The Washington Post
She’s comfortable in her own shell
Dear Carolyn: Every day I hear about the joyful “returning to normal” once the pandemic eases. Of course I want it to end and I mourn the many victims. Yet, I feel anxiety about returning to life as it was. We’ve gotten off social media, let go of a lot of casual friendships and busy work, didn’t bubble with neighbors and organize or participate in socially distanced events. We mostly worked, hung out at home, pursued hobbies, etc. (My husband has always hated socializing.)
The thought of going back to gatherings, school and social obligations, the competition, the gossip, scares me. I also resent being the family cruise director but worry that our kids never see us socializing with other parents. How do I embrace “normal” again?
Homebody: When “normal” does show up, finally (please!), I suspect it will have changed so much we won’t recognize it right away. But I don’t want to get your hopes up.
This, at least, is actionable no matter how normal our new normalcy is: You did fine without the old things, working only with what you had in your own home. You felt better, even, without all the outside stuff.
You’re right that you need to get at least somewhat back out there for your kids’ sake. So important.
But you will also have this new knowledge of your superpower to help you through the “gatherings, school and social obligations, the competition, the gossip.” Which is: You, personally, don’t need them! You can work, hang out at home, pursue your hobbies. You can decide at any point to skip a gathering or say “no” before any offer becomes an obligation. You can lose all the competitions. You can be at the wrong end of the gossip. Because you don’t need this. You’re good. They can all have fun without you.
I could even argue (so I will!) that modeling this for your kids, your comfort in your own skin, will serve them better than just showing them you can go through the social motions you think they need to see you go through. Resolve to live in service of your values and your nature.
That includes, of course, being the parent your children need you to be, and honoring their values and natures. If they are social and outgoing, then give them enough rides and permission slips and encouragement to become independently social. If they are not outgoing and need more support, then you set your perfect-world preferences aside and get out there. These don’t obligate you to be “old-normal” social — just supportive. Supportive enough.
By the way: None of this has to be permanent, nor does any definition of “normal.” This year may have taught you a way to live that suits you better, and if so, that’s great. Preserve as much of that as you can. But it’s also possible there are other elements to your fear that only time will reveal. Maybe you — we — are traumatized by months of the weird combination of boredom and menace that covid-19 forced on us. Maybe your social muscles have simply atrophied and you’ll feel more outgoing as you regain your strength.
Being open to these possibilities and adapting as you go is also something good for your kids to see.