Monday, January 24, 2011

The Urge to Run Away

Some years ago, I picked up the phone to hear a friend I'll call Gina sobbing on the other end.

"I want to run away!" she cried. "My two daughters just had a screaming, 15 minute fight over a 65 cent packet of barrettes. I'm so done with this! I want to take a week off from being a mom! Can I fly out and stay with you? Just be totally irresponsible for a week?"

How could I refuse? We had a wonderfully irresponsible week together -- lazing around the community pool, strolling on the beach, laughing and telling stories. It became an annual tradition: Gina's break from the demands of motherhood.  Her yearly escapes ended only when her daughters grew up -- morphing into lovely women whose company she treasured. Once the grandchildren came, there was no chance of luring her away again.

And yet, the urge to run happens to many people in a number of circumstances.  You may feel like running -- for even a few minutes -- when the evening noise pollution with the kids, the dog, music and t.v. converge into a mind-shattering cacophony. You may feel like yelling "I'm done!" and stomping out the door when your teenager is impossible.  You may feel like running when your aging parent overwhelms you with expectations, demands and criticism.  You may fantasize about a quick escape when you realize that you're so busy meeting others' needs, you haven't done anything for yourself in months or years. You may start looking for a temporary exit when, in retirement, you and your husband find yourselves together all the time, every day, for the first time in your marriage.

What does the urge to run mean? It is a signal that you're exhausted, depleted and desperate for some kind of respite. How can you give yourself a respite if you don't have the time, the means or the opportunity to flee for a significant chunk of time?

Take mini-escapes right where you are:  Arrange with your family for you to take a time out -- perhaps for half an hour after dinner. Take a cup of herbal tea to the patio or the privacy of your room. Plug in your iPOD to music that pleases you.  Practice mindful meditation -- a half hour of relaxation and concentrating with your breathing, letting your tension melt away. 

One couple I know who had six pre-teen and teenage kids had a half-hour coffee break every evening on the patio with no kids allowed. They set a timer in the kitchen and all the kids knew that, short of the house burning down, their parents were off-limits until the chime went off. Once established, this time-out worked well for this busy couple -- and their kids.

Realize that self-care can help you to care better for others.  This is particularly true when you have unrelenting demands as the caregiver for an aging parent or as the parent of a special needs child. Make arrangements with a spouse, family member or close friend or professional respite care to free you up to have some time just for you. It isn't selfish to want this. It's normal -- and necessary for you to have some time to relax and replenish the energy it takes to care for your loved one.

Make regular time apart a positive for you -- and your relationships.  In our new community, we often see newly retired couples struggle with constant togetherness.  While some, like Bob and me, welcome time together after so many years of juggling work responsibilities, others find themselves in turf wars. One woman I know who was always a homemaker chafes under her husband's constant suggestions about how she might do her housework more efficiently and at his expectations for three formal mealtimes in a lock-stop daily schedule. "I'm not used to having him home all the time," she says. "I used to have a life. Now I don't." What seems to work for many people is a compromise - coordinating time apart to pursue individual interests.  Our neighbors Larry and Louise -- another two-career couple only recently retired who treasure their time together -- have scheduled Monday afternoons for separate interests. Louise heads to the ceramics workshop while Larry comes over for a guitar lesson from Bob.
Another couple, Bill and Susan, schedule his golf and her gym workouts at the same time.  

During a stressful time of life, make time for little pleasures.  This may mean a date night out for you and your spouse. It may mean an evening with girlfriends while he watches the kids.  It may mean a hot bath, healthy food, an exercise routine, a time set aside to smell the roses, cuddle with the cat or dog, whatever pleases you.  Taking time for yourself and/or your marriage is critical, especially during difficult times. It may be as brief as a dinner out or as long as a weekend or more away. When you're feeling overwhelmed and that you're losing touch with you or your spouse, you absolutely need to make the time to replenish your energies and your relationship in order to gather strength for the next challenge.

It's not selfish. It doesn't make you a bad parent, spouse or daughter.  Running away -- for a few minutes or a week -- may be just what you need to survive and even thrive through the inevitable challenges that life can bring.

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