How to Stay Sane When You’re an Introvert Working From Home… With Kids

As an introverted parent, my life under social distancing is the opposite of paradise.

I’m sitting in the chair in my bedroom criss-cross applesauce with my laptop on my lap, mere feet away from where I sleep every night. I’m working hard, but the conditions are less than ideal. My corporate job hasn’t slowed down, just shifted, since we were all ordered to shelter in place in the Bay Area.  

I can hear Taylor Swift playing from the living room, where my two girls (ages 6 and 9) alternate between giggling and arguing about the board game they’ve decided to play as part of their daily “creative time” in their new “remote learning” schedule.

Even though it’s almost noon, I haven’t eaten breakfast yet. Between feeding the kids this morning, going on a family walk for some fresh air, setting them up to learn when we got back, and gathering everything together for my conference calls and their Zoom chats, there just hasn’t been time.

Did I Mention I’m Stressed?

While there are all kinds of memes going around saying, “I am an introvert, I have been preparing for this my whole life,” the truth is — as an introverted parent — my current reality is the opposite of paradise. I’m stressed.

I’m stressed about the virus, about people dying, and about what is going to happen in our communities. I’m stressed about my parents and in-laws, and, well, everything! I’m stressed about the possibility that my kids won’t go back to school until the fall. And I’m stressed about how long we’re going to live life holed up in our houses, pretending that life and school go on as usual. 

As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I’m attuned to everything going on. I thrive in calm, low-stimulus environments. I don’t just crave alone time with few external distractions — I need it. To say this has been a challenge is an understatement. My new “stay at home” reality as a working mom with a working partner and two kids (and a dog — did I mention there’s a dog?) in a cramped house makes it hard to achieve any sense of calm, of normalcy.  Honestly, I go through rollercoasters of panic where I must lean on my yoga training to breathe to calm myself down. 

For the last three days, my new “workplace” has me dealing with:

  • Unpredictable, high-stimulus environments with work calls, kid requests, home schooling demands, and dog disruptions (admittedly, those ones are cute)
  • ALL the time together with no time for just me
  • Distractions. Distractions. Distractions. From kids, phones, emails, everything
  • So. Much. Noise. Kids talking. Conference calling. Music. Piano playing. Laughing. Fighting. Screening.
  • Zero solitary time. Did I mention that already? I might have.
  • Working “alone” from home but not alone at all

Of Course, I’m Lucky

I haven’t mentioned how lucky I am, but I know it. I’m so lucky to have a beautiful family, a roof over our heads, and a fully stocked fridge, not to mention that my husband and I are working at a time when many have lost their jobs. I’m grateful for all we have.

But this is far from easy. 

I know I’m not alone as an introverted parent, so what should we do to stay sane and get our introverted needs met? Here are five things I’m learning about keeping it together. 

5 Ways to Stay Sane as an Introverted Parent Working from Home

1. Schedule self-care time.

This will look different for everyone. For me, it involves doing 30 minutes of yoga first thing in the morning before the day really gets going. For my introverted husband, it’s going on a solo bike ride mid-afternoon when I’m okay to take over the household. For you, it might be walking the dog by yourself or finding a few minutes to work on an art project or read a book. Whatever it is, remember that “you time” is really important right now. Schedule something — even if it’s brief — and stick to it to save your sanity. 

2.  Create a daily family schedule and stick to it.

My kids helped create their daily schedule for “remote schooling,” and it’s been going fairly well so far. We have incorporated way more screen time than they normally get, but some of it involves “educational” screen time so they’re able to learn and explore.

In that time, we’ve explored virtual field trips to zoos (the Cincinnati zoo is a favorite) and museums (like the Boston’s Children’s museum), music apps (my older daughter is learning piano on Simply Piano as I type), language learning apps (Duolingo works well for kids too!), and math apps (ST Math is a staple). And of course, we’ve video chatted with friends (Zoom is becoming our tech best friend).

We also make sure to schedule physical activity into our days together like that morning family walk, silly backyard badminton, and lunch together for an hour everyday. The more my kids feel in control of their options, the more time I have without frazzled distractions, which helps keep me calm.

3. Carve out a space that’s all yours.

After three days at home in that bedroom chair, I’ve come to realize how much I need a small desk just for me. It will help as a visual separation between my work and leisure time, since both take place in the same space. I may still be working from my bedroom, but my desk will be in a corner free from other distractions.

If you’re not working, you may need a reading nook or other space that everyone knows is just for you. Whatever and wherever it is, find your space and set it up, distraction-free, so that it feels like your little oasis of calm amidst this storm. (Here are some tips from an interior designer to create your own introvert bedroom sanctuary.)

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4.  Pull out those noise-canceling headphones.

If you are a highly sensitive introvert like me, you probably already have a pair (or two) of noise-canceling headphones lying around the house. Pull them out and put them on. Listen to the lovely sound of white noise. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, turn on some soothing music (Enya, anyone?) and let the calm pervade your body. If you don’t have a pair yet, consider ordering one to help you get through your day. Many stores are still offering online shopping and delivery. 

5.  When all else fails, have a dance party!

This one falls under the “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” category. Turn up the Taylor Swift and dance around the living room with your kids. You’ll get some energy out and elevate your endorphins, making you feel better. Bonus: No one but your family members will see you, so you’re free to get as crazy as you want.

This is a tough time to be an introverted parent. Just know that you’re not alone, and you will get through this. We will all get through this. Stay healthy and sane by protecting your alone time and allowing yourself to give into the joy of family moments. 

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Hannah O’Reilly is a corporate mama living in the Bay Area with her two girls, a dog and a fabulous husband. She is also a lifelong, card-carrying highly sensitive introvert who only recently has leaned into her introversion as her secret super-power.