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[Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of contributions from our members and friends about the hidden costs of the COVID crisis. You can read more about our symposium and how to contribute here.]
You would think that being a middle child of eight kids, I would be an extrovert who could handle chaos. At family gatherings, even though I loved talking and being around everyone, I would find myself sneaking away for 15-20 minutes to be alone before rejoining the merriment.
This didn’t change as I grew older. No matter what the gathering was, I would need to take a few minutes to get away from the noise, and I never had a problem being the first to leave. When I started dating my husband, he didn’t believe me when I told him I didn’t handle chaos well. When we had toddlers, he realized I wasn’t joking.
In fact, I never realized just how much chaos and noise affected me until well into having kids. I had developed coping mechanisms without even realizing it, and those coping mechanisms didn’t translate well into parenthood. It became much harder, and not always prudent, to disappear for 30 minutes and hope nobody noticed.
Suddenly I found myself riddled with anxiety because I was surrounded by little kids. Thankfully, my husband is super dad and a super husband who allows me to have alone time I need to be able to function as a mom. After we had our sixth child, I finally sought help for my anxiety and depression. For starters, I began to really understand that despite my loud and talkative personality, I am truly an introvert. I remember crying the day my therapist said to me “You’re an introvert. You have six kids. You are being drained all day.”
Yes! She explained exactly what I was constantly feeling but couldn’t say for fear of feeling like a bad mom. So why have so many kids when I am this way?
None of our kids was an “accident,” and` each has brought something special to our family. I have a husband whose job thankfully allows him to be very present and work from home and our parenting is definitely 50/50.
We never had plans to homeschool, I knew I didn’t have the temperament for it. Each of our kids (who are mostly extroverts like their Dad) goes off to preschool at 3-years-old. I get babysitters to help me out when I need it. We are blessed to have the means to get me help. Now my oldest is a teenager, and she babysits for us as well. Typically, I can get the emotional breaks throughout the day when the older kids are off to school and the younger ones are napping. Yes, some times my breaks only happen when I turn on “Octonauts.”
Then the great Quarantine of 2020 happened.
It came right when our youngest was just stopping her naps (what 3-year-old is willing goes down for a nap when her five older siblings are playing outside right under her bedroom window?)
So now it’s six kids home all the time. No breaks. My husband, who still is very hands-on, does have to get work done. Schoolwork has to be monitored. Three-year-olds have to be entertained. There is never a moment without some demand on my emotional attention: someone always needs something from Mom, or a fight is breaking out.
I am so tired of taking four-mile walks every single day to be alone. Although it does help my mood, it leaves my legs pretty sore. My husband needs more adult interaction from someone other than his depressed wife.
On top of the nonstop togetherness, there are big questions about the future: Will the pool be open? Will the kids be back in school come the last week of August? If not, what am I going to do? My kids are bored. They need some change in scenery. They need their friends. I can’t be, nor should I be, everything for my kids.
The pool is something to look forward to every day. We go for several hours almost every day loaded with snacks. As soon as we get there the kids run off to swim with their friends, I swim with little kids on my back, “Whale rides” we call them (even though I don’t exactly love being referred to as a whale). My friends are there. We chat while standing in the 3-feet end, usually constantly swimming away to grab the toddler in a puddle jumper who drifted a little too far away. The older kids don’t pester, they know exactly when they will get to eat, during the 15- minute “adult swim.”
It’s relaxing, largely because it’s predictable. I get my fill of friendship, enjoyable interactions with my kids, sun, and exercise. The kids go home tired and ready for bed. I’m not just surviving when we are at the pool, I’m getting to be the mom I had hoped I would be when I first found out I was pregnant with our first. I’m my best self and engaged, it’s not merely from survival mode.
Survival mode. It’s how I get from day to day during long weekends. It’s how I get from morning to night when my husband is traveling. Easy dinners that I know the kids will eat without complaint, a little too much TV, and lower expectations for productivity.
But survival mode works only if there is a set end date. When I know I only have to get to a certain day before kids go back to school, I have my hours alone to recharge in order to be able to emotionally handle the homework chaos, the dinner complaints, and the lack of order.
We have great kids. They are helpful, sweet, funny, and creative. They’ve done very little complaining about the situation we are in. They put on plays, cook, build forts, and read to each other. But they are kids, they fight and complain. They have their limits and needs. Those needs don’t stop because their mother’s emotional world is chaos and all of her coping mechanisms are now just question marks that no one seems to be able to answer.
And the thing is, I’m not one of those “everything back to normal” people. I’m cautious. I don’t want to rush back as things were just to have us all back into quarantine a month later when more outbreaks erupt. I have people I care about who are very much at risk for having this virus turn deadly on them quickly.
The stay-at-home orders are one big, society-wide survival mode. I can do this, I just need to see the end. When can I stop hunkering down, and try actually living again?
I know that I’m not the only introvert parent who is struggling who just needs a few answers to feel sane again.
– Katie Carney, MarylandPublished in