Question: Since the lockdown is lifting, I find myself being dragged in all directions. I want to be a good friend to people, but I really miss having total control of my time. I have a few acquaintances through my kids and they are wanting to meet up again, but I just don't want to. It's not them - they are all lovely people, it's me. I just don't want to get back on that hamster wheel of coffees and play dates. Also, I work part-time from home and have two small kids full-time so I have no time for myself. How do I bow out without offending people or without my kids missing out? Why am I so concerned about offending people I hardly know?
Answer: This is a common sentiment at the moment. Your individual experience and identifying what you want to do, going forward, is step one. This is already a challenge as many women find they have been conditioned to think and put others first. So even thinking about this can bring up conflicted feelings, from frustration as to how things are and to how you want them to be. Maybe the first person you need to be friendly with is yourself. This is harder to practise than preach.
Crises bring chaos, but also clarity. It's like in the aftermath of a death, our relationships, life purpose and meaning are all called into question. Life, as it is, becomes clear as 20/20 vision. You may not like how you were living your life but that is the opportunity for change that you have the ability to change. With some of the daily noise of routines stalled, it created a clearing where you could see the proverbial wood from the trees.
Lost in the daily juggle of a mum, worker, cook, cleaner, taxi, and after-school activity organiser, the emotional labour of it became abundantly clear. You knew it before, but routinised meet-ups are hard to back out of.
What has happened is, when choices were taken away, you may have realised the freedom to choose was always there. This led to a sense of relief, and now that you can socialise, you are questioning and moving from a sense of 'I have to' to 'do I want to?'
Time and how you spend it and with whom, needs to be put to the top of the agenda. Do you know what else needs to be there? You, you have been down the bottom of your list for far too long.
It sounds like you have realised that you have been a people-pleaser and with the clarity of this insight, it will feel hard to go back to a 'normal' that depleted you. Or actually, it would be exceptionally easy to go back, but this won't meet your needs.
Congratulations, let me introduce you to creating and maintaining your own boundaries. Your case is one I am very familiar with and that is, the burnt-out mum. How could you be any other way? Life pre-Covid, for many, was already too much; with too many things to do, life became an endless tick the box exercise. Leaving many on a perpetual hamster wheel that led to angst and feeling overwhelmed as doing it all was too much.
Never mind coffee and play dates; it was more like coffee and cortisol. You say you 'want to be a good friend to people' but it seems you have realised the play date and coffees for you are acquaintances, and not your friends. I know you are not saying that you don't like them, you don't need to defend yourself. Tune into what is present for you. When your people-pleasing mode is always on, it can be exceptionally hard to hear and attune into what you actually feel.
Ask one simple question before you say 'yes':
'Do I want to do this?'
If you need to screenshot this and have it on your phone, do that. As moving from the mindset of a people-pleaser will require lots of work, and your boundaries will be tested. Well-intentioned but nonetheless, expect push back. 'Oh, I haven't seen you in ages, come on.'
The follow-on question is:
'Do I have the time or the energy to do this?'
Post-covid is polarising our different temperamental templates, with extroverts running back to meeting up and introverts recognising that perhaps they have been pushing themselves too much and for too long.
Energy is a great way to know how a social interaction went. If you come away more depleted than when you arrived, it may be the company, or that you didn't have enough personal resources in the tank to start with. With this in mind, how are you going to recognise when you are close to the red empty tank and what are you going to do about it?
Then lean into 'the pause'. Ask yourself again 'do I want to do this' and know that you have permission to say no. That is internal permission.
So, what can you do, to mind you?
Please take some behavioural action on this one. Thinking positive, pretty thoughts won't change anything. It's time for this conversation to open some more; the idea of the wonder-woman doing it all has burnt us.
What would it be like to have an honest conversation and say to one of the acquaintances, 'I don't know about you, but I've realised I have been doing too much, this is such a busy time in our lives and I like you all so much. We mind everyone else, one thing I've taken from lockdown is I need to put some time back into me.'
Or, just think this and decline, saying you can't today and to have a lovely time. Honesty is the best policy.
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