Sunday, November 7, 2010

In Praise of Co-workers

One of the hardest things about swapping a day job for stay-at-home parenthood for me has been the lack of co-workers. I miss the automatic interpersonal perks and challenges of seeing the same people on a regular basis, of striving to accomplish tasks with and sometimes in spite of them, of sharing a common professional environment, experience, and set of inside jokes. In my adult life, work friends have always been invaluable.

Which is why, I suppose, so many new parents sign up for groups and classes. Joining can provide much needed structure, support, and social interaction for those embarking on an all-consuming, high-stakes new way of life.

I get it. I totally do.

And I wanted nothing to do with it when my daughter was born.

I doubt that acquaintances peg me as an introvert. My friends and family often reject it as an appropriate descriptor for me. It's true that I'm friendly, that I enjoy people and good conversation and many aspects of socializing, but I absolutely love being alone. Anything that involves mingling is nothing I want to attend. Groups larger than five stress me out, whether comprised of close friends or strangers. I hate using the phone; lack of access to facial expressions and other physical cues renders me hopelessly awkward. I realize that I'm not an extreme introvert by any stretch - I adore spending time with my family or a few close friends, and I tend to enjoy even gigantic parties to some degree once I acclimate to the scene - but I identify with term for very real reasons.

My tendency towards introversion became more intense right after my daughter was born. Although the general consensus is that new mothers benefit from participating in parenting groups or mama-baby yoga classes or some sort of activity along those lines, I was far from interested. "The last thing I need is to spend more time talking about being a parent," I'd tell my partner. Or, "Just because someone has kids doesn't mean I want to hang out with them." Or, "I didn't like yoga classes before I had the baby, so I don't imagine bringing a fussy infant along would make it suddenly my favorite thing."

I was drained all the time and impressed if I managed to care for the baby and feed myself throughout the day; the last thing I needed was an appointment hanging over my head, much less one that entailed presenting my bedraggled self to new people. On top of that, the idea of going out of my way to further self-identify as a mother when motherhood was swallowing my life whole in the first place seemed ass-backwards. What I needed was a break from the baby. Some time alone. The chance to read a book. A drink at a bar with a friend. A walk without the dog. Anything that had nothing to do with being a caregiver. 

Now I see that the one-two punch of endless exhaustion and no free time might have been assuaged by the regular company of those experiencing the same challenges in service of the same goal. Like co-workers, stay-at-home parents share a line of work, speak a kind of jargon, and are generally eager to commiserate and trade notes, all of which provide some serious mental health benefits. It's true that I needed free time and sleep more than anything, but I didn't get either by not joining a new mothers' weekly stroller stroll (which I just made up but I'm sure exists). I wish I had handled my reticence about new parent activities the same way I've learned to handle my reticence about parties and other large, mingle-y gatherings: if any small part of me thinks it could be fun, I ignore my introverted self and just go.

Which, like everything, is much easier to do now that I get more than two hours of sleep at a stretch.


  1. Chicago Mamas Collective. It's a few hundred moms around the city doing meet ups--some are mom and kid stuff--ie hitting a new playlot, some are moms-only stuff like book club. I was the same way, and then I hung out with some other moms and went for some strolls and trading notes and commiserating and just being social is genuinely revivifying.

  2. Thanks, Jessica! That sounds nice and laid-back. I look forward to checking them out.