A few weeks ago I was reading a phenomenal book on being an introvert in America entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I’ll be mentioning this book here and there this week, but one of the reasons why I read the book was I heard that there was a chapter on introvert parenting. YES! One of my most difficult challenges as an introvert. Alas, the chapter or two on parenting had to do with parenting an introvert child not parenting as an introvert. I was frustrated and this was my only real disappointment with the book.
It is really difficult to describe the complexities of motherhood as an introvert. As a mother I am a huge supporter of Attachment Parenting (although I believe it is on a spectrum and I’m somewhere in the middle). We don’t do “crying it out,” I believe in child-lead weaning and nursing on demand, I stop what I’m doing (within reason) to cuddle, and we do/have done co-sleeping. This has worked best for our family. As an introvert I crave time and space alone and quiet and some degree of solitude. I think you can see the issue here; how can I be mom and an introvert at the same time? It is so easy to say that I will just give up space, quiet, and solitude to be with the kids 100% of the time. Unfortunately, I’m not a very pleasant mommy when I don’t have some time to myself. I get huffy and exasperated. My head aches. I mentally check-out. Or worse, I try to do my introvert-rejuvenating pursuits while mothering. Reading while dealing with infant colic is an exercise in futility.
Through the years I’ve thought of some different ways to balance my need to have time alone. I know that each family and each child is different so some of these ideas may not work for you. Also, it is MUCH easier for me to have time as an introvert now that I’m married. When I was a single mother my time alone was spent cramming for exams or cleaning the kitchen; I realize that some of these ideas may be frustratingly impossible given your life circumstances (sorry!). I can only recommend what I’ve done in the past. The suggestions are divided up into rough age groups.
Top Recommendations Across the Board:
— Find your anti-Cheers. You want the place where no one knows your name. When I try to have introvert time when the kids are up and Sam’s watching them I find myself acutely aware of the noise and what they are doing and Atticus is too young to understand why Mommy is in her room with the door shut. When the kids are out with Sam and I find myself alone I sometimes feel guilty — I should really scrub the shower or reorganize the pantry. Reading or thinking are nearly impossible. A coffee shop, a park, the library and yes, sometimes just sitting in my car gives me the opportunity to think mama-distraction free. Find a place where you can be alone in a crowd. Socializing is for another time. Also, I keep a stash of yarn and a book in the car for those unexpected, joyous bits of introvert freedom (like when I let Atticus finish his nap in the car or I get off work a few minutes early).
— Schedule a Date with Yourself: When the kiddos were infants I would only get an hour here and there. Finally Sam and I worked out at schedule and I went out for 2 – 3 hours a set time each week. It wasn’t to grocery shop or run errands. It was simply me time and it made such a huge difference. Sometimes I just went for a walk by myself. Having it scheduled made it much easier. Now I have “mom time” every weekend for about 4 hours. I return a happy, relaxed, and fully present mother.
–Kill Your TV!: Sam and I use netflix and have no TV at home. We don’t even have the netflix streaming to our TV (we use the computer for that). Atticus didn’t watch TV until after age 1, and now he gets 30 minutes a day unless he is sick. The house is much calmer and quieter without the background noise. Also, I found that when I had cable I wasted my precious quiet time watching stupid, loud, dramatic, non-rejuvenating reality TV with the obnoxious, pushy commercials blaring. I read more and Sam does more art now that we’ve gone TV free. It is like Fight Club, after the first week you won’t even miss it.
Infancy through Toddlerhood:
— Breastfeeding: On one hand, breastfeeding means that you have someone latching on to you every 2 to 2.5 hours for the first few weeks give or take. Hope nursed until 8 months and she was a dainty eater — every 3 to 4 hours. Atticus, on the other hand, nursed every 2 to 2.5 hours FOR THE FIRST YEAR OF HIS LIFE. While there are certainly rough patches, I can say that I enjoy breastfeeding. Of course I spent a lot of time singing, snuggling, and cooing over my children. I also read (you people with e-readers are lucky), listened to classical music and audiobooks, caught up on BBC dramas, read the news, and journaled.
— Journaling: I managed a different sort of journaling while breastfeeding, I made lists. When I was holding Atticus on my left side I would write with my right hand things to research, books to read, recipes to try, things to tell Sam, etc… It kept my brain engaged. Even if I couldn’t at that moment drop everything to go research young Queen Victoria, I knew that I would get to it at a different season of my life because I had written it down.
— Make use of sleepytimes: I know that the experts say nap when they nap. I found myself more refreshed by using nap time to enjoy the solitude of baking cookies, or writing a letter, or simply sitting in the still quiet house listening to the rain. Also, take that hour before you go to bed and resist the urge to catch up on cleaning and chores. Spend time alone or with your spouse. Brew a cup of herbal tea and sit in the quiet. Even if you know Junior will be up at 5am it is worth it to have some introvert time.
–Accept that Toddlerhood is difficult: Just accept it. When they start leaping off couch cushions onto the coffee table you pretty much need a babysitter or to wait until sleepytime to get any peace!
Preschool through Elementary School:
— Quiet Time: This was the period of time when I instituted a schedule. Every afternoon was a two hour quiet time. Hope could watch a movie, or play with puzzles, or look at her books. The rule was she had to stay on the couch. I went to my bedroom to read and have my “quiet time” or I went to the kitchen to bake. After quiet time we would do something together or go outdoors. We also reserved the hour before bed as quiet time. We each “read” our books or I would knit while Hope tucked in her dollies and then we would end the night by reading night-night stories. The quiet of the house in that evening hour was soothing to both of us.
— Talk about it: Around first grade I began explaining to Hope that I needed time alone. I framed it in a “differences are fun” matter. Hope is very extroverted and has been since she was a baby! Mommy is tall and Hope is short. Mommy has brown hair and Hope has blonde. Mommy likes mushrooms and Hope likes bananas. Mommy likes quiet and Hope likes loud. Mommy like to read and Hope likes to jump. Mommy likes purple and Hope likes green. Mommy likes her bubble (personal space) and Hope likes crazy tickles (manic rib tickling). She just saw me as different and didn’t take things personally.
–Taking Turns and Compromise: From about third grade on, Hope and I started seriously talking about compromise and taking turns. Sometimes we need a quiet, calm house so Mommy can write. Hope needed to accept that as an extrovert she would sometimes need to be quiet and respectful. By the same token, I had to accept that sometimes the house would be filled with nutty eight-year-olds trading Littlest Pet Toys and clambering for loud music so they could dance. As an introvert, I must accept that sometimes I need to allow my extrovert child the freedom to be an extrovert. If I had an introvert child, I would respect that child’s wish to be left alone, but I know I’d have to teach him or her that sometimes we still have play-dates and we need to tolerate noise.
— Wake up early: When Hope got to where she would sleep until at least 6:30am I would wake up at 4am. 4am – 6am was filled with scone baking, reading, coffee drinking, and watching the sunrise. I went to bed promptly at 9pm. I found that my alone time was more fulfilling in the early morning before my day had exhausted my internal resources. Whenever Atticus is older I will go back to my early morning introvert time.
–Ground rules: Just when I thought things would get easier. For some reason the popular perception of a cool mom includes toting kids to endless activities, random social engagements, chatting with other moms, and having a house full of kids. No, I don’t want all the neighborhood teens in my house playing video games. Get the hell out, I’m trying to bake brioche and listen to Edith Piaf! Being that mom on the commercials with the tray of bagel bites and smile for teens yelling and stomping through my peaceful abode is certainly not me. Here are a few of the rules Hope and I have agreed on:
- Music: Selena Gomez can be on repeat-peat-peat at a reasonable volume (slightly loud) in the afternoons between nap time and dinner.
- Friends: Hope must ask permission to have friends over. Friends who are rude or disrespectful are not asked back. Yes, I will take you and a half-dozen giggling girls to the skating rink and endure two hours of pulsing music and shrieking, BUT they are going home afterwards and mom is having a quiet evening at home.
- Sleepovers: We have a “one friend at a time” rule for sleepovers. I found that this pretty much eliminates cattiness, too.
- Activities: Hope was allowed one extracurricular during the sixth grade and she chose band (she plays the trumpet). For seventh grade and up I told her she could have two activities. She has chosen to do theater in addition to band. Also, I told Hope that I really don’t want to be in any booster/committee like function. I told her I will provide cupcakes and she said that was “more awesomer than raising money on the committee.”
- Manners: Not only is Hope extroverted, but she also has ADHD. I realized that sometimes we were arguing because she tends to start random and loud conversations. For example: Atticus is climbing up the table, the oven timer is going off, and the cat is puking and Hope will begin a loud conversation AT me extolling the virtues of Converse sneakers. I told her that it is more polite and beneficial if she would wait for me to have a free moment and then I could hear what she is saying and respond. I can’t focus with too much going on and I do want to have meaningful conversations… even if it is a low-top versus high-top discussion.
Well that’s about it, for now. The one thing I want to emphasize — more than anything do not feel guilty. Wanting time alone, or quiet, a chance to finish a thought is not a bad thing. When I take care of myself, whether that means drinking water or exercising or sleeping a full night or eating vegetables or having some quiet time I find that I always end up being a calmer and more attentive parent. When Hope was born I thought that I wanted to raise my daughter to not be afraid to be herself…. I need to follow my own advice.
Let me know if you are an introvert parent. What tips do you have?