I'm an Introverted Stay-at-Home Dad, Here's How I'm Coping When Lockdown Threatens Burn-Out
Let me tell you something: introversion exhaustion is real. My dopamine system is pretty middle of the road. I like to party and socialize (even if I'll occasionally fall asleep at the bar); I like spending time with friends and family (and now I especially miss their presence). But I also like peace and quiet, because my outer gregariousness aside, hanging out in noisy, crowded rooms, even with friends and family, reliably drains my battery from 100 to 0 percent halfway through the occasion.
So imagine being a stay-at-home father to a now 10-month-old daughter, B, who army crawls all over the house at high speed, an endlessly adorable ball of baby energy developing her own personality and strong opinions (even if she lacks the faculties for coherently articulating them).
Now imagine raising her during a pandemic, without access to grandparents for company and occasional childcare. Happily, my wife is here with us, present and involved but also working from home, which requires the bulk of her attention five days a week. And to top it off, imagine dealing with an introversion hangover in between baby's nap times and especially toward the end of the day.
The COVID-19 outbreak has thrown into sharp relief just how much impact my introverted characteristics can have on me. If I stop and picture our lives before Governor Charlie Baker laid out his stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts, I genuinely can't recall feeling as tired and worn out after a day with B as I do lately.
I get sleepy just from having parents—either mine or my in-laws—come by for socially distanced activities, like strolls through the park or simply standing in the driveway chatting at a six-foot distance. In B's first months, I had the benefit of typical social interactions. We went to Maine for a few days at the beach. We took a week off in Vermont. We had Thanksgiving at a family friend's home, then Friendsgiving at our own, then Christmas parties. It goes without saying that these events left me enervated but contented. But my everyday life with B during the pandemic seems to be wiping me out more than ever.
We're in the time of COVID-19, when we're all deprived of enjoyment, great and mundane, which just makes all the little details we miss or otherwise take for granted stick out like people wearing masks in public. No more parent groups; Zoom is a great adaptation, but it's not the same as in-person conversation. No more trips to the farmer's market or grocery store, or the bagel shop, or local cafes. Even 5:30 p.m., the time of day when my wife comes home and B lights up at her return with smiles and giggles, has lost all its meaning. Deprived of these luxuries, we all have more opportunities to sweat the small stuff.
For me that means a keen awareness of my introversion. It's not that B and I have nothing to do but putz around the house: We still go strolling in the pocket park in our neighborhood, I garden while she kicks her legs in her swing set, or plays on a blanket on the lawn, and of course we still find ways to see family. (We also get lots of compliments from neighbors and passersby, which B can't get enough of. She might be a baby, but she knows adoration when she hears it.) But options are limited, which means I'm more prone to the detriments of introversion than I've ever been.
The good news is that this isn't an insurmountable obstacle. I can't engage in the same "low-key activities" I used to, but that just means I have to get creative and find new ways to stay busy, whether on my own or when B's awake and bubbly. A remote yoga class in the afternoon or evening, for instance, is the definition of "low-key," a way to relax, work out, and get back some of that expended energy and turn it into motivation. Running helps, too—higher-impact but even more rejuvenating. An hour mowing the grass or 15 minutes in the garden helps, too. On weekends, I might make pancakes or bake cornbread; I either pick up food at one of our favorite restaurants or we cook a meal that needs time to flourish, like a roast chicken or a risotto.
These small indulgences don't require much planning or preparation. The stakes aren't high. Like that yoga class, they're relaxing, and I get more out of them than I put into them, and this leaves me feeling refreshed and ready to play B's favorite games, read her favorite books, or just follow her about the house as she wriggles from one room to the next. Call it self-care if you like, but for all the introverts out there, make sure to figure out what easygoing pastimes work best for you.