September 14, 2020
Parents may be familiar with collecting their thoughts behind bathroom doors or lingering in their cars after a demanding day. These available spaces provide brief respite from the emotional and physical demands of the home. Traditionally, these domestic responsibilities have been fulfilled by womxn. This has left them with less energy, fewer opportunities, and time for self-directed activities. While womxn now have additional professional and academic choices outside of the home, many still fulfill the daily domestic duties. Consequently, both their mental and physical energy is spread thinner as career goals become added onto partner and parenting responsibilities. Mental stress increases with work demands, relationship needs, housework, and parenting obligations. Sharing domestic chores and parenting responsibilities, while ensuring alone time would help reduce her stress. Unfortunately, this is not a common experience for many womxn who continue to find themselves disappearing within their roles of partner and parent. Feelings of mental isolation and emotional vulnerability are magnified without a physical space to find refuge.
In 1929, the connection between the physical space and the mental space was illustrated
by Virginia Wolfe in her literary work “A Room of One’s Own.” Wolfe advocated womxn should have an autonomous use of a room for an unrestricted amount of time. This statement placed womxn and their interests within the daily domestic schedule instead of being servants to the schedule. This assertion was bold for a time when womxn were expected to be fulfilled with the roles as partners and parents. For Wolfe, her room permitted focus on her writing and temporary relief and reduction in her stress and perhaps helped made living with mental illness more bearable. While contemporary society has remembered Wolfe’s assertion for a separate space and it has forgotten the importance of time. Time is lost commuting to activities between work, school, and other domestic duties. Stress is increased by being busy doing instead of being present. Instead of reducing stress through mindful activities, it is increased through overscheduling and more busyness for other family members. Having a space within her home and taking time to purposefully utilize it is important for her mental health. The process of finding her space within the home and placing herself within the daily schedule will be a reclaiming of her individuality.
The struggle for visibility within the home and within relationships causes mental health issues in the forms of stress and communication issues. The family may find it disruptive to reallocate possessions or change routines to support this development. However, the womxn will be empowered to advocate for her separate space. If the space must be multi-purposed, she will use it when no one will interrupt her practice. To have a room of her own, others can make sacrifices as well and children can share rooms, play in the living room or their bedrooms, and dinner can be eaten in the kitchen instead of the dining room. During her alone time, it is understood she is not available to respond to the phone or to the door. Wearing earphones or ear plugs, the quiet will aid healing practices or creative processes. These boundaries will teach the family her space, time, and communication are to be respected. Learning to prioritize herself among the busyness of domestic life, she is communicating her time and energy is to be respected. Recognizing her worth and her needs, she is will also begin to expressively discuss them with her partner. While learning to advocate for herself, living within a healthy routine, and setting boundaries, she will also teach her family members how to better care for their own mental health.
Technology is presenting a new alternative to Wolfe’s physical separate room. For those who choose or cannot create a private space, the internet has provided outlets to be creative, make friends, find support, and escape their physical reality. This has helped some reduce the isolation and loneliness they feel when they are unable to leave their homes and social situations. Online gatherings, chat rooms, and communities provide a virtual space for people to interact and for others to be independently creative. Increasing emotional connection through a virtual platform can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Sharing practical ideas for expressing needs, reducing stress, and sharing domestic duties help reduce mental stress. Like the bathroom or car, technology can provide brief moments of escape for womxn during the day. Unfortunately, technology has also impeded upon personal time as responses to phone calls and emails are expected immediately. It will become important to practice self-advocacy skills and implement boundaries on personal time to protect mental health which includes the use of technology.
Society has taught womxn being a partner and parent is fulfillment and to want anything else is to be selfish. This dialectical thinking causes some womxn stress as they want a place in the schedule and a room in the home. As Wolfe advocated almost a century ago, womxn need their own space. Once a womxn becomes a partner and a parent she becomes weighted with busyness and can feel choiceless within those roles. She forgets the power she once had which led her to the life which she now leads. It is the combination of social expectations, physical exhaustion, and mental stress which leads to the loss of presence within the same home which she has so many responsibilities. Learning skills and gaining confidence to shed some of the busyness of life, a womxn will find time to nurture herself. Eventually, she will become comfortable spending time cultivating this relationship with herself and this will be when her healing happens.