter’s quick assertion that she would never need alone time. I too believed that once my empty arms were full that I would never wish for quiet or space by myself. But I do and that’s ok. It has nothing to do with my children and isn’t a reflection of how much I love them. Guilt and shame tend to show up when I remember how I would have given my right arm for living children. And now, as I slip quietly down the hallway hoping for a solo bathroom trip, I remind myself two things I learned from Dr. Becky Kennedy* are true: I love my children fiercely and deeply. And sometimes I need moments to myself, away from them.