Guest post by Codi Darnell
It doesn’t seem like that long ago I was pleading with myself to set better social boundaries. I reminded myself weekly to block off time in the calendar—knowing that my family of five functions best at a slower pace—but I rarely followed through. It seemed selfish and indulgent to refuse an invitation to another family dinner when the calendar was free. I told myself that we were lucky to have the love and support of two big families and they would be hurt if we refused.
My mom wouldn’t be able to understand. “We’re family.” She would say. “You don’t want to be with your family?”
My sister has never had a need for down-time and doesn’t love being told “No”. To her, there is always room in the day for one more happy hour, one more dinner and one more chance to socialize.
While a weekly dinner used to be an expectation at my in-laws, my mother-in-law would now accept our refusal without fuss. But I would feel guilty as I know that she shows her love by feeding us to take the edge off of our responsibilities.
So instead of disappointing our families, we always showed up. Often it was one dinner a week with my family and one with my husband’s family. Come any holiday weekend you’d find us balancing the two sides over two days. One Thanksgiving weekend—the first with two children—we were getting ready for the second evening out. I was tired and the kids were cranky. I suggested to my husband that on the next holiday weekend we could go away and skip all of the obligation. Maybe then a long weekend would actually feel like a break. His response was “Yep, that sounds great. But do you really think you could do that?” I grumbled and rolled my eyes in resignation. Because, no, I couldn’t do it.
And I was right. Eight years later, nothing had changed. Our three children were all in school and some combination of soccer, dance and piano. And still, we filled in almost all of our free moments with family and friends. We had become the family I swore we’d never be: busy. And I was slowly burning myself out, ending every weekend depleted instead of rejuvenated. Then Covid hit and sent everyone home. Family dinners and plans with friends morphed into a few scheduled zoom calls but the rest of the time was ours.
Extroverts everywhere cried out for freedom while my introverted soul thrived within the blank squares of my calendar.
Every isolated moment felt like a reward for all of the past plans I wish I hadn’t made. It took weeks for me to say “It would be nice to see someone”. And as my anxiety settled over weeks of unscheduled time, I realized that COVID set the social boundaries I needed, but could never initiate.
However I’ve relied on my Covid excuse to a fault. As we look ahead to a future where we are once again able to socialize, I’m going to need to stop relying on this pandemic and instead own the fact that my social bucket gets filled with minimal effort. I have to believe that somewhere between a full calendar and covid isolation, there is a sweet spot.
I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. Having extended family on both mine and my husband’s side who love and care for us and our children is wonderful. Having friends we connect with and love is a privilege. But COVID’s isolation has shown me that I can’t fill up all of our free space with their company. Not because I don’t love them. Not because I don’t want to see them. Not because I don’t enjoy the time we spend together. Because it’s time for me to honour my introverted nature and put the boundaries in place that create balance between busy and bored. I know now, more than ever, that unscheduled time to read, have movie nights and keep to ourselves is important for us to thrive.
Of course I do not wish to live in a world-wide pandemic for longer than absolutely necessary. And since I don’t ever want to find myself depleted, getting ready for another dinner, saying “I miss COVID when we didn’t have to go anywhere”, I will finally, at 34 years old, learn to say “No”.
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