As a mama, I love moments when the fog clears and I’m standing the middle of a metaphorical forest glen with a beam of sunlight shining on me as I break into a song called “Oh My God I Am Not As Crazy/Insane/Alone As I Thought.” Meaning: I like it when my frazzled, sleep-deprived state doesn’t feel like a miasma of my mind working against me, but a thing with a rational, logical explanation outside my own solipsism.
I need to start cataloging these moments, because they are so genuinely amazing and comforting. But I remember the first really wonderful one I had: back when Budgie was a tiny baby, I was talking with a really wise acquaintance about the crappy morning I was having. Screaming baby, boobs hurting from nursing, lack of attending to personal hygiene for many hours after waking, massive headache, a dollop of resentment that my partner was sleeping in while I was dealing with all this — and all I wanted was just five minutes of quiet and a cup of coffee.
I was reminiscing quite voluptuously about my pre-baby mornings, where I would read in bed, meditate or do a little yoga, make myself a real breakfast and enjoy a cup of coffee before working. But now my mornings seemed relentlessly stressful, fractious, hard and horrible. I knew it wasn’t forever, but the light at the end of the tunnel seemed so very far away. (Pre-emptive sanctimommy proviso: I knew going in that parenting is hard, but sometimes people need to vent.)
To make matters worse, the comparison demon entered my consciousness, and I couldn’t understand why dealing with all this seemed so much harder for me than other moms I knew. They rolled with the punches; they accepted the chaos as part of the season of taking care of a very small baby. They were tired and stressed out, too, but they seemed able to handle it just fine. WTF was wrong with me? What kind of mom feels so relieved when she’s on her own out of the house by herself, like I did?
My wise friend just smiled and nodded, listening kindly as I vented. “Of course it’s hard, Kat,” she said. “You’re an introvert! Your quiet mornings used to fuel you for the day, but now they deplete you. And then you’re going through the rest of your day in the red.”
I don’t know why this was so revelatory. I knew what an introvert was. And I knew that I was one — I need lots of alone time and quiet to recharge my batteries. But what was amazing to me was realizing that, duh, being a mother as an introvert is going to feel and look profoundly different from the typical cultural picture of what a ‘good mom’ looks like..
The constant and overwhelming proximity between mother and baby was going to take a toll on me, no matter how much I loved my child or how supportive and wonderful my partner was. Parenthood is physically exhausting, but as an introvert, it would be particularly emotionally exhausting as well.
But figuring out an introvert’s way of being a mama helped me so much to navigate parenthood (along with managing my PPD and hypothyroidism). I normally would never presume to tell others how to parent — I am no expert in the least! — but I did want to share what helped me as an introvert to make parenting workable and enjoyable for me. Because, honestly, our intensive parenting culture is very anti-introvert, and it’s rife with assumptions that our kids need every single moment and ever constant vigilancein terms of our care and attention — or else they’ll turn out to be sociopathic losers. (Or something like that.)
But this assumption doesn’t serve our kids or ourselves. One of the pitfalls of intensive parenting is burnout, but what’s more, it doesn’t model some of the more subtle lessons of parenting. One of the most valuable lessons we can teach our children about being a functional human being is how to be alone. From solitude, we learn other valuable life lessons: how to know and even like who you are, find pleasure in your own company, learn to use imagination and advocate for ourselves in a positive, empathetic, confident way. These are all things that introvert parents are actually terrific at and can model beautifully for our kids — we just need to find a way to fuel our spirits and selves in the hubbub of daily life.
These are ways that help me…maybe, if you’re an introvert parent, too, they’ll help you as well!
Accept your nature and don’t beat yourself up for it.
This is so very basic — but basic doesn’t mean ‘easy.’ Feeling those moments of ‘Please get me away from my kids!’, it’s totally natural to feel like you aren’t a good parent, especially in a culture that prizes the intensive parenting model and heavily polices ‘appropriate emotions’. (I always refer to it as the ’emotional fascism of motherhood’!)
But longing for space or feeling irritable with too much ‘togetherness’ doesn’t mean you’re a horrible parent with a fear of intimacy or a lack of empathy — it just means you’re ultra sensitive to too much touch, social contact and stimulation in general. Remember: as an introvert, you ARE neurologically wired differently — you take in more information than most people — and so your reactions and experience of parenthood will be different from the mainstream. Sometimes your emotional needs are going to conflict with your child’s — and that conflict will drain you, resulting in irritability, emotional volatility or just a general feeling of “GET ME OUT OF HERE.” It’s understandable, natural and it DOESN’T mean you’re a bad mom or dad. It does mean you need to be proactive and creative to find ways to meet it during particular seasons of life, like caring for an infant or toddler.
Actively create alone time in your schedule.
Another easier-said-than-done “duh,” but worth repeating! If you have to saddle your partner with the kids, hire a sitter, lean on grandparents, take advantage of a gym’s daycare or barter with another parent, do it. You absolutely need alone time to survive and thrive as a human, and you shouldn’t have to apologize for it. You’ll come back from it better and feeling genuinely fueled to tackle childcare.
I am gym buddies with another mom who takes full advantage of the 2-hour limit at our gym to carve out time for herself. She works out for about half an hour, takes another half to read on the bike and lets herself enjoy a shower and primping afterwards. (I remember the afternoon when she rapturously sighed, “God, I looooove blowdrying my hair now!”) And her kid is just fine at the daycare — he loves it, in fact. (I haven’t brought myself to use up all two hours — mostly because I’m lucky to have just 30 minutes to work out! — but one day I WILL. #momgoals!)
And don’t let errands/work/housework impinge on your alone time.
It’s so very easy to let ‘dumbass house crap,’ as I call it, invade this precious interlude of solitude — you’ve got a huge to-do list, there’s stuff all over the house, blah blah blah. But doing work or home stuff is not being alone (unless you derive deep joy from it.) I made this mistake at first and would use my time off from being a worker and a parent to ‘catch up’ on things like errands, housework or even just blogging… and I would come off my ‘alone time’ feeling even more irritable than ever. Because, duh…I was doing parenting or job stuff. Don’t do what I did! Read, draw, listen to music or just let yourself BE. If your alone time is about fulfilling obligations, it’s actually about other people or other needs — it’s NOT ALONE TIME. Make this time absolutely sacred.
Teach your kids the value of quiet activities…and take your own quiet time while they do them.
This takes some time to teach, foster and cultivate, but it is SO worth it. Basically, if you’re at all carving out a day, evening or morning with children, try to cultivate a love of activities like coloring, reading or drawing in your child. Early on, I put a small bin of books on the floor for Budgie to play and handle as a baby, so he’s used to seeing them as something he can play with and explore. Now that he’s a toddler, it’s very natural for him to pick up a book and look through it for a nice period of independent time. When he does, I happily grab a moment to read myself, or just daydream a little. I also taught him how to play with crayons and colored pencils (“On the paper, plumcake! Not the wall!”) and he happily draws away for chunks of time — and I like to draw along with him. It’s a nice way of being alone together, if that makes sense.
Learn to advocate for your boundaries…and remember you are teaching your child a valuable lesson in doing so.
This one was really hard at first, because what parent doesn’t feel churlish asking their kid to chill out and not hang on them, make loud noise, or play on their own while you sit and stare at a wall for a moment?
But honestly and truly, once I learned to let Budgie know that Mama was going to sit on the sofa for a few minutes so she can rest, it was a game-changer. What was helpful was to create a little set routine: basically, after Budgie’s breakfast, I make coffee, sit on the sofa and read while he plays nearby. He even knows now that ‘Mama coffee’ means I sit there with a mug and he plays with his toys. And it works! (And it’s also adorable, because the minute the Keurig fires up, he toddles off, saying ‘Go play in room now! Bye bye!’
But even when it’s not routine, all I need to say is ‘Mama coffee’ and he understands that I’m going to sit down somewhere for a moment, and he can go play for a bit on his own. (Having a mug as a prop does help.) I think he knows that after ‘Mama coffee,’ I’m less grumpy and more fun, so he accepts it as normal and necessary. Which it is!
I know this might seem sacrilegious in a parenting age where we must pay attention to kids all the time. (Honestly, I think it’s this weird cultural guilt to make up for shortchanging our kids in other structural ways, like through crappy parental leave laws, crappy educational policy and craptastic health care that is the victim of political grandstanding — but hey, that’s just my theory.)
But what you’re teaching them by advocating for your own needs and boundaries is valuable — you teach that people aren’t extensions of themselves but have their own ‘interior weather’ going on, as well as how to ask for what you need in a way that’s compassionate and kind, to yourself and others. This is a lesson that I wished I learned as a kid — it would’ve been so helpful in future relationships, for instance. You’re modeling what it means to be responsible and speak up for your own emotions and needs — to clean up your side of the street, as they say in pop psychology now. And these lessons will pay off in dividends when they get older. (And as an adult, it’s also amazing to me that so few people know how to do this, myself included, without resulting to avoidance, passive aggressiveness or just plain aggression!)
Be deliberately present for your kids.
I know this seems odd advice for introverts, but one of the most helpful things for me was telling myself, “Okay, I’m going to give my child my complete and undivided attention for this next 15 minutes,” or whatever period of time you’re ‘with’ them.
It’s a myth that introverts are shy or even don’t enjoy social interaction: many of us do, but need to balance it out with solitude afterwards.
But until that little island of sweet, sweet aloneness comes up, it does help to deliberately shift into that ‘being with people’ mindset, at least for me. Mostly because if I don’t, I sometimes unconsciously ‘ache’ for the pleasure of my own company — which is manifested in being tempted to look at my phone, spacing out or somehow ‘hiding’ from my kid in some way. (I’ve definitely washed dishes longer than I need to sometimes, just because it lets me stare out the window for a bit longer!)
So knowing that this time is for being with the kiddo and spending time connecting with him on his terms — well, it just helps me give it over as a gift, because I can frame it as a mindful, conscious act of love and generosity. It’s not taking away from me — because as an introvert I can sometimes feel ‘picked away at’ by all the demands of the day. It’s giving to another, and that’s a valuable reframe.
The other advantage of this is that when kids get the undivided attention they crave from the grownups that love them, they’re often less likely to cling when small separations — even symbolic ones like ‘mama coffee’ — come up. (At least this is my experience, with my child.) They’re filled up with security and love and are way easier about detaching for periods of time — which is a godsend to introvert parents scrabbling together time for themselves during stretches of parenting.
Watch out for noise pollution.
It’s no doubt that kids can get loud, whiny and cry A LOT. This is normal, and I do my best not to bottle up my child’s self-expression. (And honestly, I find when I try to let my kid know he’s heard and really listened to, he tends to stop crying and/or whining faster.)
But I still have control over whether or not they play with loud noisemaking toys, watch TV and the like, so I really try to limit these. I’m not an ogre, but I do really only let a few “noisemaking” toys be out at a time for Budgie to play with freely. (We are big toy rotators at our house…I rotate toys in and out of storage so he doesn’t bored, and because our space is small.) And I try not to put the TV on in the background while we’re at home, too. Literal quiet is a godsend as a parent, so I try to create those little islands of silence as much as I can.
Hang out in your car and treat it like your dominion.
This is my brass-tack practical tip, but it’s one that makes a big impact for me. Basically…if you’re in a car coming to and from somewhere, feel free to hang out and take a few extra minutes in your car, before heading into the house or wherever you’re ‘momming’ around. Since becoming a parent, my car has become an sanctum in a way it never was before. I have my music (instead of Elmo ad nauseum) playing, I usually stash some candy or other edible goodies in one of the seat compartments, I keep a magazine nearby…and I just chill out for a few extra minutes before I head into my home. Doing just a little thing for myself — even if it’s just finishing listening to Migos’ ‘Bad and Boujee’ on the radio! — helps fuel me for the barrage that hits me when I come home and my toddler hurls himself at me yelling, ‘MAMA HOME BABA PLEASE!’
(And even when the kids are in the car with you, resist the temptation to play some corny kid’s music. Take that space for you: listen to music you love, a podcast that inspires you, whatever. It’s one of the few spaces where you are forced to detach from your kids — take advantage of it!)
And finally, realize as an introvert, you have strengths as a parent that our culture often overlooks.
This is related to the very first tip to accept your introvert nature and stop feeling bad about it. But I put it last because I think it’s valuable: introverts have great strengths as leaders and parents that our culture often overlooks. It doesn’t make introverts ‘better,’ but it does give us strengths that we often discount, even in ourselves.
As I go deeper into my ‘journey’ and adventures as a parent, I find one in particular emerging as a great advantage: the ability to listen deeply, without judgment or agenda. Since they take in and process more information, introverts are actually keenly attuned to the nuances and hidden dimensions of communication. We notice body language, nuance, tone more quickly and easily. At our best, we have an almost-intuition of what someone is really trying to say underneath the surface of words. And it’s this ability to listen deeply that is one of the great foundations of any good relationship, including the parent-child one.
More than anything, the greatest gift you can give a child you love — whether it’s a niece, nephew, son or daughter — is to listen to them. Children are often talked down to, or talked at — but it’s a rare thing for an adult to really listen to them and give them a space to express themselves without fear, judgment or agenda.
(This isn’t to say that extraverted parents don’t have that gift, but for introverts, it’s second nature, and it’s something we can draw on as a natural strength.)
This isn’t permissiveness or indulgence to me — it’s just frighteningly rare in the course of lived experience. Let’s face it: how often do you feel really, truly listened to? How often in your life do you have all the space to really express yourself…and feel heard, seen and understood? We’re often in a rush; everyone’s mind has a million things to process; we’re staring at the TV or our smartphones; we’re thinking of everything but the here and now. I often have a strange feeling that I’m not even really interacting with someone…I’m just a momentary extra that’s wandered into someone’s movie. Even with our loved ones, we get upset when they seem to be responding to the assumptions they’ve projected onto us — rather than what we’re actually trying to say.
As I grow into my role as Budgie’s mother, I see more and more how valuable it is that he feels truly heard, even if he barely has the words and vocabulary to express himself. When I have the patience and presence to really be with him and really see him without wanting him to be something else — not crying, for instance! — it just makes those days so much more connected, intimate and fulfilling.
I know this is a high ideal, at least for me — and honestly as a parent I’m growing wary of ideals! But though I fail and expect to fail at this, I think it’s one of those things that is worth trying, at the very least. And part of that is taking care of myself in a way that keeps me open, clear and light, so I’m way more present and less mentally cluttered with my loved ones. Taking care of myself as an introvert grants me the clarity of spirit to be able to listen deeply — and that can only serve us both as parent and child.
Anyway, I can’t be the only introvert parent out there…so if you have any other tips, tricks or just things you do to keep yourself sane or happy as an introvert, please do share!