Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Necessity of Time Out

In one of the groups I'm in, something that's been hotly debated is the effectiveness of "time out". Does it really correct behavior? Is it damaging? Does "removal" work? Should we do a "time in" instead?

As is typical for me with most controversial parenting topics, I'm pretty neutral. Until you have parented every child in the world, you can't say that what works for one family works for another.

But sometimes time out is totally necessary....for me.

Last night was one of those times.

Adam has been working like crazy lately, trying to handle all the business stuff that keeps our family afloat. We've seen first hand what it is not to have a bread winner, we've seen what happens when you are employed, but the small company you have ownership in is struggling and there isn't much bread to be won. So Adam works hard to make sure that doesn't happen, and we all appreciate it.

Adam has also been golfing like crazy lately. In the fall he starts to envision a long, cold winter of hibernation, and he starts playing as much as possible, like he's storing up all his leisure time he know he won't get when the greens are covered in snow. I get this.

Yesterday he crammed a full day's worth of work into the morning, because he'd won a foursome at a fancy pants golf course that had already been rescheduled three times due to weather, and he was determined to play it. This means he got up early, closed himself in the office all morning, and even had a call scheduled for right after bedtime.

The girls don't have any Tuesday activities right now, so that's when I scheduled my once a week sitter. But we rescheduled this week because she had some appointments. So I had a full day with the girls, with nothing "official" to break up our day.

Adam came home a little after 6:00, right when I was expecting him, and dinner was ready to go on the table. As we all sat down, I confirmed that his call was at 7:30. Then I told him that after I finished my dinner, I was clocking out until 7:00. I was in a time out. I was not to be talked to. I was not to be disturbed. I was in a time out.

Adam agreed, because, you know, he gets me. But he spent the rest of dinner trying to ferret out from the girls what had gone so wrong that day. The toys were (mostly) picked up. The girls were (mostly) put together and pleasant. The kitchen wasn't (totally) a mess. They didn't have a reason for him. They had plenty of other stories for him, but no glaring misbehavior.

I couldn't put a finger on it either. The fact is, when I do the laundry list of the day, with all the minor annoyances, there isn't anything that should cause me to want or need a time out. The girls were fine - needy, volatile, occasionally disobedient, but typical two and four year olds - and I shouldn't have really had a reason for a time out.

But I needed one.

So I swallowed the last of my potato, put my plate in the dishwasher, and went upstairs at 6:30. I reminded Adam that I was not to be disturbed. If he had questions, he could figure them out himself.

And I went upstairs and stared into space for fifteen minutes.

By myself.

In time out.

I didn't clean. I didn't check Facebook. I didn't fold laundry. I didn't watch TV. I just went into that meditative zone and did nothing. 

Adam tried to call up the stairs once, I think to inquire about the dishwasher (which, admittedly, was half unloaded, but clean, which is a weird state) and I called back that I was still in time out. I would help when it was over.

After my space staring had been interrupted, I spent the remaining fifteen minutes hiding in Madison's room, watching Netflix on my phone (my room had laundry on the bed, and I was in a time out. Which includes laundry. Duh).

I went back downstairs at 7:00 to find the girls finishing up their dessert, with the remaining toy and kitchen cleaning complete. I brought them upstairs and Adam and I tag teamed the bedtime routine until his call at 7:30.

After my time out I was calm. I was pleasant. I was patient.

I dealt with Madison's new inability to raise her arms to brush her teeth. I negotiated with Reagan over the stack of books she now likes read to her every night. I snuggled with both girls, kissed them goodnight, and went back to the laundry.

I've written about needing "Mommy Time" before, but I usually focus on getting out of the house, pampering yourself, making sure I don't lose the "Meredith" person that is often overwhelmed by the "Mommy" of it all. But sometimes I don't need a big block of time to recenter. I just need a time out. A little bit of solitude (one minute per year of age, so I was actually a little short, but I'll take it) to quiet my mind, stop focusing on who is poking me or looking at me or bothering me or taking my toys. A break so that I don't have a meltdown over seemingly nothing. So I can get back to my regularly scheduled programming with new energy - the energy that comes with doing absolutely nothing for a while.

I posted this on my Facebook page and, of course, had the people commenting that I was so lucky that I could do this. And I know. I am. I had people commenting that I didn't give myself enough of a time out. I get that...but this isn't about those long breaks. Those are great, but they aren't something I can do daily. And sure, I take time for myself after bedtime every night. I've even stooped to what the great Baby Sideburns refers to in her book, and locked myself in the bathroom with FIBS*.

But sometimes it's necessary to just remove yourself from an active house to prove that the world keeps spinning without you. That there are other ways to deal with questions without bugging Mom. That you can know that I'm in the house and still let me be still.That you can know I'm here but just let me be alone.

And when it's time to come out, there will be hugs and kisses and snuggles and messy family life again. No harm done.

Time out works.

*Fake Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Duh.

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