Mama, know thyself
Somewhere along the way, “introvert” has picked up negative connotations. Have you ever been told, “you’re not an introvert, you’re so nice!”? Introverts aren't necessarily shy or quiet, we are just people for whom social interaction is tiring rather than energizing. We don’t dislike people at all, they just wear us out. Consider how you feel after a morning playdate with lots of other moms. Do you feel energized when you get home, or do you need to take a nap? If you are on the napping end, you might be an introvert. (If you haven’t ever taken a personality test, consider taking the Meyer’s Briggs personality test here or a quick inventory here). Temperament isn’t good or bad, it just is. Knowing that the reason you feel like ripping someone’s head off is because you haven’t had any alone time really helps me calm down and look for a meaningful solution.
Introverts are the minority in our culture, and need to be especially thoughtful about their self care while going through the trying season of mothering young children. Children as a rule need a huge amount of interaction to develop into secure, happy little people. But for introverts, the process of pouring out attention and interaction on our little people is exhausting in a whole other way than it is to our extrovert friends. What makes us feel better is different as well. An introverted mom, when stressed and exhausted, will generally not want to go to a large “girls night out” gathering of the local mom’s group. Not because she doesn’t like those other moms, but because when tired and stressed, more social interaction is not what she needs to recharge. I know I have felt weird and awkward turning down invitations to such events (don't even get me started on women's retreats), not quite understanding why that - while it might be fun when I’m fully rested - is the last thing I want to do in the evening after a hectic day. Knowing what will best serve to energize me allows me to invest in those things that will truly support me (hello, quiet reading cave), rather than doing what everyone else seems to expect me to want to do.
Enforce daily “quiet alone” time regardless of age
For me, letting a child give up their nap at 2 was just not going to happen. Although I’ve never been a sleep trainer, I found that when all the older children have a set early afternoon quiet time, the baby will naturally, for the most part, follow along. How to keep nap / quiet time going in your house? A few strategies that work well in our house:
- Mp3 players for each child - the cheap kind. You can upload music they like, or my favorite, books on cd from the library.
- Special “quiet time” coloring books or toys. April at Holistic Homemaking has a great post about her quiet time bins that she rotates daily, and lots of suggestions for putting together your own. In our family its more casual - I might give a kid the option between drawing pad or listening to a book on their mp3 player. My kids go to sleep late, so I prefer they read or sleep over playing, but for kids who are getting used to a quiet time initially, a special bin could ease the transition.
- Separate spaces for everyone: my kids share rooms, but everyone gets a space of their own for quiet time. They take turns in the favored locations like mom & dad’s room. My oldest sometimes spends her quiet time reading outside on the bench swing. As long as I have an area I can be alone in too, it works.
- Set the time: Older children who don’t fall asleep will drive you nuts popping their head out of their spaces asking if they can get up yet. Clearly setting an end to quiet time solves this. For us its one hour from when we start, and I use digital clocks (time telling practice). There are also cool kid friendly clocks available that can help younger kids with this - my friend Christina swears by her bunny clock. I read on a blog once (which I’ve forgotten now - arg!) about a mom who set up soothing music to play for an hour - and the kids knew that once the music stopped they could get up. Whatever works. Often at least two of my kids will sleep for a full two hours, so even when the hour is up, I still have everyone who is up be quiet until little nappers are awake.
Don't Over schedule Yourself!Consider the effect that outside activities have on your energy level. Even if you love nothing more than to run from activity to activity, recent research heavily questions the enrichment activity craze, urging parents to allow children large stretches of unstructured play. You know, the kind that we had growing up. If you’re an introvert, you probably spent a nice chunk of that free play time happily reading or playing alone after being drained by the constant interaction of the school day. All the running around and interaction with strangers and acquaintances is wearisome. Are you tired and grouchy after a full afternoon of activities? Cut some of the activities and send you kids outside to play (or just to the next room) instead.
Don't feel the need to constantly entertain the childrenYou should encourage your kids. You should spread before them a “feast of ideas” that inspires them. But you should also...wait for it....just leave them alone. Let them come up with their own games and play time. Its really not your job to entertain them, and allowing them to amuse themselves (without necessarily turning to various screen based entertainment) will encourage creativity, problem solving skills, and overall independence.
I love the picture education reformer Charlotte Mason describes as an ideal situation of children at play: Mother is in the room, working on whatever project she needs to be doing, like dishes or laundry or blogging :) and the children are close by, easy to observe and if needed, correct. But they are involved in their own play, not looking to Mother to tell them what to do next, or depending on her as a playmate. Which leads me to another not so obvious strategy for introverted mothering...
Have a play group that never goes home
You may actually love having a larger than average family - they entertain each other! While I frequently get stopped by lots of eye rolling, “better-you-than-me” commenting people insisting that my hands are SO FULL - I know something they apparently don’t. Although four children pose logistical problems of scale that one or two children wouldn't, four children in close age range will entertain one another in a completely different way that one child alone or two children 3 or more years apart. The common sense approach to being an introverted parent would be that the fewer children, the better, right? The fewer people there are around you, the less stressed one would think you would be. But of course things work differently in mother world, and at least in my experience it actually been the opposite. Children two years or less apart are closer to each other developmentally and naturally play together more easily. So even though I have 4 children, they are all so close together that I am almost never begged to come play with them in the way my friends with one or two children far apart are. I do have cuddlers, but that’s a different story. I don’t *have* to take them to play dates several times a week (although we actually do try to go the park with friends once or twice a week), because they pretty much always have someone to play with. I’m not saying you should necessarily have more kids if you don’t already want a larger family, but just want to encourage you if maybe you would like more children but are afraid they would drive you over the edge.
Make it known that a great gift for you is babysitting
If your husband wants to support you, be real about what will really help you the most. For me, my husband taking out the trash or giving the kids a bath isn't nearly as helpful as watching the kids while I run errands or go for a run alone. His time is very valuable, and I want to be able to spend time with him when he’s home, so I don’t usually prevail on him to watch kids while I go out alone - I try to rely on the daily quiet time for my regular dose of alone time. But when your husband/family/friends ask for gift suggestions, consider asking for a longer, restorative time alone. For me an afternoon of browsing shelves at the library alone or a solo Target expedition recharges like little else.
Do you have any strategies for introverted mothering? What special strategies benefit extroverted mothering?
More fun reading on introverts:
"Caring for Your Internet" at The Atlantic