I am an introvert. I wear this label like a brand because it offers me a shield of protection, as though just saying it helps others to understand why I am as awkward as I am, or why it may take me a few minutes to formulate a response, or why I just need to separate myself from cacophony. This label bears no weight at all with my family, however, which makes these interesting times.
Being in the middle of a global pandemic, with all of us at home sharing the same walls and breathing the same air, day in and day out, has offered a unique opportunity for me as an introvert to figure things out.
My husband is a very on, very extroverted individual. My daughter is the apple that didn’t fall far from his side of the tree. My son is a Velcro kid. I am a bubble person, the one that bought a hula hoop when the kids were younger to demonstrate how much space mamma needs around her, the one that loves having my kids be all over me, but in small doses with long breaks in between.
I’ve found the keys to relatively a peaceful household to be mutual respect and self-care in the form of scheduled separation.
Mutual respect goes in all directions. Parents have to respect kids and each other. Kids have to respect parents and each other. We’re teaching the kids that if they give us some of what we need, i.e. being helpful and positive behavior, we’ll give them some of what they want, i.e. more free time. My kids, who are seven and eight years old, so close in age and competitive as a result, have actually decided to move in together. Sharing a room is teaching them about the necessity of respecting each other’s personal space, and also self-awareness about how and when they need alone time. It’s a work in progress, but it’s progressing. I lost my job due to COVID-19, but my husband’s work is very busy, so I find it necessary to respect the boundaries of his workday, as well as making space for opportunities to recharge his batteries. In return, he doesn’t inflect any opinions or expectations on my time or the schedule I’ve devised, trusting that I’m doing the best I can for myself, for the kids, and for our family. Basically, when I’m at my desk, my personal cocoon, he doesn’t interrupt me. On the whole, what all of us seem to need to succeed this quarantine is freedom, within the confines of our homes, and we’re finding ways to achieve it.
My freedom comes in free time, isolation within the isolation. I have always been an advocate of self-care, and this is no less needed now. Let’s be honest, school won’t be back in session anytime soon. My kids are not going back in two weeks, or four weeks, and maybe not even until September. Who knows, there may not even be summer camp. It’s just us, and we’re in it for the long haul. This is not the life that they’re used to, mom and dad have always worked, and I know I need to keep it fresh and engaging as much as is decently possible, but I also know that in order to succeed there, I need to do some things for me, too.
Making a schedule that allows me to be present as a mom, but is kind to the whole family, was my primary goal. For example, I know that my kids prefer languid mornings, they despise being rushed. And seriously, we aren’t going anywhere so who am I to refuse them? So, I allow them free time, which does mean screen time, until ten each morning. I, on the other hand, am an early riser. I always got up at 5am to allow myself some personal time before school and work and I haven’t dropped the habit. What this does is provide me with five beautiful hours at the start of each day, five hours when I can read a book, binge a show, catch up on essential tasks or work on personal projects and goals—such as writing this post. By the end of this time I have enjoyed a few silent cups of coffee, I have checked several items off my personal to-do list, and I feel ready to conquer the day.
I don’t have the kids on a structured hourly schedule as it doesn’t suit our temperaments. Rather, they are on a points system. Earning 100 points through activities such as homework, reading, going outdoors, crafting, household chores and science experiments allows them more free time in the afternoons. This is win-win, because more free time for them also means more free time for mom, providing me with an hour or so to regroup before Round Two. I often use this second break to go for a long walk by myself. This gives me a chance to move my body freely, to clear my mind, and to sort out any pent-up feelings I may be having at the time. We all have a lot of feelings going on right now; because I don’t wear mine on my sleeve means I need to provide myself with the means to resolve them, privately, before they have a chance to inflict themselves on my family’s day.
This circles back to respect. Respect for my family, but also respect for myself. Awareness and self-awareness. Scheduling in time for me to go inside is as important as scheduling in time for schooling and physical exercise. It keeps me healthy, which in turn keeps us healthy. We’ve been at this for weeks now, and we’ll likely be at it for months overall. I believe that to get through it, in this household, we need to operate by our own three R’s: Relax, Regroup, Respect. At the end of the day, what we have is each other.