When people find out you’re having a child, they love to warn you about a lot of things – “You’ll never sleep again!” “Your boobs will fall!” “You’ll pee when you sneeze!”
“No sweat.” I thought. “It’s called coffee, a bra, and some kegels. Jeez. “ Ah, my single self… so adorable in her smugness.
But the one thing they didn’t tell me – you will never be alone again.
Me, Myself and I
I have always considered myself an introvert – someone who recharges their batteries best when alone in quiet situations, and I get easily over-stimulated and cranky by crowded or loud environments. But it’s more than that somehow. Unless I am completely apart from other people, my brain just won’t turn off. Some part of it is always calculating how I appear to others, what I should say, (if anything), reading their movements and expression, and making sure I look like I’m not thinking about any of these things. I don’t think this is necessary. It’s pretty ridiculous in fact. Some part of my brain does it anyway. Not until I enter an empty room do I realize I’ve been clenching my stomach muscles.
Alcohol was something that made this much easier. Because it blunted my senses, I could better tolerate the blaring music and the crush of people at a bar. I could talk myself into having a good time because I was barely there. But I still felt a huge sense of relief when my key turned in the lock of my quiet apartment.
The Introverted Parent
Now it’s a little different. The moment I step out of my bedroom a tiny Tasmanian devil hurls himself on me and squeals with delight. Then he proceeds to trash the place. It’s both the best thing in the world and a little bit of a nightmare. When I was still commuting to an office, it was quite possible that the only time I was alone in a day was when I went to the bathroom. And that’s if I was lucky.
Yet I remember my first day back at work from maternity leave. I was completely guilt-ridden at the fact that I had left my tiny twelve-week-old in the hands of strangers. I missed him horribly. But by the end of the day, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was secretly relishing the fact that I had eight solid hours where NO ONE WAS TOUCHING ME. It was amazing.
Children are always all over you. They don’t just do their own thing. Their needs are extreme and constant. Whether you work or stay home, there is almost never a time to be alone and clear your head. You have to plan for it and shoehorn it in if need be. Here are some of the ways that I manage to parent as an introvert without losing my goddam mind.
Take it in shifts
If you live with the baby’s father, try to make an arrangement where you each have a time, whether it’s one evening a week, a half hour a day… whatever works for you, that they will handle the kids, and you will have your alone time – and then promise them the same thing in return. Don’t forget to say thank you afterward each time. It costs you nothing and it goes a long way.
Call on other parents
If you are a single parent, you still have options. Find a friend/neighbor/other human with a pulse and a child and set up an arrangement to swap babysitting with each other. Rather than paying a 14-year-old $15 an hour, you can have another person who actually knows how to take care of a child watch yours for free! Yes, you do have to return the favor. Try to keep it to a regular schedule so that it doesn’t end up one-sided. If it does, time to find a different person to swap with. A nice bonus here is that your child can be jumping on the other child instead of on you part of the time, and may bizarrely make a friend this way.
There is even an app for that. I have heard good things about Komae, which allows you to do just that. It keeps track of things well, although you could do it with a Google Sheets excel workbook too.
Don’t use your alone time to do chores or work
This is harder than it sounds. I am notorious for cleaning (which I HATE) when my husband takes my son somewhere. Because if I don’t do it NOW, then when will it get done? Never! And soon I won’t be able to see the floor, and ants and other creepy crawlies will overtake the house and probably be in my shoes when I try to put them on. Because that is my nightmare. Yup, all that will definitely happen if I don’t pick up that toy truck and that dish.
Then of course when my break time ends, I am even crankier because I haven’t gotten any rest! The best tip I have here is to KNOW how you unwind best and plan for it. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m partial to trashy tv, knitting and messing with my phone. Or napping. Napping is so good.
Sometimes you shouldn’t be alone
There are days where it’s just not going to happen. One of you gets sick, or there’s a hurricane or your mother is in town… At these times I try to flip the script and remember why being alone is not all it’s cracked up to be. First of all, you get weird. You’re doing stuff you would never do around other people, and if that’s the case, you need to wonder why. Maybe it’s because what you’re doing isn’t advisable. Sometimes it’s just gross.
“Oh hi, potato chip that fell in my bra. Nice try, I’m still eating you!”
It can also be darker than that. I know my drinking took off a lot once there was no one around to see. Being alone lets me go for broke in my self-destructive behaviors. So even if I crave alone time, I know I need to put a limit on it.
I recently had to travel for work for the first time since becoming a parent and it terrified me. Rather than relish the idea of being alone in a hotel room for three nights, I felt vulnerable. Who would I be with no one watching?
I prepared for it and didn’t pick up, but I still wasn’t my healthiest self. I didn’t eat nearly enough and drank too much coffee and barely slept. Like a kid away at college for the first time, my mind reeled with all the freedom I had to self-destruct. Because as much as it may not feel like it, what I do when no one can see still counts.
As much as I am an introverted parent, I still definitely wanted all this – to get married and have children. I didn’t want to be alone all the time, but I’m just still getting used to the constant company years later. What sometimes feels like chaos is also something sweet. It’s what life involves when I allow myself to love and be loved.