Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Parenting as Spiritual Discipline

Introverted Parenting Week - Day Two

About the authors:
Shelley Batdorf lives and writes from Minnesota, enjoying her family, friends, and the varied seasons. She blogs at Abiding One, and otherwise lives as an introverted life.

Sarah Winfrey is an introvert and a writer living in Centennial, Colorado. You can find her at Blessings Like Winged Horses, or follow her on Twitter.

      Days like today are tough. She is tired and I am drained. She whines and my response is pure irritation. We both need a break from each other and I set us up for just that, she to her room with a book, tucked into her little bed with as much grace as I can give at the moment, which isn’t much. Then I retire to the couch, wishing desperately for a nap, angry with myself for responding as I have, anxious to accomplish a bit of work. She calls from her room, and as I trudge back down the hallway, I whisper to God, “I’m tired, Lord. I need a break. Please hold me together enough to be patient for a few minutes…”

When the word “break” sneaks into my vocabulary and my heart begins plotting some sort of escape, I know there is more going on than the usual parental tiredness. My introverted self needs some attention and care. The weekend just ended, and what was supposed to be a few days of Sabbath rest, play as a family, and the gift of an hour or two alone, turned into interruptions, changes in the plan, and the bits of life that often steal those quiet moments.

When my introverted self whimpers (and sometimes screams) for attention, I frequently return to a few thoughts that have become anchor points in being an introverted parent. Both came shortly after our daughter was born, as I was sitting with my spiritual director, unpacking some of the lessons God had been teaching me the summer after her birth. The first was to listen to God in the routines of life, the places He may be teaching me through her life. Both my relationship with Him and her have grown deeper and richer, letting each affect the other.

I was also encouraged, especially as an introvert, to consider parenting as a spiritual discipline. The disciplines are intentional and require sacrifice. They are tools designed to bring us into deeper relationship with God. When life closes in and I am internally drained, I am learning to talk with God first, to ask what He might be teaching me, lean into Him and consciously bring Him into that moment instead of trying to do it on my own.

Because of my introversion, community and hospitality are already disciplines for me, so bringing them into parenting only makes sense. Community calls us out into the world from behind our walls, to be with others even when we would rather be alone. Hospitality invites others inside our walls, offering them the safety and comfort of our selves. These walls may be our physical homes, but are also the home of our heart.

If given the chance, I would be a hermit. But we all need other people, to be in community and to take our place within the Body. For me, that is often a lot of work. Being the parent of a preschooler presents additional opportunities and challenges. By nature of her age and development, the need for additional interaction, playtime with friends, and learning about life beyond our home, getting out of the house is often a discipline for me. And in it all, I am learning my own limits, having more conversation with God, and being stretched in new ways.

Developing community for our family and considering parenting as a spiritual discipline, while maintaining balance for each of us can include:
• Attending the children’s reading time at the library
• Initiating play time with friends
• Spending time at the park
• Joining a Bible Study or small group (providing community for everyone)
• Getting out of the house, even if it is only a short trip to the grocery store
• Treating her to lunch, dinner, ice cream, etc.
• Visiting a museum or art gallery together
• Planning some age-appropriate quiet moments, some alone, some together


As well as giving me the chance to function in community, parenting as an introvert offers ample opportunities for me to practice hospitality. I want to invite my child in, beyond my walls. When I'm tired, when I need some space, when all I really want to do is have a moment to myself, I'm still called to welcome her. Even though she's my beloved child, there are moments when she is “other” simply because she is not me. And hospitality is nothing if not learning to welcome the other into our lives and our space, even when it is inconvenient, frustrating, difficult, and against the grain of nature.

There are times when I feel saddened to see how little I welcome her and I'm challenged to love her better. Life as an introvert so often involves walking a fine line between carving out time for myself and hoarding it selfishly, and so I know there are times when I'm craving space but my call is to invite her into the safe place of my soul.

On a practical level, this means putting her needs before my own during the hours when I'm her primary caregiver. It means not just looking up from my book and telling her it will be ok when she stumbles, but putting the book aside and going to her to give the comfort and solace she needs. It means taking care to set aside my own projects when she wants to show me something, and then truly watching her and celebrating with her (even if it's the 15th time I've seen the feat that day). It means being willing to put down what I'm doing when she wakes up crying, and not just furiously hoping she'll go back to sleep.

When the end of our tough day came and we’d both had a break, my sweet girl jumped in my lap, wrapped her little arms around me, and squeezed with everything in her. “I love you, Mommy!” she whispered. And then she settled in for a quiet cuddle. Even introvert moments can be shared…