There’s no shame in recognizing that some parenting challenges leave you drained. Knowing what isn’t working can help you discover what is.
If COVID-19 life has taught me anything, it’s that there are times when being with all my family for extended amounts of time is going to be hard for me.
Of course, I will say that overall it’s an enormous privilege to be able to be home and safe with my family, and there have been countless positives to this unexpected “bonus” time together — but it also hasn’t always been easy for me as a parent.
Here’s my truth: I’m a hardcore introvert. And I don’t even mean like the type of introvert that a lot of people joke about, where they get “peopled” out.
I mean like I’m so introverted I feel like I can’t function without some downtime to recharge.
It’s not pretty, and the older I’ve gotten, the more I’m learning to just accept this truth about myself.
For a long, long time, I shamed myself for it, chiding myself for not being social enough. Even as a little girl, I determinedly made New Year’s resolutions to “talk more” and “be more fun.”
And just when I was finally accepting that I need lots of solitude and quiet time to thrive, the shutdown hit.
And with 5 kids and a husband who’s currently home as well, that precious alone time flew out the window. I was once again tempted to beat myself up for being a “bad” parent and try to force myself to just power through — because who was I to complain?
But when powering through didn’t exactly work and I found myself quickly burning out, I decided to switch tactics.
Instead of forcing myself to be someone I wasn’t — and realizing that some things were simply out of my control — I decided to focus on some of the big “trigger” items for me as an introverted parent.
I figured if I could narrow down the really exhausting parts of the day for me, and try to brainstorm some solutions, maybe I could help myself recharge and we could all function better as a family.
So first up, I analyzed what set me off as a parent. To me, there are certain parts of the day, or chores, or behaviors, my kids normally engage in that totally deplete me and I have a hard time bouncing back from.
Here’s what I identified as my main issues — and how I decided to deal with them.
It’s summer, my kids are getting older, and my husband is a night owl with a very different bedtime “style” than mine.
While I would be perfectly happy to send my kiddos to bed at 7 p.m., he’s content letting them stay up late so he can spend more time with them.
And when he finally does want to put them to bed, he prefers long story times and bedtime chats — which is wonderful, but makes me feel like absolute crap because I just really, really want to clock out for the night, you know what I’m saying?
At the start of the shutdown, I was forcing myself to go with the flow with later bedtimes and gritting my teeth until the bedtime routine could be over. But recently I decided, you know what? If Mama needs to be done for the night, Mama is allowed to be done for the night.
Whenever my husband and I are on different pages at bedtime and I’m ready to be done for the night, I simply say my prayers with the big kiddos early, kiss them goodnight, and head to my own room with the baby. That way, when my husband is ready for them to go down, he can do things his way.
And in the meantime, I can go happily to sleep or read a book for my own downtime.
This isn’t every single night, of course, but when I need a little extra time, I’ve simply learned to give myself permission to “clock out.”
My confession: I dread lunchtime in my house.
Why? Because come lunchtime, I usually have just barely finished cleaning up breakfast, I’m exhausted, my kids all want 50,000 different things for lunch, the baby is cranky and ready for a nap, and the sound of my children chewing like wild animals is just the opposite of appetizing.
By the time lunch is over, I usually feel like I’ve done battle and dread the rest of the day.
There’s no easy way around this one, so I’m focusing on doing what I can.
I keep lunch as simple as possible with sandwiches, quick pasta, or “snack trays.” And if a child doesn’t like what’s presented, they can make themselves lunch. Done.
I also instituted the rule that each child — even the 5-year-old — gets one after-meal job to do, which makes cleaning up so much easier. One child tackles dishes, one does floors, one does counters, and one switches the laundry.
They’re all fully capable, and together, we can get it all done in minutes — not the hours it takes me alone between taking care of the baby and trying to clean.
And last but not least, this might sound weird, but I gave up on trying to eat lunch with my kids myself. It’s far easier to feed them, get the baby settled, send the big kids to play, and then come back for my own lunch in a more peaceful setting.
Currently, our house has 4 big kids, 1 baby, 1 husband, and thanks to an apocalypse-style hailstorm a few months ago, entire crews of men re-roofing and re-shingling our exterior. (Praise hands for insurance, let me tell you what.)
If I thought our house was loud before, it’s pure madness now.
There’s constant noise and activity, and for me, it can quickly become too much and cause me to get a little on the cranky side.
I resisted buying AirPods for a long time because I refused to buy something so frivolous for myself. But when I realized one day that I could actually get myself AirPods in my grocery order (whaaat?), I made the leap.
And although I still feel embarrassed to have spent that much money on something I considered unnecessary for myself, I have to admit, they’ve come in handy in those moments (or days) when it feels like I’m drowning in the noise around me. I can just pop in an AirPod or two and get a small respite from the world around me.
I’ll indulge in a podcast, or just play some ocean music and get some calming vibes going on — all without the kids even realizing.
As a bonus, they’ve also made working from home much more convenient, because I can easily hop on conference calls while I’m changing the baby’s diaper or move around the kitchen, preparing that simple lunch while I talk on the phone.
Now that we’re — how many months? years? — into all of this, it started to hit me just how much I miss having true alone time. Not just snatches-of-alone-time, or the final peace after all the kids have gone to bed (because let’s face it: someone is waking up, it’s inevitable) but true, blissful, uninterrupted alone time.
There’s nothing quite as restorative to me, and I was sorely missing it.
I found myself fantasizing about escaping to a hotel as soon as the shutdown restrictions lifted, and more than once contemplated driving an hour one-way to the beach to just sit in my car in silence.
When I realized how much time I was wasting just thinking about being alone, I decided something had to be done.
I admit that this isn’t ideal or possible for all parents. And I fought my baby on this when I started because whereas she had previously gotten up at 7 a.m., the moment I started getting up earlier, she did too.
So it’s taken some time to adjust and some working with my husband (who will now settle her back down for me if she wakes up early) but dare I say, we are in somewhat of a routine now.
Thanks to my #1 solution of giving myself permission to go to bed early if I need, I have found that getting up at 5 a.m. is giving me back the alone time I was so desperately missing.
I putter around the house, enjoying the sunrise, and drinking my first blissful cup of coffee, then log into work for a few hours before the kids wake up.
And call me officially an old person, but I freaking love my new alone time in the morning. I am such a better, calmer mom throughout the rest of the day, and knocking my work tasks off for the day — instead of fighting to get work done throughout the entire day with kids around — makes a huge difference too.
The truth is, there’s no one easy solution for any introverted parent right now who’s home with kids and maybe partners too, and there’s no one easy solution for parenthood in general.
For me, however, I’m learning that it doesn’t really do me any good to pretend I’m fine when I’m not fine.
I am an introvert and I miss having alone time — those truths don’t make me a bad mom. But fighting against what I did need was making me a bad parent because I was exhausted, burned out, and not a good version of myself.
I can’t change everything and I can’t control everything, but taking a good, hard look at some of the biggest daily challenges in my life — and working out some sort of solution to lessen them — has helped me feel a little more centered again.
And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll find myself missing all this noise and chaos and kids underfoot all the time.
Chaunie Brusie is a labor and delivery nurse turned writer and a newly minted mom of five. She writes about everything from finance to health to how to survive those early days of parenting when all you can do is think about all the sleep you aren’t getting. Follow her here.