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There’s no denying that when children spend their days at home, whether as a result of summer vacation or because they’re not yet school-age, the house gets a little crazier. It seems that every room becomes a play room—the kitchen is used to prepare family dinner and make-believe dinner for the kids’ stuffed animals, and inevitably, the brood opts to make a fort in the master bedroom. It is, after all, the most exciting room to commandeer.
While leaning into fort-making in the master bedroom and the whims of your family can be quite fun, instituting boundaries in the home is crucial for the sanity of every family member—kids included. In fact, the best-case scenario, according to licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Mary Bugbee, PhD., is to have time and space for yourselves as a couple and as individuals. That’s where creating a space where the kids don’t set up shop, that’s not littered with toys, and where you can reconnect with each other and your own thoughts comes in.
The Value of Designating a Kid-Free Space, According to an Expert
Dr. Bugbee, who practices clinical psychology in California, says that designating a kid-free space in your home can strengthen your family dynamic. Dr. Bugbee says that when considering your overall family dynamic, it's important to realize the three different factors at play; the family itself, the relationship between you and your spouse, and the day-to-day “business aspect of running a family.”
“You have to make space and time for all three aspects,” says Dr. Bugbee. And, of course, the first to fall by the wayside is creating space for yourself or for you and your spouse.
“You can’t have a relationship in a couple without having time for just the two of you," Dr. Bugbee continues. “Even in the best of times, having time and space when the children aren’t there creates room for the couple."
She also points out that, under more stressful circumstances, the need for privacy increases. "It becomes even more important to have privacy in the relationship, and rest periods away from the kids. Everyone needs space away from everyone else," she says.
Of course, the question is, how? When the whole family is home, carving out one-on-one time for you and your spouse—let alone solo relaxation time—isn’t exactly simple, whether you’re after a man cave, a home office, or an at-home date night on the grown ups-only terrace.
Creating Boundaries and Time Limits
Carving out eight hours of time during your day to work in a kid-free space might be a pipe dream, says Dr. Bugbee. There are too many demands on a day-to-day basis to designate a kid-free space for your entire work day, and that’s something you need to be aware of upfront. The solution, of course, is to create realistic time boundaries.
Dr. Bugbee says planning ahead and “setting limits and reasonable expectations" is key to establishing some alone time during the work day. Set yourself up for success by running your "alone time" hours by your spouse or another member of the family. This way, someone else can be in charge of the kids when you need a few hours of uninterrupted focus. And keep in mind, commandeering a space for yourself should be something you do outside working hours. Whether leveraging your at-home yoga studio as a place for some private reflection or turning the garage into a man cave for a place to watch the NFL draft, use your space to make yourself a priority.
"It’s nearly impossible to have uninterrupted work time," admits Dr. Bugbee. "However, agree with your spouse that when someone is occupying a certain space, that means the other spouse is responsible for the children and keeping them out of that space."
Curating an Adults-Only Space
If you've decided to set aside one room in the house as the kid-free corner, you'll want to curate an atmosphere that really allows you to revel in your alone or couple-centric time. If there's only one room to revamp as an adults-only spot, decide together how you want to decorate, and try to focus on decor pieces and motifs you both find relaxing. If you're honing in on the den or office as your kid-free zone, settle on a decor happy medium; steer clear of a full man cave overhaul or particularly maximalist design inclinations. Instead, decide on a common interest as a decor theme, whether that's vinyl records, vintage cocktails, or a shared appreciation for plant life If you're going to turn the master bedroom into the adults-only space, be sparing with your decor. When the entire house feels cluttered and chalk-full of toys, let this be the one place that feels minimal and, well, grown-up.