Friday, July 29, 2011

Mothering as an Introvert - Guest Post

On Monday and Tuesday I will be posting the lessons I have learned about promoting a book, along with other writers who are represented by WordServe literary. For today, I want to re-visit parenting as an introvert. If you missed Introverted Parenting Week, here is the link to all those guest-posts.

Today's post comes from Cynthia, the The Hippie Housewife. She shares some helpful tips on how to survive those rough days of mothering as an introvert.
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Some days I just don't know how to do it. Where I can find solace in some quiet, reflective activity instead of doing what needs to be done? What about ME? Can I just have one hour with no one talking to me, touching me, or needing something from me? Where I'm not being constantly dragged out of my thoughts and back into the needs of everyone else? 

There are days that are especially difficult, filled with unexpected interactions with new people, a preschooler's endless questions, a toddler's need for constant physical contact, and a husband's late-night absence at work. Even a trip to the hairdresser is filled with the dreaded small talk. Question, answer, awkward pause. Lather, rinse, repeat. Doesn't she realize I left my kids at home to get away from all the questions?

Such is the life of an introverted mother. It can be hard to manage in a culture that seems designed for the extroverts among us. It isn't generally considered polite to avoid small talk with strangers or acquaintances - and yet, for the introvert, such interactions can be exhausting, sapping our last reserves of outward-focused energy. Crowds and malls can be overstimulating.We're expected to be social, to go out and "loosen up, have some fun!", when quite honestly "fun" for us might be staying home with a good book. We regularly have to endure the attempts to draw us out of our "shell.” For those of us who don't wear our emotions on our face, we receive "cheer up and smile!" comments from strangers. 

Introversion feels like a constant struggle between reaching out to create community and drawing in to protect/replenish my energy reserves. Rather than a large group of acquaintances, I desire a smaller number of deeper, more intimate cherished friendships - a process in which I am doubly disadvantaged by my inherent shyness (a different trait from introversion). Because of this, I am careful in choosing which relationships to invest in, looking for people I can relate to, have something in common with, and enjoy being around. As an introvert, I've had to learn how to enforce boundaries for my own mental health - boundaries with strangers, acquaintances, friends, family, and even myself. I've had to learn to say no (and mean it), to be cautious with the amount of things I take on, and to jealously guard my quiet time. 

It wasn't until I became a mother, however, that I really needed to develop and depend on these skills. Motherhood leaves little room for drawing inward or finding time alone to recharge. The constant interaction, sacrifice, and meeting of needs can be exhausting even for extroverts; the additional challenges for introverts can feel insurmountable at times. I've found that these parenting-related strategies keep the near-breaking point days to a minimum for me:

Insist on daily quiet time. After the older boy gave up naps, we continued with a daily quiet time instead. As I was pregnant at the time, I desperately needed the downtime. At the beginning, quiet time consisted of the two of us climbing into my bed. He was allowed to bring two cars and a stack of books, and he was free to play with those cars, read, or sleep during the quiet time, while I either read or slept. He was not allowed to get out of bed until quiet time was over.

Now that he's older, his quiet time is spent in his room instead. He may do as he likes (play, read, sleep) as long as he stays in his room. Some days I put on a CD for him and he is allowed to come out when the CD is over; other days I give him an alarm clock and either set it to go off or tell him he may come out "when the first number is a 2."

Fill their cup. Or, "fake it 'til you make it." Sometimes I find myself trapped in the cycle of being overwhelmed, pulling away from the kids, and having them become even more clingy and demanding as a result. The harder I pull away, the harder they push for my attention. Although it feels counter-intuitive, the best way to break this cycle is to spend time focused on them. By meeting their needs first, they are better able to then allow me the time I need for myself.

Carve out regular "me time". Mama-guilt makes this one a challenge, but I'm learning to let go of the idea that "good moms don't" - good moms don't need time away from their children; good moms don't go out alone for no particular reason; good moms don't leave their husbands to parent alone because, after all, they've had a long week too.

Sometimes this "me time" is as simple as closing the door to the bedroom and asking to not be disturbed for the next hour. Sometimes it's a walk to my favorite teahouse, or a drive to Starbucks with my laptop, or a trip to the store all by myself.

My biggest "me time" fail? Joining a weekly knitting group. Great idea in theory, until I realized I was coming home more exhausted than when I'd left. It finally occurred to me that the whole purpose of my "me time" was to be alone and recharge, not to put myself in one more energy-draining social situation!

Get outside. It's magical. Homebody that I am, I can't deny the energizing refreshment of a walk through the forest trails. The open space and fresh air are calming, and it's always a relief to leave behind the steady temptation of access to the online world. With all the distractions of nature, the kids become less demanding, allowing me to regroup enough to get through the rest of the evening.

Go to sleep. If there's any temptation an introvert regularly faces, it's staying up too late, reluctant to give up the extra alone time. While time alone in the evening helps me feel recharged, getting enough sleep ensures I still have that regained energy in the morning.

How do you balance the demands of motherhood with time alone to recharge? Share your tips, too!

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Cynthia is the mother of two little boys, an inquisitive preschooler and an energetic toddler. She blogs at The Hippie Housewife, where she shares her thoughts on attachment parenting, natural living, life as a Jesus-follower, and more, all tied together through her journey towards a more intentional life.