My kids have a magical sixth sense that means they know exactly when I'm alone, what room I'm in, and how desperately I do not want to be found. And then they flock to me to tell me about the latest way each sibling has found to irritate the others, tell me they're hungry, or ask me what that chocolate wrapper is doing in my pocket and can they have some.
I know I'm not the only one. What is it about children that makes them not want us to be alone?
But fear not. I'm here to give you some easy tips on finding some alone time while your children are still in the house. What you want to do with this magical child-free time is entirely up to you. You might want to paint your nails, finally catch up on Orange is the New Black, or take a nice long bath. Or perhaps you'd like to just lie on your bed and stare at the ceiling, reminiscing about the last time you were bored and had nothing to do.
Of course, turning on the TV or shoving an iPad under their nose is the quick and easy option, but if we get creative, you can buy yourself some time alone while also enriching your child's life. Win-win, right?
1. Give up sleep
Okay, this one might not be so attractive if you're already sleep deprived, but if you really want some time alone, could you get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later? I used to be convinced I needed eight hours of sleep every night, but now I happily function on just over seven hours, and now I have more time in the morning to go for a run and sit on the deck sipping green tea before my children wake up. Heaven!
2. Play hide and seek
If you're either a very good hider or a terrible seeker, you can buy yourself grabs of 10 minutes at a time of peaceful solitude. Not massive chunks of time but when you're desperate, this can be an easy win.
3. Organise a treasure hunt
Treasure hunts are an absolute gift for everyone. You can mix up the children's existing toys with some treats to maximise excitement while minimising expense. And be sure to tell the children how many objects are hidden so that they don't stop and come looking for you before they're finished. If you're good at hiding things, it could take ages.
4. Make movies
Give the kids your phone and ask them to make a movie for you using their toys, or themselves, as actors. That means they'll need to plan the story together, and film the entire thing, which could take an hour or more. Obviously you'll need to be able to trust them with your phone, which means they'll need to be in that magic age window where they're old enough not to smash it and young enough not to ignore your instructions and just spend the day on some dodgy YouTube channel.
5. Put on your headphones
Sometimes just cutting the noise can be enough to give you that level of relaxation you need, so turn on some relaxing music or rainforest sounds and pop in those ear buds. You may still be able to see the children but you can't hear them, and sometimes that's enough to get you through the day.
6. Get scrapbooking
Give the kids everything they need to create their own personal scrapbook – print family photos, give them magazines, glue, (safe) scissors and stickers – and then let them go. It will be messy, no doubt about it, but at the end you'll have something fun you can keep and you will have had a good long dose of peace.
7. Pretend you need to go to the toilet
If my children had any medical training, they would be seriously worried about my kidneys. Whenever I need a few moments to myself, I will disappear into the bathroom. If I'm lucky they won't follow me in, but on days where five minutes alone is necessary for everyone's sanity, I will lock the door. Sometimes five minutes turns into 15 and by the time I come out they're generally happy playing together somewhere and have forgotten I exist.
8. Set up a tent in the back yard
My kids love 'camping' in the back yard. There is no actual roughing it required but they get to feel intrepid and play all sorts of new games that they don't think to play in the house. Give them some toys to take inside and, as long as the tent is out of direct sunlight, you might not see them until sunset.
9. Organise a play date
I know, I know, having just your own kids is trouble enough – why would you exacerbate the situation? But believe me, having more kids means they will keep out of your hair for hours. Injecting new blood into your home situation reinvigorates all the relationship dynamics and everyone seems to play with a fresh approach. Bonus: the parents of the kids you invited over will probably reciprocate and you'll have all twice the peace.
And if none of these options appeal to you, the fact is, telling your kids to leave you alone for an hour will not kill them. In fact, it can teach them to start being more independent and self-reliant. It's really very responsible parenting and we should all do more of it. Who's in?