It wasn’t exactly that I didn’t want to have kids – I just had a few concerns, some of which I couldn’t shake. After months of soul-searching, conversations with my wise friends, and long, wine-filled discussions with my husband, I realized the main thing hanging me up: What would happen to my alone time once I became a mother?
This might seem like a minor thing, like it shouldn’t be a deal breaker. But for me the question loomed large. I just couldn’t square it – surely having a baby (to say nothing of having multiple children) was not compatible with my need for Alone Time. You guys. I have what can only be described as a voracious need for Alone Time. I’m a classic introvert, which means that flying solo is how I energize, how I stay sane. I do actually like people and I love being social, but I can only be with people if I’ve had time to be with just me.
As I wrestled with this seeming incompatibility, the very things that were meant to reassure only filled me with alarm. I consulted with my dear friend Jordie, a super-together mom of two who commiserated and told me that on weekends she recharges by taking an hour to go on a run. Mom-blogs and magazines were similar; they touted the importance of moms taking 20 minutes each day to meditate or journal (as a verb) or center oneself with a “quiet cup of tea.” All of which appalled me. 20 minutes?! That’s nothing! And “an hour” was even worse for its attempt to seem like something substantial while still actually being nothing. I NEED SO MUCH MORE ALONE TIME THAN THAT.
So how could I, a card-carrying introvert, become a mom? How could this possibly work?
Well, fast forward to the present day. I’ve gone and done it. I had a kid and then another and, yes, I’m still an introvert — maybe even more so, simply because I’m older and more crotchety. Am I claiming to have cracked the code on how to thrive as a hermit-y mom? I’ve figured out how to make it work for me. Of course the road to this place of peace was not always linear, but here I am. In case anything I learned in my quest that can be helpful to you, here are a few little nuggets of gold I picked up along the way:
Do not spend the entire weekend en famille. Weekends are long, you guys, even weekends that aren’t “long weekends.” So take shifts and tag team with your partner to play to each others’ strengths and needs. For example, weekend afternoons are my most challenging time; I’m often burnt out simply from being around chatty, small people all day, and I start doing my thing where I shuffle around the house insulting everyone. So my husband and I have established what we call The Swip Swap: I take the kids in the morning when I’m full of energy for togetherness while he decompresses and hits golf balls or whatever he needs to do. Then, in the afternoon, he takes the kids, and I get to recharge by reading The New Yorker, making lists, and staring at the wall.
Do Not Lie to Thyself. OK, here’s me not lying: Nothing is more horrifying to me than a trip to Disneyland or Chuck E. Cheese. I also find most organized activities for little babies and toddlers rather hideous: music classes full of banging, playgrounds full of dust and whining… and don’t even get me started on those indoor play centers. So, as a rule, I try not not to do these activities. My husband, however, is not so bothered by this category of outings. He even kinda likes them! So. Swip Swap. Stay in your lane.
If you work in an office, make it your spa. That’s silly, you might be thinking. Work is not playtime! Of course it’s not, but listen: no matter how taxing your job is, it’s still probably 1000x less depleting than being with your kids — unless your co-workers need help wiping or inquire “why” after literally everything you say, or are constantly requesting platters of Triscuits and cheddar cheese cut into tiny cubes. So, when you’re at work, enjoy that you can have a cup of coffee whilst seated, enjoy that there is sometimes silence around you, and just enjoy that you don’t have to have your head on a swivel to keep a small person from drowning him or herself in the toilet.
OUT OF HOME CHILDCARE. This is all caps because I’m shouting it. This was a game-changer for me. With my first baby, we had a part-time nanny. She was (and is) a delightful person, but I quickly realized I didn’t love holding all the intimacies that came with managing the relationship: the communicating of instructions, the wondering if I had over-communicated or under-communicated, the professional/personal overlap and the myriad awkwardnesses therein. Plus I just didn’t love having someone in our home; I wanted to be able to move about freely when I was there. So when our son was born we knew we’d go a different childcare route. He went to a small, warm, loving, in-home daycare in our neighborhood and we totally preferred it.
Embrace QT – When my kids outgrew nap time, we instituted Quiet Time. QT lasts one hour, happens every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and is wonderful. The kids can play in their rooms, read, draw, and generally do whatever they want as long as they’re entertaining themselves quietly. Same goes for Mom and Dad (zzzzzzz).
Send yourself (not the kid) to Time Out. What my family doesn’t need is for me to set the table if I’m going to do it while stomping around. When I’m tapped out on togetherness, often just a few minutes of quiet is all I need to recover and become human again. So I go sit quietly in my bedroom for 5 minutes to get a little mental white-space. Or I get outside and run, even if just for a few minutes. My daughter can set the table (she needs to earn her keep anyway) and I get to regroup and refresh, then join my family a few minutes later, ready for interaction.
Burn the midnight oil. I’m not trying to advocate parents skimping on sleep because as someone who could happily sleep nine hours a night and still want more, believe me, I am a huge proponent of sleep. But sometimes the best alone time happens late at night or early in the morning when the house is perfectly still and the rest of the family is sleeping. It’s very sweet, energizing time.
PBS is educational. Where else you gonna get that “quiet cup of tea” time the women’s magazines suggest? It’s OK for your kids to watch TV so you can clear your head. It’s not like you’re plunking them down in front of Bachelor in Paradise; they’ll be fine and you’ll be popular.
Wear the badge proudly. Quit feeling guilty about being the way you are. Introverts are awesome.