Parenting small children is a sure fire way to enter a world of isolation. Parenting children with special needs can bring on isolation of another level. I often feel like I do not have time or energy for being very social. I am what I’d call an “Introverted Extrovert.” I am pretty energetic in social settings. I love talking, visiting, meeting new people and learning about their lives. I feel most alive when I’m being social. However, the introverted side of me sometimes takes over and makes “being social” feel like a lot of work. After a long, socially-rich event, I need to recover and regroup before I’m ready to leave my house again. Between my personality and the season of parenting I am in, it’s sometimes just easier to become isolated. I can only handle so much isolation, though before I’m moody and lonely.
There are some steps I’ve learned to take to protect my life from becoming too isolated. I still have a long way to go with building and developing friendships, but I’ve found these action steps provide me a better sense of balance between this whole mommy thing and my need for connecting with the outside world. If you are struggling with feeling isolated, try some of the following:
1. Say yes.
At times, my life is in pure survival mode, so saying “yes” to an invitation of any kind is not my knee jerk response. My husband and I have made a rule that when invited to something by friends or family, we will explore the option of saying “yes” first before looking at all of our reasons for saying “I’m too busy or tired.” By saying “yes” to invitations, we’ve had opportunities to connect with friends and meet new friends.
2. Join a book club or something similar.
Every first Friday of the month, you will find me at book club. And every second Tuesday of every month, you will find me eating desserts with an adoption mom support group. I absolutely love these standing appointments. I especially love that there is a larger group of women at both and the conversations flow naturally and fluidly. I can be as introverted or as extroverted as I want. Joining a regular once-a-month gathering is a great, low-pressure way to decrease isolation you may be experiencing in life. Another fun way I’ve prevented isolation in my life is by working out in group fitness classes. I haven’t met any besties at my gym and I don’t even know any of their names, but it is nice to be in a easy environment where I can as social as I want or as quiet as I want, while seeing some familiar faces.
3. Invest first in relationships with the people you see every day.
This includes your spouse and your children. It also includes your co-workers and neighbors. These relationships are already existing each and every day around you. Invest in these relationships for another level of connection. At one time, your spouse probably satisfied everything you ever needed in a friend. Life sometimes gets in the way of that. Recommit to investing in that friendship and spending more quality time with your children. Invite a neighbor you wave “hello” to every morning over for coffee. Follow-up with your co-worker about their daughter’s illness. These people are in your life every day and you may have a deeper friendship waiting for you with someone closer than you think.
4. Simplify your life. AKA: Declutter your house and calendar.
Make time. Make space. Trim the fat. Look for ways you can simplify your life. By simplifying your calendar, you will be able to say “yes” to more. You will also have more energy to invest in others around you. Declutter your home. The less “stuff” you have in your home, the less time you need to spend maintaining your home.
5. Budget for saying “yes.”
Especially before I went back to work, it was financially difficult for us to say yes to meeting friends for lunch after church, ordering pizza with another family, or meeting a girlfriend for a girls’ night out. So, we introduced a very important budget line to our monthly budget. We called it “Wild Card Cash.” We set aside $30 each month for spontaneous social events each month. We could all of a sudden say “yes” more often. If $30 isn’t an option, set aside $5 a month so you can say “yes” to grabbing coffee with a girlfriend once a month. Even on the tightest budgets, it’s important to make financial room for saying “yes.”
6. Invite people over to your house.
I really need to get better at this. I often let my hostess-insecurity get in the way of inviting people to our home. I am not confident in my hosting or cooking skills. That being said, our youngest daughter is at a stage that it is sometimes difficult to hang out anywhere other than our own home. So, if you’re a single parent, a parent whose spouse travels for work often, or raising a child who makes leaving the house kind of difficult, invite someone over to your home.
7. Set up an 8:00pm coffee date.
I have a couple of friends who are usually more than ready to spontaneously grab a coffee at 8:00pm after we’ve tucked our kids in bed. (As a side note, this is exactly why I am a believer in early bedtimes for my children. ;) My husband also enjoys the occasional alone time while I’m chatting the night away with my girlfriend to focus on his own hobbies or watch movies I have zero interest in.
8. Go on regular dates with your spouse.
If you’re fortunate to have family ready to help with babysitting, take full advantage! We have found the next best thing. We have a babysitter who knows our kids, knows our family, and has a lot of availability, so my husband and I have been able to have date nights every 2-3 weeks. Between all the special needs of our girls, we really need babysitters who know our girls well. I am so thankful we have someone we can call. Not only is date night a time to connect with eachother, it’s also a time to have someone else do the dinner and bedtime routine. As much as I love my children, an occasional night off is welcomed. When we can’t get away for a date night, we try to spend time together doing something other than watching tv. Whether that’s cooking or snuggling and talking, or playing a game, it’s brings a deeper level of connection than sitting on the couch watching the next episode of whatever our current television series is.
This is one of those suggestions that is not necessarily ideal, but sometimes necessary. Our girls are sick more often than the average child. Our younger daughter has a difficult time in unfamiliar settings. These two obstacles make it difficult to regularly attend church or life group or social events. Things come up often and our planned events are interrupted. Even though it’s not ideal, we have tried to tag-team and have one of us go to the event while the other one stays home. Ideally, we’d attend family functions as a family, but rather than skip out altogether, we’ve committed to doing our best to switching off with one of us staying home and the other one going to the event. I’m not going to lie. It’s quite difficult to find the motivation to go to church on Sundays sometimes when the other spouse is comfy in his pajamas because he’s staying home with the contagious child. But, when we’ve resisted that temptation to stay home, we’ve opened our connection to the outside world and to people who are important to us.
10. Get out of the house.
When all else fails, and you feel like you can’t shake the isolation, get everyone dressed and loaded in the car and go somewhere. Go to a park, go on a hike, go walk around the mall, go anywhere. The simple act of getting out of the house and going somewhere that is out of your normal surroundings can be very refreshing.
Isolation is a lonely place. Raising small children and children with special needs can exacerbate those feelings of isolation. How do you cope with isolation that sometimes comes with parenting small children?