Thursday, January 16, 2014
For the introverted mother
Last year when I was really struggling just to make it through each day, I was comparing myself to too many other mothers around me without realizing that their circumstances were different. Recently I realized it went beyond a lack of extended family help, or the use of a car during the day or many of the other obstacles I work with. I think the biggest challenge I face is that I am an introvert.
Introversion isn't simply about being shy- many introverts, myself included, aren't shy at all. I enjoy social events and the company of other people, just as extroverts enjoy quiet time alone. The difference is in how we're wired to recharge our batteries. An extrovert feels refreshed after spending time interacting socially with others, while an introvert needs solitude to fill themselves back up again.
When I first became a mother, it was still easy to meet all my introverted needs. In the beginning, the symbiosis between mother and baby is so great that being around them feels like being alone. They are simply an extension of yourself. They don't talk, they sleep a great deal of the time and they can be put in a stroller or carrier for long walks whenever you feel like it. It becomes harder when they start walking and talking, but even then the afternoon nap is sufficient to get that time you need.
My oldest daughter stopped napping altogether when she was 2 1/2. I was 6 months pregnant at the time. I managed to make things work for the next year with a combination of 'quiet time' in her room and part time preschool, but things started to unravel when my daughter decided to fight quiet time with everything she had. I was already physically exhausted, but it was the mental exhaustion that was really killing me. I was giving and giving all day every day, but without any peace and quiet I had nothing to fill me back up.
My extroverted friends joke about needing 'me' time, but for them it means a girls night out, a trip to the spa, or a glass of wine and trashy tv after the kids are in bed. I have a very supportive husband who would be more than willing to help me out with any of those things, but what an introvert needs is something that is incredibly hard to provide to a mother of very young kids on a regular basis. I need complete and utter silence, and I need it every single day. Otherwise, I completely go to pieces.
People who don't understand what it's like to be an introvert think we're being dramatic, or wimpy, or selfish. They don't understand that some people are wired in a way that makes them need silence almost as much as they need air, water, warmth or food. They don't understand how much we struggle to function when we don't get it. After a couple days without time alone, I start to get irritable. If it goes on for an extended period of time I start suffering from feelings of extreme exhaustion and anxiety. I start having panic attacks both during the day and in the middle of the night. The longer I go without it the more it takes to even me back out again. A small daily dose of quiet is much more effective than a huge chunk after things have gone too far. Prevention is always better than trying to fix it after the fact.
My oldest daughter goes to school full time now, and my youngest is a great napper. When that daily dose of silence was added back into my life I felt an incredible surge of energy, happiness and well being. Because I am able to get that time during the day again, I'm spending much more time with my husband in the evenings instead of hiding with a book in another room. I'm more patient with him and the kids because my own needs are finally being met.
Small children are demanding and they are loud. When you've spent the entire day giving and giving and are drained to the last drop, it's hard to be there for your spouse as well, but it's also important that you are. As an introverted mother you need to learn how to get what you need so you can still be there for (and enjoy) everyone else. Here are the things I've picked up along the way.
1. Get your 'stuff' done while the kids are awake.
In the early days I used to spend nap time or time when my husband took the baby out to cook and clean and do laundry and then wonder why I felt so exhausted and miserable about it. Now unless I have a burning desire to do housework (which almost NEVER happens), I make sure I get things done when the kids are present. I get them to 'help', I speed clean the kitchen while they sit eating their afternoon snacks or breakfast, I run and throw in a load of laundry when they are mesmerized by a toy. The second they are asleep or not home I am OFF duty and I am only allowed to do something I find relaxing, which in my case is usually reading a book.
2. Leave if you have to.
Sometimes it's easier to leave the house for silence than to kick everyone else out. Instead of getting my husband to watch the kids so I can go out for drinks with friends, I go for long walks alone, swim laps at the pool, run errands or even see movies by myself.
3. Divide and conquer.
We often each take a kid. If I need some quiet I take the baby for a long walk in the jogging stroller or he takes the 4 year old out to visit family and friends while the baby naps.
4. Realize you don't need to be there for everything.
Like most introverts, I'm married to an extrovert. Every weekend, if we don't have plans, he's running through his phone book looking for people to get together with. I used to think I had to do everything, now I pick and choose. He often takes the kids out to brunch with his family and I stay home and rest. I'm there for all the many holidays and celebrations with them, which I enjoy, but I no longer feel the need to show up every time they want to go out for pancakes.
5. Be clear about what you need and negotiate.
My husband now understands that while he wants to spend his free time playing music or soccer with his friends, I want him to take the kids out for the afternoon so I can have a totally silent house. You have to let the people in your life know what you need the most and work out exactly how and when you can get it.
6. Make the most of quiet time.
My oldest daughter is in full time school, but that still means she's off on holidays for the whole summer, 2 weeks at Christmas, spring break, PD days and various other holidays. I make quiet time work by saving certain things to be ONLY for the times when her sister is napping. I make special snacks in advance, bring out toys with small pieces that are off limits when her sister is awake, give her sheets of stickers from the dollar store, make popcorn and put on a movie, ect. It's not as relaxing as being home alone with a napping baby, but it does allow me to catch small doses of quiet in between her demands and questions.
7. Think twice about spacing.
If you're an introvert then having several children back to back is probably a terrible idea. Even if all of them continue to nap right up until they start school, getting them all to sleep at the SAME time is supposedly quite a feat. Having one at home and one in school is ideal, but also having them close enough in age to play together is very useful as they get older. I did a 3 year gap, which seemed to be the best possible balance between those two factors, even if I had to go through a VERY rough patch to get to this point.
I often miss adult interaction and time with friends as well, which are very hard to come by when you're a mother with young kids. I can't imagine how hard it would be to NEED those things in the same way an extrovert does. I think the important thing is to realize that mothers have different needs, and instead looking down on those differences we should recognize that neither type is being selfish, that the main reason we're trying to recharge our own batteries in the most effective way is so that we can continue to be there for our families. We fill ourselves up so that we can fully be there to give ourselves to them, to enjoy them, to be present in the fleeting moments we have with our small children. If I am a better mother if I can live a part of each day in silence then I don't see anything wrong with trying to make that happen.