My baby arrived, and suddenly I had zero introvert alone time — until I learned to get creative.
Let me tell you about my experience of the past year…
It was February 2020 and I was loving life. I had left my job as a research scientist to begin maternity leave for my forthcoming second baby. Each day, my husband went to work and my son went off to preschool, leaving me to enjoy six hours blissfully alone (well, with the addition of a squirming bump!). As an introvert, I relished this alone time to read, write, and reflect, unaware that this would be the last solo time I would enjoy for quite a while.
My baby soon arrived, and two weeks later, most of the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At first, it seemed like a lovely little twist of fate — my husband would work from home, we could share child duties, and use this time to adapt to our new addition. All my fears of being overrun with guests too soon after the birth were wiped away. There would be no overeager hands seizing my newborn, no visitors outstaying their welcome, and no awkward small talk while I tried to stay awake.
Could I have asked for a more ideal postpartum situation as an introverted mom?
From a Lot of Alone Time… to No Alone Time
After only a few days, the horrific reality set in. Sure, the social obligations had vanished, but I had a family to look after. And no one was going anywhere. I realized that it was nearly impossible to snatch up even two minutes of alone time. There was a constant stream of noise and activity: the three-and-a-half-year-old, the baby, the washing machine and dishwasher, my husband’s work Zoom meetings, you name it.
I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be alone anymore.
It was probably a mixture of the postpartum hormones raging through me, my state of severe sleep deprivation, and my introverted nature, but I started suffering from “introvert hangovers”: I would burst into tears often and without warning; I yelled at my toddler non-stop; I grew frustrated with the baby (who wasn’t nursing properly); and I screamed at my husband to just “get out” so that I could have a moment with no voices, no squeals, and no questions. At times, I felt so much rage that I was scared of myself.
Virginia Woolf famously suggests that a woman must have “a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Similarly, I think it would be ideal for an introvert to have a room of their own (preferably with a lock and a mini bar inside!) if they are to survive lockdowns — or other situations — spent with others in a tiny apartment. But, knowing that’s impossible for most, what can you do? Here are some strategies I started using in order to reclaim my coveted introvert alone time.
8 Ways to Reclaim Your Alone Time as an Introverted Parent
1. Create a daily schedule and book an appointment with yourself.
It’s all too typical that what is not planned tends not to happen. This is even more likely when you’re living with a bunch of people who have different needs, desires, and schedules. The alone time that I was naturally afforded pre-pandemic disappeared entirely when no one was leaving the house. It became critical for my husband and I to begin each day planning out exactly what was going to happen and when:
- When would he work?
- When would we eat?
- Even, when would we take our showers?
The most important topic on the agenda for me was:
- When will I get some undisturbed alone time?
Once we had a plan in place, I found I could relax a little. Knowing that I would get that solitude later on meant that I could better “handle” the rest of my busy day.
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2. Write a list of ideas detailing how you’re going to use your alone time when you get it.
In the same vein as “creating a treasure chest of self-care,” I made a list of things I like doing by myself so that when the opportunity arises, I don’t just waste my precious alone time scrolling through Instagram. I’ve even gone further and divided these into timed lists, so whether I have five minutes or 60, I have a whole lot of ideas that are appropriate. For example, a speedy exercise session on YouTube (10 minutes), reading a chapter of my on-the-go book (20 minutes), and working on a writing project (60 minutes). I keep this list on my phone so that I have ready access to it. I’ve found it’s really helped me get the most out of my alone time.
3. Wake up early (or stay up late).
Things improved substantially when my baby started sleeping through the night. I was getting more sleep, which meant that I had the energy to start waking up early before the kids and my husband. I could then read a book, journal, do some yoga, and set myself up on the right track for the day with a good dose of quiet. Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, carve out some time when no one is awake (so you can be in complete control of the time) to dedicate to yourself.
4. Cultivate “non-traditional” independent time.
Thriving during the pandemic has not been easy and has required a little creativity and the ability to utilize what is available to us. I have been surprised at how much I now draw comfort from activities I once considered mundane.
For instance, I now look forward to cleaning the bathroom (I know!). I leave my husband and sons in the living room, set up a podcast or music (or nothing!) playing on my noise-cancelling headphones, and get to work scrubbing away. The physical activity, plus the lack of external noise, means that I can create an invigorating alone space, even while they’re all still in the house.
I also enjoy locking the bathroom door, putting on the fan (as soothing white noise), and using my shower time as if I were going to a spa retreat. I have a foot bath, I moisturise my legs, apply a face mask, and take some time to pamper myself. (Hey, I have to take what I can get!)
5. Make use of all (unused) spaces.
A lot of the time, the baby is sleeping in our bedroom, and my husband and older son will be playing or watching TV in the living room. Instead of attempting to do solitary activities (like reading, for instance) while in the same room as them, I take these opportunities to disappear and go off into my son’s room.
Sure, I’d prefer to be on the comfortable living room couch, but being in a separate room means that I get much better quality alone time. When the weather is good, I may also choose to go on a solitary walk. Our apartment may be small, but there’s always somewhere I can go and be alone.
6. Redefine what it means to be alone.
Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, an introvert, wrote about her “ability to attain [an] inner calm, regardless of outside turmoil.” She described working while in the busy living room “with children playing on the floor, shouting and making all kinds of noise.”
Whie it’s not the ideal environment for an introvert, I think developing this skill of cultivating a state of inner calm while in a noisy, bustling environment is a real strength and may help you prevent getting overwhelmed in circumstances where it’s simply not possible to be physically alone. Similarly, I think it’s a great idea to develop the art of daydreaming to offer mental paths out of your current environment.
7. Accept help if it’s available.
Even though the pandemic is still evolving and rules are constantly changing, it seems we can see people outside of our households more and more. Right now here in Germany, for instance, we are allowed to see people from other households. This makes it possible to invite a friend or babysitter over to help us out, and for me to have bigger doses of alone time. For us introverts, asking for help is not always easy, but it’s necessary. And as my fellow introverts know, solitude is as important as food and drink, so consider what options are available to you.
8. Socialize with people who don’t live with you.
Okay, so this is not really a way to cultivate alone time, but I think part of the problem during this time has been the lack of day-to-day connection with people outside my household. I’ve found that even a few messages exchanged with like-minded friends is a great antidote to my feelings of overwhelm induced by being constantly surrounded by my family.
So even though this is not “alone time” in the traditional sense, it’s still a form of self-care that’s important for us introverts — we need community, too. It’s also a way to disconnect from our non-stop, go-go-go lives.
Small Actions, But Big Change(s)
Despite implementing these strategies consistently, I still have bad days sometimes: I still yell at my family, I still cry, and I still feel despair. But I no longer feel like I’m losing myself over this phenomenally challenging time. These approaches may seem like tiny actions, but they have big results: They have truly altered my experience of the pandemic — and my present — for the better.
If you are also an introverted parent trying to find some more time for yourself, then I hope reading my story has made you feel less alone in your experiences. Regardless of whether you’re a parent, or simply living with anyone else (whether it’s roommates, a partner, or your own parents), I hope you’ve picked up a few new strategies to make sure you’re getting some of that essential alone time we introverts crave and need.
My fellow introverts, how do you ensure you get your alone time in a busy environment? I’d love to hear your ideas — leave them in the comments below!
If you’re interested in more articles about parenting, productivity, reading, and thriving in life, then head over to my blog, LifeInspirationFile.com.