If you’re reading this then you probably consider yourself to be an introvert. Or perhaps you’re co-parenting with someone who is. In either case, you’re doubtless well aware that life as a parent can bring about some new and, let’s say, unique challenges for the introvert.
It’s a fair assertion that most kids don’t really subscribe to the concept of personal space. Or being quiet. As parents, we’re often thrown into the kind of loud and chaotic scenarios that make us feel like running off and hiding in the nearest closet. Or maybe that’s just me…
While I’m not at the extreme end of the scale when it comes to my introversion, I’m most definitely an introvert nonetheless. I’d probably describe myself as a “sociable introvert”. I’m a people person, and I love hanging out with my friends or going to parties and dinners, but I often have to mentally prepare myself beforehand. Ask any introvert and they’ll tell you – having someone stop by your home unannounced is a completely nightmarish scenario (regardless of how much we love to see our friends and family). A most heinous of crimes.
Either way, any kind of social interaction has to be balanced with plenty of quiet time to recharge. Confession time: sometimes I’m secretly pleased when plans get cancelled and I have an excuse to stay in and binge watch Netflix instead :).
For me, being a British introvert is basically awkwardness squared. Especially living here in the US, a hugely verbal culture, where being outgoing and talkative is prized. But despite being super awkward a lot of the time and often making excuses for it, I mostly enjoy my introversion. I’m quite comfortable in my own company. And I rarely get bored because I’m always occupied by my thoughts. The more I understand about the introvert brain, the more I appreciate it.
Does it really make that much difference anyway?
According to science, yes. Studies show that the brains of introverts and extroverts are wired differently. This excellent article covers it in more depth, but essentially the brain of an introvert has a higher level of electrical activity, meaning that they take in far more information about their surrounding environment.
While extroverts become energized by social interaction, and it stimulates their brain activity, introverts require quiet time or risk becoming entirely overwhelmed.
Which (finally) brings me to the point of this post.
With all of this being the case, it’s no wonder that when you add one or more excitable/noisy/totally dependent little kids to the mix, it’s easy for an introvert to start feeling burned out. It’s a kind of mental and emotional exhaustion that goes far beyond the universal rigors of parenthood.
Since becoming a parent, I’ve become much more conscious of my introversion.
I was never naive enough to believe our calm, quiet home would sustain after having children. In fact I always remarked to my husband about how much I couldn’t wait to hear the sound of little feet running up and down (and I still LOVE that sound).
I also knew that being unselfish goes with the territory. For every parent there are sacrifices to made. In my case, this meant saying goodbye to the solitude and downtime that I often crave. It’s not a complaint. It’s a reality of parenting. And I’m happy to trade it in return for the privilege of being with these two amazing little people.
However, I also want to be the best parent I can… and that’s not always possible if I’m feeling overwhelmed and tetchy!
I’ve been navigating life as an introverted mom for almost four years now and have found that it IS possible to preserve your sanity, if you work at it. Here are some tips for winning at parenting when you’re an introvert:
#1 Don’t stress about making “mom (or dad) friends”
I think that this is a big challenge for lots of new parents (the logistics alone of getting together with other parents are often mind boggling), but especially for us introverts. In the early days of venturing out with my firstborn, I’d see the huge gaggles of parents doing yoga with their babies at the park and wonder if I was missing out on something. I’ve never been part of a “mom tribe”.
I’d happily go on the odd play date, but most of the time, I already felt so drained that the last thing I could imagine doing was being around other people, making small talk every day. And of course this made me feel guilty that I wasn’t giving my baby daughter enough opportunity to socialize.
In Britain, there’s a fantastic charitable organization called the NCT (National Childbirth Trust). They not only run antenatal courses for expectant parents, but also provide an easy, low pressure environment for meeting other local parents-to-be. I think that every single one of my friends with kids in England benefited from this, and all developed great friendships with other mums as a result.
But since there is no real equivalent here in the US, you have to push yourself a lot more, and that’s not always easy for an introvert. And it’s only compounded by the fact that many of us have to return to work so soon after having children.
In the years since first becoming a parent, I’ve reached a couple of conclusions on the topic of mom friends.
Firstly… it REALLY doesn’t matter that much. A friend is a friend. Some of mine have kids and some of them don’t, but they’re all part of my tribe. Neither my kids, nor I, are missing out. My preschooler is confident, chatty and outgoing despite my lack of a mom posse. And I’m doing just fine too 🙂
Secondly, the best mom friendships will develop organically anyway. You might click with a fellow school parent or friend of a friend… and those will be the best, because they’re genuine rather than forced. It may just take a little patience.
#2 Go ahead and grab some quiet time whenever you need it
Don’t feel bad about it. Just do it. If that means ignoring the screen time recommendations and plonking your toddler down in front of the TV now and then so that you can have a break, then go for it.
If you’re lucky enough to have friends or family around that can help, then definitely take advantage of that.
I love my children dearly but even so, the constant interaction (and being pawed at!) can be draining. I’m pretty sure that all parents feel this sometimes, the extroverted ones too. But for an introvert, it’s exhausting on another level.
For Mother’s Day this year, I had just one request: breakfast in bed, ON MY OWN! In the end I think they managed to leave me in peace for about 10 minutes tops, but hey, I’ll take it.
Needing some time to yourself to recharge your batteries doesn’t make you a bad parent. In fact, we can do a far better job of caring for our kids when we’re not feeling frazzled or smothered. I know that I do.
In the absence of a nap or actual alone time, I wholeheartedly encourage my preschooler to do quieter activities such as reading, coloring or Lego whenever she’s willing. If I’m not able to get any time to myself, then this is certainly the next best thing. It doesn’t always go to plan, but I’ll at least try! Not only that, but I think that ability to play quietly and independently is a skill worth nurturing in children.
#3 Plan out your days (and weeks) in advance
I’m not saying that it’s necessary to be totally rigid about schedules or routines, but having some sort of structure in mind for your days can definitely take the pressure off by helping you know what to expect.
Likewise, I try to plan out play dates, kid’s parties and other social events so that they’re spaced out with enough downtime in between. If that means passing on some social situations, then so be it.
When it comes to organizing our daily lives, I’ve more or less given up trying to keep up with the extroverts, and really just do what works best for our family. There’s plenty of opportunity for social activity, especially when children reach preschool age, so there’s really no need for us to go on play dates every single day. Phew!
#4 Try to change your perspective
Because introverts have a tendency towards introspection, we often end up overthinking things. And that means that we can be too self-critical.
Not only that, but in a society that tends to applaud unremitting attentiveness to our children, the characteristics of an introvert can often seem at odds with parenting ideals.
But in many ways, being an introverted parent has its advantages. I’m strong on empathy and possess the ability to process my emotions carefully – I’m proud to model behaviors like these that might serve my children well in the future. I’m a great listener, and my kids will always feel heard and understood.
Even though I’m an introvert, my children do not and never will want for love nor attention.
In addition, my husband is an extrovert, so I feel as though we make a great team owing to our balance of personality types.
For a great resource on all the wonderful, and often overlooked, qualities that introverts often possess, I can’t recommend Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, enough.
One final point, that I always try to keep in the back of my mind, is that this will all be short lived anyway. My kids will be grown in the blink of an eye. They’ll become more and more independent and I won’t be nearly as interesting to them as I am now.
Isn’t this yet another bittersweet aspect of parenting?
I know for sure that I’ll miss my sweet little shadows. I’ll miss being followed around constantly and bombarded with questions and requests, even if it drives me crazy today.
So for now, I’ll just try to enjoy my introversion. I’ll enjoy being in demand. I’ll (try to) embrace the noise and mess and general chaos. And I’ll probably be exhausted, but I’ll still be grateful.
Are you an introvert? How do you find balance when it comes to the needs of your kids and your own needs? I’d love to hear your tips!