Robert Coplan, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, said that people who have been sheltering in place with others might not realize their irritability and stress could be tied to lack of alone time. Dr. Coplan has termed the craving for solitude while surrounded by others “aloneliness,” which he calls “the mirror image of loneliness.”
Allowing someone 24 hours of rest, or even just a few hours of undisturbed time with themselves, “can change the way they can show up for others,” said Nedra Tawwab, a therapist in Charlotte, N.C., and author of “Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself.” “Many parents don’t have the downtime needed to restore themselves. It’s restorative to do nothing, and to be granted the ability to do nothing is a loving act.”
Free time for parents can extend to separate vacations, in which partners trade off staying home with the kids. Jessica Griscavage, owner of Runway Travel in McLean, Va., said she is booking more solo vacations. “Everybody needs some alone time, especially after the year we’ve had,” she said.
Trinita Brown, owner of D.C.-based travel agency Dream Vacations, is also seeing an uptick this year of spouses booking separate trips, and friends reuniting to travel. “Normally I arrange larger tours,” she said. “But now I’m seeing a newer phenomenon of smaller groups of women friends who have not seen each other, who want to be face to face, have some wine, hug each other.”
Ms. Brown mentioned that even her husband, who usually doesn’t vacation separately with friends, is considering it this year. “He has always wanted to go to Vegas with his friends during the N.C.A.A.,” she said. “He missed it last year, obviously. I told him, ‘Start planning.’”
Offering the gift of free time has multiple benefits, said clinical psychologist Jodie Eisner, who treats patients in New York and Florida. “A day of total freedom is both an opportunity to connect with your individual self, and helps foster feelings of empowerment, which is a powerful antidote to the helplessness that a lot of us have felt during the pandemic,” she said. “It expands your recently narrowed comfort zone by reminding you that you’re capable and independent.”
It’s helpful to establish a few loose rules when giving or exchanging the gift of free time, Dr. Eisner said. Offer your partner “full freedom to use their time however they want. While a gift for you might mean having the house to yourself, for your partner it may mean a day at the beach. You don’t have to understand your partner’s decisions in order to support them.”