I have just turned off all the lights in my room and nestled in as the ominously velvet voice of Dateline NBC’s Keith Morrison introduces yet another husband who’s totally up to no good, when I hear the tentative footsteps of an 8-year-old outside my room.

“Mommy? Are you watching crime?”

“Sure am!” I say, as my son’s little feet retreat back down the stairs, because now he knows that it’s officially Mommy’s True Crime Time, an hour of purposely kid-unsuitable programming that is mine alone. And I don’t feel bad about it. At all.

Parenting has never lent itself to alone time. But in our pandemic-worn, work-from-home, remote learning era, finding creative ways to create that dedicated space, whether it’s a solo walk or binge watch, is all the more crucial.

The issue is evergreen, pandemic or not: Parents are often in desperate need of some space, some quiet, some way to recharge. The pandemic just heightened that need, and caregivers are finding ways to keep that space going, even with kids back in school and adults back at work.

“Many of us internalize [the message] that parenting trumps all [and] everything is pushed aside,” Minneapolis clinical social worker Marit Appeldoorn says. “But this [time] is not a luxury, not dispensable. We really have to give ourselves permission to do our thing, even if it’s just 10 minutes with a cup of coffee. It’s good for physical health, mental health and really, really good for our parenting.”

If the pandemic has been good for anything, perhaps learning to carve out some quiet time alone or with friends — and not our children — is a true benefit. Finding time to be ourselves and re-energize after being caregivers to everyone else is imperative, and many parents have found some ways to make that work.

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Cynthia Ntini-Jacobson, who lives in Washingtotn, D.C., proves the tricky balance between Mom Time and Me Time during this interview, as her 4-year-old son, Khozi, kept adorably wandering into frame on the zoom. “He said, ‘Why are you sneaking around the house?'” she says, once she’s successfully shuffled him into another room.

Time alone was always hard to find because she home-schools Khozi and his 10-year-old brother, Khaya, but the pandemic closed all of the museums and activities that provided “a little reprieve, an outlet for being around other people.” She finds refuge in her (carefully curated) Twitter feed, and in her 5 p.m. dinner prep time, during which the kids and husband Paul know “that’s the time when I want to be left alone. I have my glass of rosé and nobody bothers me until I’m done.”

“I close the bedroom door and fold laundry and listen to podcasts,” like “You’re Wrong About” and “The Office Ladies,” staying up long after she should just to get some time alone, says Jill Grundy, who lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with husband Adam and kids Bennett, 10, Julia, 8, and Cecilia, 4. “The other day I was folding laundry and Julia said, ‘Can I help you? I really want to spend time with you.’ I felt terrible, but I had to say ‘This is my quiet time.'”

Her husband, who has worked virtually since 2022, says he’s made time to go running with a neighbor each week, plays soccer regularly on Sunday mornings and writes for a music blog called Chorus.FM. “These are things that I do just for fun, for me, that keep me sane,” Adam Grundy says.

The judgment against taking time for oneself can be even harsher for dads, who some assume are traditionally less hands-on in the first place and get to take a “Father Knows Best”-like rest in a recliner with a pipe while Mom does everything else. Cris Avery, who was his 12-year-old daughter Nya’s primary caregiver for much of her life and now shares custody with his ex-wife in Brooklyn, New York, says it sometimes seems like people have to be convinced he needs it.

“There were many ‘Moms Surviving The Pandemic’ groups but they weren’t specifically for dads. They were like, ‘Well, it’s kinda good you’re taking care of your daughter,’ and I was her primary caregiver,” he says.

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Instead of getting the kids out of the house, Kara Higgins, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, actually added two to her previous brood of four — a Japanese exchange student who came to the States in fall 2019 and stayed, and a foster baby who came as “a pandemic surprise” in May 2020. Higgins and her husband, Ryan, are now in the process of adopting her.

Higgins, who works in health care and risks COVID-19 exposure on the job, sought out activities that give her dedicated time for herself and “not expose other people to all my cooties,” she says. One is a live fitness class app called Open Fit, “where I found an online community working out with other people. I needed to be distant but I’m also an extrovert, so it’s a way to have some community. It’s been really great.”

Of course, with that much work responsibility and that many people in her house, there are times “where I try to disconnect.” The practice started in the beginning of the pandemic where she “would strip down naked and tell the kids, ‘Let me get a shower and get the COVID off me. Give me a few minutes and I’ll be ready.’ Now everyone knows my boundaries. And I find it’s really important to not feel ashamed or guilty if I need to go for an hour to be by myself.”

There doesn’t seem to be a template or a rule for how to get that time, as long as it’s time set aside away from the kids. For Janet Max, of Takoma Park, Maryland, it was a regular walk with neighbors “for the first solid five months of the pandemic. We’d get a text that said ‘See you on the corner’ and we went,” she says. “Those walks were my savior.”

Kelly Durkin, a mother of three in Columbia, Maryland, “has definitely been on a podcast tangent,” along with TV binges with her husband of shows like “Outlander” and the “Sex and The City” reboot “And Just Like That …” She sometimes eludes her kids, using chores as a cover. “I’m like, ‘Gotta go fold laundry! So sorry!'” she says.

She, of course, is not sorry, and social worker Appeldoorn says that’s the right attitude. She lists our current societal Wordle obsession as “the best example of collective play I’ve seen in the 10 years. Self-care is anything that helps our nervous systems feel safe and reset, and also gives us fuel in our tanks that we need in order to keep at it. Just taking breaks is not enough anymore. There’s nothing selfish about it. And whatever it is, it has to be for you.”

Which is why I’ll never feel bad about Mommy’s True Crime Time. That’s what it takes for me to feel more like myself. And the only crime being committed is on the screen.