Children can be overbearing. Family life can also be too much at times. This is the case for all parents. It’s not a matter of needing a time-out, but rather of figuring out how to factor in some personal time for relaxation and self-development. There are a lot of societal pressures against this, namely the conservative perception that time spent for oneself is time spent away from the kids, underplaying the fact that one needs to be balanced in order to be the best person they can be for themselves and their families. But it’s not only that. Personal time should also be equal between parents; a balance that is not easily achieved.
Being a solitary person, I have always been very protective of my personal time and space. I need some time alone to become a better person for me and my family. My alone time is dedicated to two primary activities: reading and exercising. Sometimes I combine the two by running or cycling while listening to audiobooks. My personal time is one of self-reflection and development. When I run, I focus on putting one leg after the other, when I cycle, I focus on turning the cranks one revolution at the time. The mental state where one is detached from the problems of everyday life is exceedingly difficult to achieve. I can only achieve it when my body is working harder than my brain. Otherwise, I enter into a spiral of bad thoughts that dominate my life.
Safeguarding and claiming this personal space is not an easy task, especially if one holds a demanding job that already requires substantial amounts of time and energy. Claiming my alone time comes at the expense of sleep, which – for me – is a price worth paying. This entails waking up at 4:30-5am to go for an early bike ride or for a run in order to be back home at a reasonable time in order to spend time with Sunshine and Johnny. And it’s not only a matter of responsibility. I don’t do that because I must spend time with them. I rather want to spend time with them. It gives me joy to have a mid-morning coffee with Sunshine or play with Johnny’s miniature cars or go with him to the park and “race” – him riding his bicycle and me running alongside him. Seeing him ecstatic for being ahead of me is a source of immense joy for both of us. I love it. I love him. I love them. But I still need some time away from them, and it took me a while to come to terms with this reality.
There’s an underlying aspect to all this, the big taboo: GUILT. Time spent away from the family – for me at least – is associated with a prevailing sense of guilt. And while I no longer feel guilty for time spent away from my son, I do feel guilty for time spent away from home, which means that while I’m away, Sunshine takes care of everything. I try to compensate but it’s not enough, especially as Sunshine does not have the same needs as me. Let me explain. While I need time alone and have little to no need for socialisation, Sunshine is quite the opposite; she enjoys being around and socialising with our close friends. I know it sounds silly, but my way of compensating, in addition to the obvious sharing of domestic responsibilities, which is not really compensation, is by organising and accompanying Sunshine in social gatherings. I realise how this sounds. I’m not saying that I make a “sacrifice” by hanging out with our friends, as it is something I obviously enjoy; rather that I am mindful of Sunshine’s needs, which sometimes are not aligned with my own need to wake up at dawn and ride my bike in solitude up some mountain. I’m not always successful but I do try my best.
If there’s anything I learnt over the years is that it’s ok to spend time away from the family if there’s a balance between the needs of everyone involved – in our case Sunshine and Johnny – bearing in mind that our needs vary. A parent who is always present is someone who suppresses their own needs, curtailing their ability to become the best person they can be for themselves and their families. I realise that many parents have no other option – single headed households or parents without any network of support (grandparents, neighbours or friends who can occasionally take care of the little ones). These people have my utmost respect and admiration. The rest of us who have this privilege should make good use of it, putting aside any societal pressures and considerations. If anything, the image of an independent, active parent, will serve as a role model for our children.
This is part of a series of entries titled Fatherhood Diaries where I record thoughts on life as a new dad. Click here for all the Fatherhood Diaries.