Working mother tucks moments of 'alone time' into her day

I didn't anticipate any particular problems in going from a part-time to a full-time job, once our three children were old enough to care for themselves after school and during vacations. On the whole, I was right.

Of course, it required even more cooperation. We soon worked out a rotation system: Only one child can have a playmate over at any one time - with the understanding that the playmate's parents are aware there is no adult at home. We also agreed the children have to get some basic chores done before I get home , not after.

Still, some of the differences in my life and theirs caught me by surprise. The pace of my days was heightened. I missed those moments alone to sit and read , write in my daily notebook, make lists, or think through a particular need. I began to feel very scattered.

I tried getting up an hour earlier to have alone time, but there was always at least one member of the family who would hear me stirring and get up with me. I remember a friend who tried this and said, ''At the point I was getting up at 4 a.m. to avoid the crowd, I realized it was hopeless.''

My best alone time, I find, is in the car going to and from work. I am also finding ways to use my lunch time for quiet contemplation instead of running errands for the family. And I am trying to use my days off to give myself more time alone by doing the supermarket shopping and other chores on workday evenings.

Another surprise: I found myself missing time alone with each of the children. I haven't worked this out entirely. It can't be programmed. I just keep on the lookout for opportunities to draw each child aside now and then. For instance, when Zach, 9, went for a weekend with his cousin who lives two hours away, instead of all of us going along on the trip, I took him alone and his father picked him up alone. That gave Zach two hours with me and two hours with his father.

The children, too, need alone time away from each other. When Josh, 13, spent a long day at an amusement park with a neighboring family, he came home more cheerful than we had seen him for many days. It was a reminder that he takes his responsibilities for the care of the younger children very seriously and needs some relief now and then, even as parents do.

The eldest child also needs the strong support of parents in enforcing house rules. It is very frightening when younger children do not obey. Without backup from parents, the eldest may become a tyrant or lose self-confidence in his or her relationships with others.

For this reason, we eventually posted our few ''basic'' rules on the refrigerator, so there could be no mistaking the fact that Josh was asking the younger children to carry out our rules, not his.

Just as the children must be allowed to maintain their contacts with playmates, so the adults must keep up their friendships, too. I treasure the few moments when my neighbor, who also works full-time, can come over for a chat while her children play with mine. We agree these moments are more important than any chores we could be doing.

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