toddler next to mother
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
June 29, 2020 ·  6 min read

How a Lack of Alone Time Affects the Mental Health of Moms

A 2018 study found that the average parent gets a mere 32 minutes of alone time every day [1]. If you are a parent, this lack of time to yourself can cause a high level of stress and can lead to not only mental and physical health problems, but it can negatively impact your ability to parent and eventually end up in burnout [2].

This is particularly true for mothers, who typically get less alone time than fathers on a daily and weekly basis [3]. Research over the last several years has shown that alone time is essential for mothers (and fathers) in order for them to recharge, and to ensure that they are the best parents they can be.

Why Mothers Need Alone Time

Licensed therapist Emma Bennett says that moms who don’t get sufficient amounts of alone time are more likely to suffer from parental burnout [4].

This type of burnout can have serious consequences for both the parents and the children and can make parents feel detached from their kids and uncertain of their parenting abilities. This can cause worse issues including increasing parental neglect, harm, and thoughts of escape [5].

“I consider [alone time] a necessity, not an indulgence,” says Bennett [4].

The consequences of a lack of alone time can also manifest themselves physically, and can cause headaches, backaches, sleep disturbance, weight gain, greater susceptibility to illness, heart problems, and overall poorer health [2].

Parents who fail to take care of their own needs, as mentioned, also tend to use poorer parenting practices, exhibit less patience, and experience less satisfaction and joy in their roles as parents. When this happens, they are more likely to turn to extreme measures to discipline their children, putting their children more at risk for child abuse [2].

Read: Dad Who Grew Up Without A Father Starts Basic Skills YouTube Channel

Mothers Need Support

Not only do mothers need more alone time, but they also need plenty of emotional and physical support from spouses, friends, and family members. When they are unable to manage the mental, physical, and emotional toll that motherhood places on them, they are more likely to experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADS) [4].

According to UNC School of Medicine’s Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, women who have inadequate support from family or friends are more likely to experience depression during or after pregnancy. Symptoms of peri or post-natal depression include:

  • Feeling sad, depressed, and/or crying a lot
  • Diminished interest in becoming a mother
  • Feeling worthless or guilty, especially about not being a good mother
  • Strong anxiety, tension, and/or fear either about your future child or other things
  • Sleep problems (not being able to sleep despite feeling very tired or sleeping more than usual but not feeling rested)
  • Thoughts of wanting to be dead or wanting to kill yourself
  • Having low energy
  • Loss of or increase in appetite or weight
  • Trouble focusing, remembering things, or making decisions
  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Having headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, numbness, or hyperventilation [6]

Psychotherapist Erica Djossa says that for mothers, alone time is less about being indulgent and more about a need for support- wanting alone time means they want a break. Without a good support system, however, it is difficult for mothers, who tend to shoulder a greater percentage of the parenting responsibilities, to find time for themselves.

Djossa says that mothers who don’t have these connections and supports may feel both isolated and burnt out at the same time, and the only remedy for this is ramping up their support system.

“They need help,” she says. “They are tired of being touched by tiny hands. They need a breather. But I think that this breather looks different for different moms.” [4]

Read: Dear Dads, Take More Pictures Of Mom And Her Kids

How to Get More Alone Time

Alone time could simply be watching a show by yourself that no one else wants to watch, taking a bath, or reading a book. Alone time is not just about being by yourself, but it’s about spending time doing something that nourishes you and helps you to recharge.

“The goal isn’t to have rigid rules or expectations, but to be able to identify what your needs are on any given day and make sure they get met,” Djossa says [4].

This, says Djossa, means that one day you may want to watch a show by yourself, but the next you may want to talk to your partner or a friend. She emphasises that whatever “alone time” looks like, you should always be prioritizing what you need in that moment [4].

Djossa and Bennett also recognize that for many mothers, particularly first-time moms, leaving their child with someone else can be nerve-racking and stressful in and of itself. For this reason, it is important for moms to establish caregivers they trust and set clear boundaries with them. Moms also, however, have to accept that other people won’t care for their child in the exact same way.

“Giving our children the opportunity to build other loving attachments to additional caregivers can be a good experience for children,” Bennett says. “It is OK to accept those feelings of nervousness and also try to work with them so you can have some separation.” [4]

Bennet suggests that worried mothers gradually take time out for themselves in tolerable increments. This could mean leaving your child alone with grandma for as little as five minutes in the beginning and increasing from there.

“If your anxiety is debilitating, seeing a therapist to support you may be helpful,” says Djossa [4].

If you are a mother who is trying to incorporate more alone time into your day, consider following these helpful steps:

  1. Prioritize and commit. If you want alone time, you have to take the lead and commit to doing it, no one else can do that for you.
  2. Gather support. This won’t happen alone, so make sure you get your spouse or co-parent on board, get your friends and family onboard, and get your kids on board, too. This means you have to ask for help from those who are close to you. When it comes to your kids when they are little be sure to use nap times as alone time for yourself. As they get older, talk to them about your need for alone time and help them to understand and respect that need [7].

You Deserve a Break

Although it can feel selfish or self-indulgent, taking a break from the demands of caring for a family will ultimately make you a better parent and partner. Whatever self-care looks like for you, whether that’s going for a coffee with a friend, reading a good book, or listening to your favourite album while you take a shower, alone time is crucial for mothers.

The next time you’re debating whether or not you should take some alone time, be kind to yourself and do it. Regular alone time will prevent burnout and make you a happier, healthier mom.

Keep Reading: Strong Mothers Raise Strong Daughters