As a mother of four children who has taken a nap just about every afternoon for the past fifteen years, I understand I am an anomaly. But because I’m a lot nicer person when I get the rest and down time I need, I’ve made quiet time a priority and figured out how to make it happen each day in our home.
And by the time you finish reading this, you will be equipped to have an extra hour of quiet time to yourself every day. You can sleep, read, work on a project, or just relax and watch something on TV. What you do with your time is up to you, but this post is going to show you how to get it.
As a disclaimer, I recognize that the ideas I’m going to share here won’t work perfectly for every situation. And that’s okay. Take what you like, ignore what doesn’t fit your lifestyle. The goal here is to help us invest a little more time in our physical and mental selves.
Are you ready? Let the quiet time training begin!
First, Some Encouragement to Sleep
I personally use my daily quiet time to take a solid 60-minute nap. It super-charges me for the rest of the day. My reasoning is spelled out below:
- Mothers need rest and “down time.” According to the experts, seven and a half to eight and a half hours is the ideal amount of sleep we should get in each 24-hour period. If we can clock those hours all at once, great! If not, naps are the solution. We are “on” 24/7, and although it would be nice if we didn’t need to refuel, that is not the case. Cars need gas, batteries need to be charged, and all human beings need sufficient rest. Yes, that includes us.
- Biologically, we were made to take an afternoon nap. If you don’t believe me, see this article. Some people really do not like to sleep during the day (my website Partner, Saren, never takes naps – she likes all her sleep in one chunk at night and her kids don’t need her in the night so that works great for her). But for those of us who like to nap and aren’t getting the sleep we need at night, naps are not only perfectly acceptable, they are very important! Many cultures encourage afternoon rests, but in the United States, it is sometimes seen as a weakness if a mother takes a nap. Let them call us weak. We can run ourselves into the ground and turn into the grumpiest of women, or we can rest when we are tired and reap the benefits of happiness and good health. I choose rest. Are you with me?
- Napping is a proven health benefit. A recent study found that women who napped at least three times per week for an average of 30 minutes had a 37 percent lower coronary mortality risk than those who took no naps. In English? We’re much less likely to die of heart problems if we become regular nappers. Another study by NASA showed that a nap of 26 minutes can boost performance by as much as 34 percent. It may seem as though we will fall behind if we take time to rest, but the statistics show (and I’ll confirm from experience) that we actually become more productive. Write these facts down and whip them out if a nap-critic gives you a sidelong glance!
- A mother loses about 350 hours of sleep at night over her baby’s first year. Does that number shock anyone else? Okay, so I have had four children. That makes 1400 hours of lost sleep—and that is just for one year of each of their lives! Add on the sleepless nights of pregnancy, months with teething babies, bouts of the stomach flu, bed-wetting, nightmares, and sleep-walkers, and it is quite amazing that mothers sleep at all. Taking naps is not stealing time away from our families. It is making up for all the hours we have sacrificed–and don’t you think it’s fair if we charge a little interest? Extra naps for everybody . . . on the house!
Here’s a Little More on My Quiet Time Philosophy
- Quiet time makes me happy. All right, it might sound silly, but that is why I nap or take time to read or do my own thing for an hour every afternoon. I feel happy when I am rested and when I’ve had a little break from the kids each day. I am also healthier, I am in a good mood most of the time, I don’t feel the need to yell, I feel romantic, I have energy for my husband, the world doesn’t seem like such a bad place, I enjoy my family, and I don’t feel overwhelmed. Take my naps away, and I am the exact opposite of the above. It’s not a pretty sight. Now, because quiet time does make me so happy . . .
- Quiet time is an appointment every day. This is just as important as a doctor appointment or a business meeting. It is often flexible, depending on my children’s needs and other activities for the day, but the only reason I cancel quiet time is if there is an emergency . . . or a fun day trip, but you get the picture. It is tempting to accept other commitments, but every time I do, I turn into a monster by dinnertime. When the choice presents itself, I think, “I need to rest this afternoon so I will be kind to my family tonight.” Generally, that’s enough motivation for me.
- Quiet time and guilt are not friends. I need to emphasize this point: WE MUST NOT FEEL GUILTY FOR TAKING TIME FOR OURSELVES. We need time that is just for us. Workers at factories and offices across the world have mandatory breaks in their work hours. Moms deserve no less. I was talking to my friend Erin the other day, and she reminded me that we, as mothers, devote our whole lives to our children. We cannot let ourselves feel guilty for one minute if we are taking an hour a day to become rejuvenated. Let’s release the guilt. Our time with our families will be more fulfilling when we are rested, and we will get more done overall (remember that study?). There is no reward at the end of the day for the mother who got by on the least amount of sleep or took the fewest breaks. Let’s tell ourselves right now, “We deserve rest. We can have some time each day that is just for us.” If you need to do so, write that down and tape it to your mirror so you can remember it each day.
Now Let’s Talk About Specifics
The rest of this post is going to spell out my best suggestions to make quiet time happen. (Please add your own in the Comments area below!)
(1) Simplify schedules. To make room for regular quiet times,, we may need to do less. We can cut down on some of our family’s extra-curricular activities, organize our shopping so we only go into a store a few times a month, and learn to say no to things that don’t really matter (or to things that can be accomplished during non-quiet time hours). These are suggestions we’ve been hearing for years. Now is the time to do—or stop doing—them. It takes confidence to slow down.
Some mothers genuinely have to work their fingers to the bone just to keep a roof over their family and food on the table, but many of us move like the Road Runner trying to do things that are really non-essential. At the heart of simplification are the questions, “Do I know how valuable I really am? Do I think I need to run around crazy because I am afraid that people will think poorly of me (or I will think poorly of myself) if I don’t achieve as much?” We must ask ourselves the hard questions–and start slashing our schedules. It might take a while to get used to all our extra time, but our bodies and brains (and our families) will thank us.
(2) Be there when we’re “on duty.” One of the reasons I don’t feel guilty about taking time for myself is because when I am on duty, I make the most of it. Because I get a regular quiet time, I like the companionship of my children during the rest of the day. When I am not rested and haven’t had time to myself, I want to be alone, and I feel annoyed by the constant chatter. Again, quiet time is the key here. It’s okay if we’re not perfect at this, but our goal is to make our time with our families a happy time.
Then after we’ve been dishing out all that love, we can smile and say, “All right, it’s time for everyone’s quiet time!”
When I say “be there,” I do not mean to suggest that we are required to entertain our children whenever we are with them. There is this idea floating around that “good” moms spend all day making crafts with their children, rolling ski-balls at Chuck E. Cheese, kicking a soccer ball at the park, and playing Candyland. Then when the children are asleep, it’s time for Mommy to do the housework. Sorry, but I just can’t keep up with that. I love to play with my children, and we do play often, but there is also a lot of work to be done. We do it together.
(3) Get the work done together. During our non-quiet time, we clean together as a family (even a one-year-old can help dust!), run errands, prepare food together, organize cupboards, wash the car, etc.
Children like to be involved and just want to be with us while we do what needs to be done. Playing with our children is great (individual dates and outings are wonderful), but we can also play while we work.
While we fold laundry, clean floors, etc., I tell my children stories about when they were little, turn on some fun music, laugh, listen, and enjoy their sweetness. That way, the housework gets done, the children are happy, and then when it’s time to rest, we all rest.
(4) Creatively work with our responsibilities. Mothers are jugglers. Even if we simplify like nobody’s business, life is going to sneak up on us and try to destroy all napping possibilities. We won’t let it get us down—we’ll just work with it. I have arranged carpools with neighbors so I can do the morning drop-off and avoid waking up a sleeping baby for an after-school pick-up. When my children were younger, I got help from a girl in our neighborhood who played with my little ones while I took a late rest. Often I can do something the night before that will free up my quiet time for the following day.
During a long road trip with the kids, we found a local library that had nice little reading nooks–the perfect size for me to lay down and have my nap!
Planning ahead is essential to me because I love the feeling of rest, and I detest the tired, frustrated version of me that emerges when I am short on sleep. She really isn’t welcome in our home.
If you work outside your home, you could try the following:
- Use your breaks for your naps or other activities that truly rejuvenate you. My dad is the king here. He learned in the army to take a 9 ½-minute nap on a 10-minute break. As an architect, he would sneak out to his car, recline the seat, and take little cat naps during the day. When I worked at a call center in college, I arranged to sit in a corner cubicle, where I could nap with my head on my desk (or under my desk if no one was around). In some jobs, it’s the norm for people to work right through lunch, eating a little lunch at their desks. DON’T fall into that trap. If you’re not a napper, that’s fine, but be sure to really take breaks. Go on a short walk. Read a chapter of a book. Do something that truly rejuvenates you during your break time every day.
- Find a sleeping spot to use for extended naps: Some corporations actually have “nap rooms,” but that is definitely not the norm. In high school, I convinced my drama teacher to let me keep a sleeping bag and pillow in the dressing area, and I would take a little nap in the theater every sixth period when no one was there. In college, I napped in quiet study areas for ten or twenty minutes at a time with my backpack as my pillow. Just remember to set the alarm on your watch or cell phone so you’ll wake up in time. Or, if you don’t have an alarm, sleep in a high-traffic area with a sign taped to your shirt that reads, “Please wake me up at 2:15.”
If we really want the rest and quiet time, we can come up with some ways to get it.
(5) Decide which hours are “mom” hours and which hours are “me” hours. If we simply let nature take its course, all hours are “mom” hours. We have to be realistic here, but each of us can set boundaries on our time and availability. My way of doing things might not work for your schedule, but it may spark some ideas.
Here’s a typical daily schedule:
- I am “on” from 7 am to 7 pm, with breaks from 9-10 and 1-3. This works about 75% of the time, and my family is nice enough to go along with it. If a child is sick, or if I am nursing a newborn, this becomes a very vague guide, but generally abiding by this schedule lets my sanity be my constant companion.
- My children wake up between 5:30 and 6:30, but they know I don’t start talking until 7:00. They color, watch cartoons, or play quietly until they know I’m ready to be mommy. Then I can happily say, “Good morning!” and we’re ready to go.
- When my children were younger, we got all the bedtime stories and evening activities by 7, and then I had time each night to think, spend time with my husband, take a bath, or get some work done on my projects. I know 7:00 is an early bedtime, but it works since my children were very young. An early bedtime helps them to be well-rested, and then I get the opportunity to feel like a human being. Now that my children are a little older, we get everything done and everyone’s in their rooms by 8. Sometimes we all stay up late together, and on occasion we have an evening activity that we will all attend, but for the most part, the Perrys shut down early . . . and I really like it that way. If my children are not tired by bedtime, they are more than welcome to read, listen to music, or play nicely in their rooms until “lights out.” (Lights out time varies by kids’ ages – 7:30 for little ones, 8:00 when they’re about 8, and a little later as they get older and have some homework to finish.)
- The daytime breaks, 9-10 and 1-3, are generally when my baby and/or toddelr would nap. All children who are home, however, take quiet times during these hours (or sleep, if they’d like). A quiet time means the child is in a room/area by his or herself. It’s not a punishment, it’s just time for the child to get to play or sleep. It’s so good for children to learn to entertain themselves and to have their own down-time or nap time! During the first quiet time, I do work such as phone calls, emails, bill-paying, etc. During the second quiet time, I sleep and work on projects if I have extra time after my nap. It’s lovely.
(6) Teach our children to love quiet time. This is probably the hardest part, but because I have been consistent with this, my children look forward to quiet time. They even put themselves into their rooms. Quiet times are non-negotiable, fixed activities. It is simply what we do. I’m going to include a few suggestions here that have helped me teach my children to observe this family ritual:
- Pick a “quiet time space” for each child. My newborns always joined me for nap time, but once my babies could play with toys and/or sleep on their own, we separated (otherwise I couldn’t sleep). If I had two children in one room, I moved one of them to a separate location (the office, family room, etc.). This space is theirs for the whole quiet time. They can obviously leave it to use the bathroom or come get me if they have a real problem, but if they start wandering around the house or wake me up for a non-emergency, then the rule is that they have to join me in sleep. (Once children reach the age of eight, they don’t need a “defined” space anymore . . ..) This is a fun memory of one of Spencer’s quiet times. (Can you tell I didn’t want to cut his golden curls?)
- Make sure the space is pleasant. During my first trimester with my last pregnancy (I had really hard pregnancies), our house kind of turned into a pit. No one wanted to have quiet time in their rooms because there was clutter everywhere, so as soon as I could stand up without gagging, we made some improvements. My children like to be in their rooms when they are clean, safe, well-lit, warm enough/cool enough, and stocked with interesting activities. This takes effort, but it’s worth it. This is where they get to use their imaginations—I want them to love their rooms!
- Prepare fun, age-appropriate activities. This is probably the most important part of quiet time. Obviously, if I want time to rest and think, my children need to have something to do. Over the years, we have collected several boxes of toys, organized and stored in sets, which provide hours of creative play. These boxes are kept up high, and before each quiet time, I ask my (younger) children which ones they want for that day. They’ll pick two or three activities that will keep them busy, and then they clean them up when quiet time is over. My oldest daughter would pick ten things when she was younger, and she would lay them out in the order that she wanted to play with them. Some of our favorites are pictured below:
Other favorites have been My Little Ponies, Magnetix, Legos, Magnetix, blocks, Polly Pockets, flannel storybooks, little dolls/dollhouses, car tracks, tinker toys, K’nex and craft materials (paper, crayons, markers, construction paper, glue, scissors, etc.). As my children get older, they like to read, color, write poems, work on homework, etc. It’s amazing to see their creations. (Yesterday my 12-year-old made rock people with googly eyes.) To check out more great ideas for toys and games that work well for quiet time, check out our Power of Moms Amazon Store.
And today my 10-year-old helped me make a video demonstrating our favorite baby toys:
(7) Anticipate snack and potty needs. My youngest child is now four, so this isn’t an issue anymore, but when they were younger, I always wanted to be sure that no one was going to have a messy diaper or need something to eat during our quiet time. We usually ate a good lunch together, and then I would get a fun snack ready that my children could look forward to once they had successfully completed their quiet time. It’s a great incentive: “I know this looks tasty. I bet you can have some if you let Mommy get a good rest!” Sometimes I also let them take a non-messy snack into their quiet time space—like a little bag of Cheerios or a stick of celery (we minimized the snacks, though, and certainly considered choking hazards). As far as the “potty” needs go, I quickly learned to check on my non-sleeping, diapered children about 20 minutes into the quiet time. They usually had a little surprise for me. Potty-trained children (under five) were simply encouraged to use the bathroom first so they didn’t need to open (or slam) doors when someone in the house was asleep.
(8) Use sound machines or white noise on your phone. Sound machines are my absolute favorites! We have one in every room–they are electronic white noise makers (costing about $15.00 each) that include a variety of sounds and an optional timer (which helps children understand how long quiet time is). There are lots of phone app with many choices of white noise that can also be a good solution.
My children can’t hear each other when they have sound machines going, so the sleeping ones can sleep, and the playing ones can play. I set the timer for an hour, and when the sound machine turns off, that means the child can clean up the toys and head out to the family room for a snack and part two of quiet time. My older children, who can tell time, don’t need them as much, but three- to five-year-olds love them!
(9) Use the TV and computer sparingly. We do have a television and computer, and I let my children watch certain shows or DVD’s and enjoy time on certain websites, but I don’t generally use the TV or computer during quiet time. I’ve found that screen time can make my children cranky, but imaginative play leaves them feeling refreshed. Sometimes I’ll say, “You get one hour of quiet time, and then you can watch a show.” That way, I can sleep for an hour and have time to do some reading, but my children are only watching 30 minutes of TV. Clearly, every family is different—do what works for you!
(10) Coordinate nap time schedules. Sometimes children will get on opposite schedules: a baby wants to nap at 12, a preschooler wants to nap at 2. That leaves Mommy awake all day. With a little work, I could usually get everyone to sleep at the same time. You might need to hold off a baby’s nap and endure a little while of “the crankies,” but that, to me, is better than giving up my own rest. I want my babies to have memories of a nice mom, and I can usually distract them to keep them up awhile longer. This is the main reason why we started the morning and afternoon quiet times. An hour of crib/play time seemed to take the edge off for my little ones who were only sleeping once a day. Then we were all ready to sleep in the afternoon.
(11) Train with love. It might take several weeks of quiet time training before your children will stay in their rooms and/or sleep when they need it. You may want to start with a 1/2 hour of quiet time and then work up to an hour or more after a week or so. One of my favorite parenting books, Parenting With Love and Logic, helped me to teach my children our family rules without having to get upset with them. What works for us is when I describe the consequences: “If you come out of your room before it’s time, I start the timer all over again.” Or, “If you choose not to nap, but then behave badly later this afternoon, you have a 6:30 bedtime.” I also try to offer choices. I ask my older children, “Do you want to take a nap with me today, or would you like a quiet time?” I never have to yell or spank or get mad, I just give them choices, explain the consequences, and then follow through. I have noticed that when I am able to calmly explain my expectations, I can rest more peacefully.
(13) Learn to relax. One of the hardest for mothers to do is shut down our minds. There are lots of great relaxation techniques available on the Internet (like starting from your toes, breathing deeply, relaxing each muscle, and working your way up). It’s a skill to fall asleep quickly. What helps me most, though, is having a plan for when I will get things done so I don’t have to stress about them while I rest. For example, if I have a business document that needs to be put together by the end of the week, I will schedule one quiet time hour and two evening hours that week to work on it, and then I will forget about it until it’s time. Having a detailed calendar is a lifesaver for me because otherwise I live in constant fear that I am forgetting something. Once you have made sure you have nothing pressing, tell yourself you deserve a break, and you are not going to ruin your nap time with worry. (Mind Organization for Moms was made for this.)
So when do you get everything else done?
There is a lot to do each day. Besides the basic housework, important relationships, employment needs, and desk work, we want to have time to exercise, read, and work on projects. Most women use quiet time to get these projects done, which is completely understandable. If your nighttime sleep is sufficient, then quiet time is the best time to do everything else. I have had to develop my own routine, as will every mother, but basically, here is what I do.
(1) As mentioned before, I use my morning quiet time for work that requires the most brain power. Then I work for the first 20 minutes of the afternoon quiet time, sleep for the next 60 minutes, and then wake up to work/check email for the final few minutes.
(2) After lunch, and before quiet time, there is usually about an hour where my children will play nicely nearby while I get stuff done. This is when I make phone calls and do more active tasks.
(3) If I have the energy, I wake up early—around 5:30 or 6, so I have an hour to exercise and/or prepare spiritually for my day.
(4) I get to work immediately at bedtime—as soon as everyone is happily in their rooms. Then I balance the rest of my evening with my husband’s schedule so we can be together as much as possible.
(5) I apply “de-junking” principles to my home and try to keep things streamlined and easily clean-able. There are tons of great books out there for that. Having routines for housework has been a life-saver. The whole family helps keep things looking nice so I don’t have a messy house hanging over my head while I sleep.
(6) I multi-task and involve my children as much as possible—we are busy during the days, and I try not to put too many things on my task lists, but when we’re all awake, we do group tasks, and when I am off duty, I do my own personal tasks. The point of all this is to enjoy the process, enjoy your family, and accomplish what needs to get done. It isn’t easy, but it’s possible.
I hope this article has been somewhat helpful to you. Everyone’s family and life is different, and we have to figure out what will work for us, but at least one principle is true—no matter who you are. You need rest. I know life gets tough sometimes. I have my rough moments just like everybody else, but when I make rest and rejuvenation a priority, I am a little more fearless, and a lot more pleasant to be around. I wish you the best in your quiet time!
QUESTION: How do you fit quiet time into your busy days?
CHALLENGE: Choose just one simple way to incorporate a little more quiet time into your schedule. You can either use it to nap, read, or just get something done you’ve been dying to accomplish.