Being home alone is my idea of a holiday

Children can be exhausting and getting some ‘Me Time’ is necessary

Is the best summer holiday anyone can have a complete rest from their family? I’m beginning to think so just from listening to colleagues and friends who have found themselves temporarily home alone this summer. Call them remainers if you like but they’re managing to have a fine time holding the fort while the family is away.

A friend (not me – I wish) is spending a fortnight solo at home and is revelling in not having to do anything for anyone for the first time in over 20 years – no cooking, no arguments and no constantly handing out €20 for bus fares. Having waved her family off on various expeditions and sent the dog to the kennels, she is doing what she likes – staying late in the office without feeling guilty and loving the silent house when she returns. For once, she says, she can just “be”.

There was a time when a mother who just wanted time alone “to be” might have been considered a psychiatric case but happily no more. Having some “Me time” is a perfectly acceptable goal and not just for Millennials. I like to imagine my friend having luxurious bubble baths, trailing suds across the floor and not worrying if anyone else is going to slip and break a leg, while not caring a jot that the bins haven’t been put out.

Chained to the desk

Meanwhile, work is keeping a colleague chained to the desk while his family has decamped to the seaside. He regales us with the joys of this annual arrangement: he can watch exactly what he wants to watch on Netflix and listen to exactly the music he wants to listen to.


A deeply envious younger colleague says she can only dream of being home alone. Gazing into the middle distance she reckons it will be another 10 years before she'll reach the particular Nirvana of eating Koka noodles in bed while binge watching Project Runway.

Of course men have had a lot more practice than women at being home alone. The temporary empty nest with its unlimited hot water, monastic silence and comfortable dent in the sofa has traditionally been the summer camp of the bread winner, where he could go commando and forget to water the plants to his heart’s content.

In summers past, The Irish Times would dispatch reporters to mobile home resorts by the sea to chronicle the lives of Sauvignon-sipping women waiting for their men to come down at weekends. It's still a way of life, but hopefully these days there's a few men on the sun decks of Ballinacarrig and Ballymoney, waiting for their partners to join them, fresh from the hell of a solo week in the city.

Each will probably have enjoyed the break. Family life is all consuming and exhausting and it’s not always made easier by doing it all together, all of the time. Taking time away from it is a valuable, even a necessary way to regenerate.

Parenting sabbaticals keep parents sane, wrote Simon Kuper recently in the Financial Times, adding beautifully: "Family life isn't easy. Love is the easy bit. I care much more about my children than about me. Since they were born, I've come to regard my own death as a management issue. But the problem is being together every day. Children and adults don't have much in common. Kids find most of our conversations as boring as we find theirs."

Flee the home

Harsh but true. It’s what makes one want to flee the home and go to work, and stay there for as long as possible, all the while feeling like a bad parent and a bad person and knowing that precious time is passing. Sometimes now when I see couples walking along together with their small children in strollers, I feel a pang of longing to have a day back with my children – one of those long housebound afternoons when they were very small and played a game called Save the World Snuggle Bunny. When I think about it a little longer, though, other memories surface: like the monumental fight over the sweeping brush that ended up in the Eye & Ear hospital after one of them managed to get a bristle under his eyelid; or the time that the crockery cupboard collapsed on the six year old. Nothing was ever perfect. It was often terrible, sometimes wonderful and always very tiring.

In previous times, when a woman could not cope with her children, a relative might step in to take them off her hands for a while. Families were often split for long periods, especially in summer with children scattered across counties. As children we were shipped off to relatives for what seemed like weeks on end but in reality may have been just a few days. A brother would be sent off on a bus to help with the hay, a sister dispatched to Irish college or to a foreign household for a few weeks to cope with strange meals and mangled conversations.

Irish colleges

Today it’s not so different though probably with less haymaking involved. Children are shipped off to sports camps and Irish colleges and coding school and art courses and thus are kept busy and out of the house. But then the houses themselves are probably empty, with both parents working.

It might sound selfish to want a house all to oneself, and it may also be a disappearing dream. As children stay on and on at home well into adulthood, unable to afford homes of their own, some parents could be forgiven for the thinking that they will never have their home to themselves and will instead be doomed to shopping for two litre cartons of milk and boxes of cereal well into retirement. But, since they’ll also be working until they drop, they won’t have much time to worry about it, and there will always be summer to look forward to.