It was ten o’clock in the evening and the last child had finally made her meandering way up to bed. My husband left the room for a moment. I looked around, blinking, and realized that this was my first time alone all day long. There was a little catch in my throat and I felt a sting round the rims of my eyes. I desperately needed more silence in my life, more alone time.
I arrived at this point last winter when I realized that my every waking moment was dedicated to the service of my family. Between making the meals, cleaning up after them, educating the children, being a listening ear, and spending time with my husband when he came home from work, I was parcelling myself out and finding nothing left for me.
I’m willing to bet that many parents can relate. That’s only sustainable for so long. Then you find yourself (like me) damp and sniveling on the sofa when your bewildered husband comes back into the room, beer in hand, ready to watch House re-runs.
How often do any of us experience relative silence? It’s not something readily available in our society and is especially rare for parents. We get in the car and on goes the "Wheels on the Bus" for the umpteenth nauseating time. We are making dinner, and in the ear buds streams a homeschooling podcast or our favorite music. Or, more likely, I’ve misplaced my ear buds again and instead I’m making dinner to the sound of children looking for snacks or exchanging hangry words.
At the various Yoga and meditation days I teach, time and again parents have said to me, “I just need some quiet: some space for me.” I sympathize. As soon as my children are occupied in front of the TV, I look up and see the rain falling outside. Racing into the garden I pull down the laundry I pegged out earlier. On the way through the kitchen I stop and stir the onions frying for tonight’s curry. After separating the laundry into five baskets (one per family member), I get out the vacuum and start running it around the living room. “Muu-uuum! Why do you always have to vacuum when we’re watching TV?” they scream over the din. “Because when else can I?” I ask, my shrill voice sounding more desperate than I’d realized it would.
Yes, life with a young family is busy. The Kitchen Fairy refuses to turn up for duty, so those tasks fall to me. The Laundry Fairy is on strike, so it’s me again. In the midst of the whirlwind I, too, long for a quiet space.
So the five minutes it took my husband do go fetch a beer was a nice little bit of quiet. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to steep in silence. Steeping involves allowing a fine tea to brew with time, drawing out its best flavors and finest qualities. If you are a person who prays or meditates, you may already make time to dip yourself into that silence every day. Or maybe those practices have fallen by the wayside or you simply wonder how you could ever find time for silence.
It doesn’t have to be prayer or mediation. A walk outside, a hot bath or shower, a few quiet minutes under the duvet just before you fall asleep or as the sun rises: all of these are opportunities for the quiet that so many of us long for. Though the temptation is to play music or a podcast, even those pleasant noises can drown out the quiet murmurings of our own hearts. Sometimes we need to plug those ear buds into our own inner voices to help see us through this parenting life.
Back when I realized that my life was utterly devoid of silence, I recognized that much of my stress came down to this one big lack in my life. I gently disciplined myself to ask for what I needed: some time to practice Yoga and meditate in the morning, time to retreat to a coffee shop and write, or a short run or two each week when I could let my mind settle. It doesn’t take much time, but letting myself steep in that quiet every day has reminded me how to find my way back to my center, has helped me recognize that my needs are important too, and has made me seriously question whether House re-runs were a wise choice.