The Introverted Parent

 

Society, at least from my point of view, doesn’t really give a shit about us introverts. You know, those people who get incredibly exhausted being around others, who feel completely drained when they go to big group gatherings, the kind of people whose idea of a day off (or heck, a vacation) is staying at home.

That’s me.

Actually, that’s my whole family.

Sure we spent four wonderful hours on Saturday, socializing and catching up with long-time friends and their adorable kids (in which everyone had a fantastic time), but throw in two hours of driving (thank you, downtown LA) and for the rest of the weekend, each and every one of us, were fried. Fried. From me and Sean, to Kate and Eric.

We’re introverts.

Going out and having fun means we need time to re-center ourselves, to settle in and fill up our cups. The day after a fun, socializing event, we’re in front of iPads or playing video games or reading books or coloring. Sure Eric might be sprawled across my lap (he usually is), since that little boy needs constant connection, but he’s also doing his own thing and he doesn’t want interaction. The same with Kate too. I jokingly tell Sean I’m never alone because I’ve got one kid pressed against my side, the other on my lap, each of us lost in our world but still having this connection.

We each need our own space. We all need quiet, this alone time to recharge our batteries, to refill our cup (or throw in your favorite description here).

The point, is we each need this time to refill our well of energy.

Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “So what? You’re different. You need to time at home, what’s the problem?”

Or, maybe you read all that and you’re nodding your head going, “Wow! I know exactly what you’re talking about.”

The problem is society, and pretty much anyone with an opinion on parenting. Think about it for a moment. Think about all the stuff you’re supposed “to do” to be a good parent, to help raise healthy, happy kids. Constantly engaging with your child, through play or talking. Lots of one-on-one interactions. Lots of play outside. Parks. All the feeding and care associated with such outings.

Oh, and make sure they’re having healthy, whole foods and none of that drive-thru crap. Which, of course, means the endless cutting of vegetables and bucket-loads of fruit (while at the same time praying your toddler doesn’t get into too much trouble, or if you’re living in my shoes, he doesn’t take that moment to poop on the floor because he knows darn well you aren’t watching).

There are some of us, who, for that day I just described, can’t do that.

Like really and truly, can’t.

We’re not built that way.

Some of us can’t go out to endless events, art classes, park days, and on top of that, have one-on-one play dates (or go to school, if you’re the schooling family). Oh! And let’s not forget two different outings in one day, each lasting hours each.

There are some of us who, when we stumble into our glorious home (sometimes with upset, crying kids cause they’re also are low on energy) all we want is to collapse on the couch and drink a glass of wine.

Or two.

And yet… as a parent, I’m constantly bombarded with messaging all around that I’m not doing enough — that what I’m doing isn’t good enough.

Because…

What about the book time and reading together?

What about sitting on the floor, playing one-on-one?

What about the speech play for Eric? Did we have enough physical play? Did he get outside enough to run around?

Well, what about Kate? She’s Miss Constantly-Wants-to-Socialize.

And guess what’s that means? Going out. Together. And me using energy resources to help her and guide her, while running after Eric and making sure he steers clear of the street (not kidding, park days usually clock in a good mile for me).

Oh yes, and let’s not forget the message that screen time is bad for kids. That we will damage our kids if they’re watching too much TV or playing on the iPad or whatever. Now, you can totally have your own opinions about this, I’m certainly not judging you or your family or your values, not at all. What I’m saying though is we’re all different and we all have different needs. And can we please, at least for the moment, lay off of putting all this blame and guilt on people who are just exhausted? Parents who, truly, are trying to their best??

For me, by the end of the day I’m bone-tired exhausted.

After an outing I need my kids to be quiet, to give me some peace and quiet, even if it’s just so I can get together dinner. It doesn’t matter that all I want is to call it a night and go to bed at 6:00 with the kids. But what’s hard is constantly hearing the critical voices in my head, whispering that I’m this bad parent because they spent how many hours playing games or watching movies?

Guilt. Shame.

I swear, it feels like I’m constantly fighting them. Constantly fighting this message that I’m not doing enough. How, pretty much every day, being Super Mom isn’t enough (or Super Dad, whichever parent or caregiver is at home).

On top of the usual parenting challenge course (I swear, sometimes I feel like those little dogs running through those competition-obstacle courses), I’ve decided to be the main speech partner for both of my kids as well as homeschooling them. At this point in our life, the homeschooling part is literally just playing and living life. We’ll color and paint, play some board games, but it’s really following Kate’s lead and where her interest is (like making word hide-and-seek books).

But…

It’s the one-on-one time that’s challenging.

Playing board games requires Godzilla-Eric to be napping (or Daddy around and keeping his little hands from grabbing the scissors Kate’s using for her word books). Or with Eric, the speech play means Kate needs to be engaging in her things and willingly to leave us alone for a few minutes.

Why?

Well, for the speech part, Eric needs one-on-one time. Time where I’m able to pause, give him a chance to think through what I’m doing, what my words (or actions) are asking of him. He needs time and space to do this, which for him means comfort and a feeling of safety…

And the minute I start engaging and playing with him, as I’m laughing or clapping when he puts the shape into the puzzle box, Kate comes running over because she wants to play too.

Cause, we’re having fun.

Which is all well and good except, again, Eric is a “need-my-space” kinda kid. He gets frustrated when she starts putting her grubby hands on his shape pieces. And his only mode of dealing with frustrations is, no surprise, crying and trying to hit her.

It’s not going well.

Or I should say, it’s not easy.

Kate has needs (she wants to play too!). Eric has needs (translation: leave me the heck alone; I want to play with Mom. By myself.). And then me, well, I have needs too (oh please, just give me five minutes of quiet).

For us, all of those needs are also tied to our energy. And how much we have (or often, don’t have).

Because we’re all introverts I really need to have my awareness keyed on the energy pulse of each of us… myself, the kids, Sean too. In the situation above like I just described with the puzzle box, and while this is true of all kids, it’s especially true of mine (who are both introverts and late-talkers). I need to set back and see why the heck this situation (Kate’s interference, Eric’s frustration) is happening in the first place.

Kate wants interaction and play of her own. With me.

Eric wants the same… but without Kate butting in and doing the puzzle for him.

Well, okay then.

Let’s just add that to the energy schedule as well as shopping at Costco and farmers market. Oh, yeah, and we’ve got Grandma coming over that day too.

It’s a constant juggling act and one I’m slowly starting to accept (and internalize), is going to look different compared to everyone else’s. The life choices we made (homeschooling, speech play) as well as the ones we didn’t get to choose (introverts, late-talkers), all that means our home life will look different than most of the families out there.

There are choices we need to make, like screen time or only one outing a weekend (or day), that fit us. That fit our needs.

And really, parents, we need to start accepting that for our kids to be happy and whole, we have to be happy too. We need to start taking care of ourselves, to start putting our needs in there too. Because we can’t be patient and kind, can’t be centered and present if we’re constantly on that edge of exhaustion. We’re gonna snap and yell and whatever.

Our needs matter too.

And for you introvert parents out there, who know exactly what I’m talking about, you have double-duty because society as a whole doesn’t understand us. They like the people who are constantly chatting and socializing, going out and all these grand adventures… well, that works for them and that’s fine. But it doesn’t work for us.

And it’s okay.

But all of us, truly, we need to be in tune with our kids and their energy. It’s really a juggling act, of checking in with ourselves, checking in with our kids and our spouses. Like how on the Saturday we saw our long-time friends, I made the choice to let Sean sleep in while I went to farmers market with the kids (which means I’ve got a wiggling Eric in my arms as I try to pay or stuff the food in the stroller). It’s stressful for me but I did it because I knew Sean’s needs were greater than mine… if we were to survive the day. I also did the driving (it’s also too stressful for him). But the second we got home? As soon as the kids were in bed?

Oh man I went to bed.

I checked out.

Cause that’s what I needed.

Being a parent is hard. Being an introverted parent is even more challenging. We need to monitor our energy levels and that of our kids. For those of you introverted parents with extroverted kids, those kids who thrive on all the outings and socializing, oh man do I really feel for you, and how you’ve really got to be aware of your own self-care. (Truly, you guys are amazing!)

All I’m trying to say here: is it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be a different kind of family because all of our needs our different.

We need to care for our kids, and we need to care for ourselves.

So if you find yourself getting hit with all those messages… that you’re not doing enough… that you’re not good enough… keep in mind, a lot of those messages are geared towards an extroverted world.

And guess what?

That’s not me. Or my family.

We do what work’s for us, what makes us happy and whole, and that means we can’t be wrong.

All we can do as parents, day in and day out, is our best. To simply try… and even if that means our world and our life look different than everyone else’s.

We try.

And then the next day, we try again.

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