So when I do find myself completely alone, I have one golden rule: not to do anything I could possibly do with a child. Things that are simply easier or more pleasant to do by my myself do not count- it has to be impossible.
What's more, I've learned that some things I was doing during my "alone time" were actually more pleasant and meaningful if I waited to have the right child with me.
That is the key- matching the task to the right child, at the right age.
Now, my "to do" list often has a specific child tagged to it, giving me more hours in my day to not only get things done, but find precious quality time with my kids.
I encourage you to make a list of everything you typically do when you hire a sitter or have the kids in preschool, and then see if any of those things could be done with your kids after all.
Here is my basic formula for how I "triage" my tasks according the company I'm keeping:
- One baby at home: Okay, you can seriously do almost anything with a person who can't interrupt, run away, or demand a change in scenery. Never hire a sitter for errands, taking a run, or meeting a friend to talk when you have a baby this age. Right now, they're content to just be with you, and face-to-face stimulation provided by a shopping cart is more valuable than any development class. Whenever I babysit my little neice, I grab my shopping list, and we have a blast.
- One toddler at home: Toddlers want to copy everything we do, and want us to keep talking to them. This is how they learn. So any chore you have where you can meet these conditions, it's better to be with them than without. If I slow down (never easy for me!) a tiny bit and set up a "parallel play" scenario where our toddler has her own broom, mixing bowl, "computer", or "list", I can have a buddy that will keep me company while I cook, vacuum, rake leaves, mail letters- you name it. I try never to fold laundry without my daughter, for there is nothing she loves more than folding towels. Go figure.
- Older child 4-7: Now that I have 3 kids, getting alone time with one of the older ones is rare and precious. I've actually found that the waiting room in a doctor's office has become one of my favorite places to bond and talk with one child at a time. More than one kid is a disaster, but doable in an emergency. One kid: a golden opportunity. My middle child, now 6, is my favorite waiting room buddy, and relishes getting my undivided attention.
- Older Older Child, 8+: My oldest son is just now getting to the point where it's fun to take him to the grocery store and Target again, by himself. Now that he's old enough to know the value of a dollar and I've taught him that he's not going to always get a special treat whenever he walks into a store, I've found that it's valuable to bring him shopping with me to be part of the decision-making process of a family budget. We get to talk, strategize, and work as a team. Good habits to learn for both of us!
So what is still on my list that can only be done by myself? I've narrowed it down to one thing:
And yes, I'm completely alone now.