Introvert parents, you’re not alone.
Even though you might want to be…
Medium offers lots of insight and advice on life as an introvert. I’ve found it really useful in examining why I feel social overwhelm and realizing my need for the “down time” that introverts naturally require to recharge. Only problem is, I’ve found it an insurmountable challenge to nurture my introvert tendencies as a parent to two young children.
Parenting can be stressful for anyone, but it can have a particularly taxing effect on introverts. It’s nearly impossible to get in the solitary time that many introverts crave and need, especially when children are young or high-needs. This connection between introversion and parenting was illuminated for me not as you might expect in the midst of the chaos and busyness of everyday life, but on a recent beach vacation. My husband (an extrovert) and I packed up the kids (ages five and one) to head to our favorite beach for a week of family togetherness and memory-making.
Well, togetherness proved to be something that, in a seven day-and-night dose, was completely overwhelming to me. I realized that in everyday life, work often provides me with the opportunity for a mental respite from the constant “on” state that parenting requires. Sure, parenting is a different type of “on” than going to an adult party and socializing, but it’s nonetheless a form of having to put yourself out there, engage, and soak in the effects of interacting with others (albeit tiny and very loved ones!).
By the end of the trip to what was formerly a place where I enjoyed solitary runs along the shore and quiet moments gazing at the stars at night contemplating the meaning of life, I was, in a word, spent. I had nothing left to give, and felt drained and guilty that I seemed to be incapable of spending a week with my beloved family without approaching a state of mental breakdown.
I realized that what I needed more than anything was simply time alone. But when you’re the parent to two young children, time alone is a rare commodity. Nonetheless, reflecting back on the trip (now from the comfortable solitude of my office), I’ve realized there are some ways that adapting your mindset and adjusting your habits can help introverted parents navigate the waters without feeling like a Category 5 is hovering over your life indefinitely:
- Rethink your interactions with your children. Parenting all day long can seem like a constant drain on an introvert’s limited stash of social energy. But children can actually provide a means of social respite if you use your interactions with them thoughtfully. Find a family yoga class, listen to music together, get outdoors, or do whatever it is that makes you feel at least partial relief from the incessant needs that deplete your mindset. Plan these things in advance to avoid the extra overwhelm of family decision making and dealing with resistance. And if you have a baby, you can talk to him or her about literally anything (and it’s good for their language development to boot) — so go ahead and unleash some of the internal dialogue you usually work through in your head on your unwitting listener.
- Explain and ask for help. It’s hard for extroverts to understand where introverts are coming from when they need alone time to recharge, but try providing some of the excellent articles on Medium to your extrovert partner or relative to help them better understand your needs.
- Call in backup if needed (even if it’s Nickelodeon), and don’t feel bad about it. You’ll be a better, more present parent if you’re able to take a little time to nurture your own psyche with even short solaces.
- Schedule “me time” in whatever form you can. If your partner, parents, or whoever else may help care for your children doesn’t “get it”, say you need to work (it’s not a total lie, you’re working on maintaining your sanity!).
- Be aware of when your introvert exhaustion is kicking in so that you can take measures to prevent it from affecting your interactions with your children (simple deep breaths can do wonders), and remind yourself that as with everything else in parenting, this too shall pass.
Finally, think about this: introverts can provide children with special insight into the world through our philosophical musings, astute observations about people and things, and innate connections to nature and the details of daily life that simply aren’t a part of many extroverts’ regular thought processes. And children can actually reciprocate and nurture these tendencies in introverts with their fresh, untainted perspectives on life (when they’re not in the middle of tantrums, that is!). The benefits an introvert can bestow upon children through highly meaningful, closely connected interactions far outweigh the trade-off of the periodic need for breaks. And merely recognizing and acknowledging the connection between introversion and parenting stress (as well as the connection between introversion and some of the traits of really good parents) can do wonders for any overwhelm or self-doubt you may be experiencing.