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After dropping off my kids, I stay in the car alone for 5 minutes. It helps me reset from 'mom mode' so I can move on to the next task.

Jamie Davis Smith   

After dropping off my kids, I stay in the car alone for 5 minutes. It helps me reset from 'mom mode' so I can move on to the next task.
  • When my kids were babies, if they fell asleep in the car I wouldn't try to transfer them.
  • I spent minutes or hours doing things for myself while they napped.

It started by accident, almost without my noticing. I live in the walkable city of Washington, DC, and didn't drive often when my children were babies. I didn't even have a driver's license until shortly before my third child was born. Even years into motherhood, I was inexperienced in the joys and frustrations of having a child fall asleep in the car.

When I did drive with my infant daughter in tow, she would often fall asleep in her car seat on the way home from an outing to the park or a morning spent running errands. Friends in similar situations told me their tricks for seamlessly moving a sleeping baby from the car to the house, but their methods never worked for me.

If I tried to move my sleeping child somewhere more convenient, we would both inevitably wind up miserable for the rest of the afternoon.

I started to embrace the quiet time in the car

Slowly, I stopped becoming annoyed when I found a sleeping baby in the backseat as I pulled into a spot in front of my house. I gave into my child's needs, putting aside whatever I had planned.

I began to embrace the unexpected quiet time I had alone in the front of the car.

At first, I would mindlessly scroll through social media or respond to emails. I started reading books on a Kindle I always threw in my diaper bag. I always loved reading, but with three (then four) small children often found I fell asleep before I finished a page when I cracked open my book each night. Any stolen time I had to catch up with a great book was precious. Sometimes, I simply sat in the car in silence, a form of meditation I desperately needed to ground me amid the chaos of life with a large family.

My children grew. My baby stopped falling asleep in the car regularly, but when she nodded off as a toddler, I savored those quiet, unexpected moments in the car even more, be they minutes or an hour. That time became sacred, and I appreciated the time and space to calmly transition from one activity to the next. I desperately needed even tiny moments of calm. They made me a better, less frazzled, more focused Mom and a happier person.

I still linger in the car now that they are older

Now, my daughter and her siblings are more self-sufficient. My children no longer wait for me to unhook their buckled car seats. Instead, they gleefully bolt from the car as soon as I park and let themselves into our home.

Yet, even now, I linger in the car for a few moments, longer than I should. Once, my now teenage daughter texted me, "Have you been kidnapped?" when I stayed outside a little too long.

These short bursts of time still help create pockets of calm throughout my otherwise hectic days. The five minutes I spend alone in the car have become an important part of my life, a way to transition between the school-drop-off version of myself and the working gal I transform into during the hours my children are out of the house. They create a barrier between myself and children who have been bickering in the car or will start begging for extra screentime or a snack the moment I set foot into the house.

Occasionally I sit in the car letting a great song finish playing, or taking sips of still-hot coffee in a to-go cup before I start tackling my never-ending to-do list. On particularly stressful days, I just close my eyes and breathe deeply, giving myself grace and mustering the strength to tackle the next challenge of parenting and life.

Throughout my parenthood journey, so many routines have come and gone, abandoned once they no longer work for my family. Yet, the ritual of stealing moments alone in the car has lasted more than a decade.

Without meaning to, it has become an essential part of how I structure my days and keep myself grounded. I don't see it ending any time soon.