Do you ever feel like you spend every waking minute of the day with your kids? Do you wish you had more time to yourself without feeling the dreaded "guilt" that comes with everything we do as parents anyway? Maybe you want to do some work, or clean, or prepare a dinner, or maybe you just want to sit down for a little while without being interrupted (remember what that's like?)
Let me introduce you to the magic that is Golden Time...
What is Golden Time?
Golden Time is, quite simply, time for you and your child or children to spend apart. It's for you to have some time to yourself to do whatever you want and for your child or children to spend time with themselves. It is best introduced around the toddler/preschooler age after they have dropped the precious nap. They have dedicated time each day to play, create, read, draw, listen, or anything else they enjoy doing. You have time to do whatever you enjoy doing. You both come back together after Golden Time refreshed and fulfilled by doing something nice for yourselves. Don't believe me? Keep reading...
My Personal Experience - in a nutshell.
I will be honest, I really struggled with Golden Time. Mostly because my daughter is totally attached to me at the hip, is vehemently against independent play and does NOT like to do anything alone. She is an only child, so I often felt guilty if she was on her own, especially when she learned the word "lonely" and started saying "Mama I'm so lonelyyyyyyyy" anytime I was occupied with something else. I literally did not do any "me tasks" like work, hobbies, studying or household chores until she had gone to bed. I would then stay up late trying to complete everything before going to bed and waking up to do it all over again. Sound familiar?
This is not healthy.
You will get burned out. You will become resentful. You will start to HATE playing. I know this because I did. I was being controlled by a 3 year old in my home and I felt so out of control of everything else. (Obviously my 3 year old has no idea HOW to manipulate or coerce me into doing everything her way but it felt like that because I allowed it to happen).
The balance was completely off. I thought it was a phase, that she will grow out of but after a year, and several days of emotional burnout, I knew something had to change. As an Early Years Teacher, I knew that it wasn't right. I would always encourage independent play with my students, knowing the importance of independence for confidence, self esteem, creativity and overall resilience. So why couldn't I do it at home? Simple answer. I was an easily influenced pushover. Social media, blogs, those photos with text over that says "Your Child's Greatest Toy is your Presence" or "Savour Every Single Moment with Your Child Because They Won't Be Young Forever". Blah. I hated them, but I also felt like I had to be like everyone else or even better than everyone else. It's a very dangerous cycle. And here is how you can start to get out of it.
The Meaning of Golden Time
When I first decided to begin to implement some form of dedicated independent time daily after my daughter dropped her nap when she was 2, I called it "Play By Yourself Time".
Wow. So original.
But I honestly couldn't think of anything better and I was so desperate that I just blurted it out. Well of course being told to go and play by yourself is super unappealing and would often result in tears (sometimes from both of us) and expressions like "you don't love me!" Ouch. This needed to change.
One morning I woke up and thought - Golden Time. It's Golden because it's precious time for your child and for you to do what makes you feel good. What makes you feel golden. What "gold" can your child come up with during these minutes alone when they just have their own mind and bodies to think about? And what is your "gold"? Something to make you feel better and like you have accomplished something that day without children hanging off your leg? It could be just doing the laundry, taking a walk in the fresh air in the garden, reading a book or writing a blog like I am doing now. You are doing it in peace and your mind and body are getting a break from the demands of life with children. Golden Time.
Why is it Important?
For your child
After your child drops their nap at around 2, 3 or even 4 years old you may feel like you just lost that precious time where you got stuff done. Suddenly, your child is around all day, with seemingly endless energy. But, just because they no longer sleep during the day does not mean they no longer need rest during the day.
The HSE recommends that 3-5 year olds still need 11-12 hours sleep per night plus resting time. That is the minimum needed for preschool children. The rest of that time is likely spent playing, at creche or preschool, running around, exploring and seeing everything with fresh eyes and wonder, navigating relationships and social situations, building, watching tv, learning, tumbling etc etc. That's exhausting.
Providing a dedicated time daily for your child to rest and reflect will help them process and understand their world better. It's allowing them the time and space to pause and reset. This can lead to less tantrums and unwanted behaviour, more creativity and more opportunities to think for themselves. Which in turn, encourages
self confidence, self awareness, self regulation and overall well-being. GOLDEN.
You matter. Your time matters. Your time is valuable too. A wise friend told me recently, "Mama, you need to be happy for your child to be happy. A happy, rested mama leads to a happy, rested child." It's so simple, but so true. I had completely disregarded myself and my physical and emotional needs to meet my child's seemingly endless need for attention. I was literally loving to exhaustion. I had nothing left, my reserves were depleted. I lived for bedtime and that wasn't fair for anyone. This was the wake up call I needed.
As parents, we devote ourselves to our children. This is fine, we love our children more than life and would do anything for them. But there needs to be a balance. We run around day after day exhausting ourselves and completely losing ourselves in the process. This is a way to get a little bit back. Devote yourself to you for this time. Even if it is to catch up on housework, do it in peace listening to your favourite music instead of Baby Shark. Read the paper, scroll your phone guilt free or step outside for some fresh air knowing your child is in the next room expanding his/her mind and imagination.
How to introduce it?
First, remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. So might not be best to announce your children will be spending 90 minutes alone from the get go. Start with something small, like 10 minutes of quiet play time. I would recommend using a visual timer like a sand timer, egg timer or even your phone if you're not using it. This really helps children who have absolutely no concept of time. Give your child something like an old toy they haven't played with, or set up some colouring pages and crayons or a new book and say something like "I will be in the room next door, you can play in here and when the timer goes off you can come get me if you like". And leave. If your child follows, direct them back and reaffirm that it is Golden Time, a time for them to play, create and use their wonderful, unlimited imaginations. If 10 minutes is too long, start with 5. Slowly increase the time over days or weeks as your child feels comfortable. Stay firm, and remind your child (and yourself) that this is special time just for them to make their own magic.
Eventually you can work your way up to 90 minutes or even 2 hours of Golden Time per day. Yup. Amazing right? Beneficial for you, beneficial for your children. Happy parents, happy child. Be firm, be consistent, even on weekends!
My daughter listens to read-along stories during Golden Time and rests. This is what she chooses to do every day and that's ok. Some children might like to play trains, or read, or build lego. It might help to have a special "Golden Time" box containing activities, books or some small toys that are reserved only for this time.
I do think it's important not to have TV time as your Golden Time as it is kind of sticking a plaster over the bigger issue which is independent active time for your child. I also don't recommend setting up something messy like rice, or slime *shudder* for Golden Time as your super positive Golden mood may be ruined when your child comes in with slime in their hair and rice covering every inch of the carpet you just hoovered. Whatever you choose to do, choose it together to make it appealing and enjoyable for you both. Sticker charts really, really help if your child likes stickers.
Golden Time has transformed our daily routine. Especially in lockdown times, we need this time to ourselves to reflect and rest. We are spending 100% of time together and we need some alone time. It has improved our quality of life so much as we are not so burnt out and depleted. We have the opportunity each day to reset, and refresh.
Let me know in the comments what you think about Golden Time. Do you do it already? Does it work for you? If not, why? I can't wait to hear from you!