It was about 6:45 a.m.
The sky from my bathroom window began to show pink and orange layers as if to roll out a welcome mat to the impending sun.
The silence was absolute and calming.
Until it wasn't.
A few thudding footsteps shook the floor. All I could think about was the scene from Jurassic Park when the water glass started to ripple and shake.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
“Dad???!!! I’m awake! Are you in there???!!!”
Mental poetry: over.
Allow me to hedge the rest of this column with the following disclaimer: I love my kids with my entire being, and spending time with them is my greatest joy.
With that in mind, it’s honesty time.
One of the biggest misconceptions I had before I was a parent was that I would never want another moment alone once my boys arrived. Why would I ever want to be apart for more than a second or two when they were here?
It held true when they were very young babies. A 4 a.m. wake-up call to walk around the house rocking you back to sleep? Sure. The first eight times tonight were cool for me, too.
But eventually, the clingy phases began.
My kids have drifted in and out of several bouts of high anxiety when not directly tethered to my wife and me. The thought of temporary separation—even to walk to the kitchen to get some chocolate milk they begged me for seconds ago—sometimes causes mini panic attacks when I am not in clear view the entire time.
The optimist in me is reminded how much I am needed and wanted and loved. On the other hand, it can be hard to complete a full thought in my head without being dragged by the sleeve into the playroom.
One or two times a day does not call for hiding out like a thief. It’s usually around the 43rd or 44th cry of despair, I find myself wondering if I can run to the closet and claim “sanctuary” for a while.
It seems obvious, but needs to be said out loud (or in your favorite parenting publication, of course): Parents need breaks. Often. Daily, if possible. I can imagine, for single parents, this is truer.
Let’s get one thing on the record that I am SURE all parents with kids at least two years or older do, but would never willingly admit…
I hide in the bathroom sometimes.
There, I said it.
I seek asylum for 5-10 minutes at a time in perhaps the only place in the house where privacy is mandatory. Even then, it doesn’t fully guarantee quiet time to regroup. Once that bathroom door closes, forget that Dos Equis guy; I am the Most Interesting Man in the World.
Go ahead and admit it: you hide, too. Maybe your “refuge” isn’t a bathroom, but the basement or the backyard.
Say it out loud.
I’m proud of you.
So, what’s the solution? Maybe we toss the kiddos the keys, wish them good luck and return in a couple hours? (Hint: No!!)
Whether it’s stubbornness, a feeling of shame or guilt, or maybe our own code of ethics, asking for help for time to relax can be tough.
Trust me. All of these feelings apply to me sometimes.
Call your relatives. Call your friends. Call those you trust with the most intimate details of your life. Ask for a couple hours of having them watch your kids.
Another thing that works for my wife and I is tagging. In other words, maybe after dinner, she will tag-in and watch the kids for 10 minutes while I go collapse onto the bed. Once that is done, I tag-in and she takes 10 minutes to do the same.
A few rules for tagging time…
• No chores
• No career-based work
• No quick errands
• Deep breaths
It’s not about avoiding your kids when they express a need. I feel strongly these breaks actually make you a better parent. Sometimes you just need to refocus your weary head to give them the parent who actually can channel the energy to help finish building that pillow fort.
Self-care is crucial, but near impossible if there is zero time for you to practice it. Asking for help can win you some of this time.
In the end, a short or extended break can help reduce the stress of clinginess and give you quality time over quantity of time. Tagging works for us. Maybe tagging or something similar can for you. Win back those 6:45 a.m. sunrises.
To my wife: sorry, my bladder is just fine. My head just needed a break.
And if you need me to tag-in, you know in what room to find me.
Josh Farnsworth is a husband, father of goofballs Cooper and Milo, goofball himself, and award-winning writer and columnist living in Worcester. He can be reached for column ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.