I am a stay-at-home mum to two preschoolers, exactly 18 months apart. My days are marked by sticky fingered cuddles, little hands slipping into mine, and delightful conversations about the world as seen through the eyes of a four and two year old. We also play lots of games together. One game that’s often played is hide and seek. In fact, it’s played every day, and usually more than once. Does that make you admire my passion for playing and engaging with my children? Do you wonder where I get the energy? Envy the commitment I show to being a ‘fun mum’?
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Here’s the truth – I don’t actually tell them we’re playing, I just hide. I hide in the toilet. I hide in the pantry and behind doors. I am a grown woman who has literally crouched behind the bed to hide from her own two children. Here’s another truth – I delight in my children. We go on adventures, we play together and have wild and wonderful conversations every day. I choke up at every Happy Birthday chorus for my kids – I can only beam and carry the cake. If it were socially appropriate, I would tell all the cute stories all the time to all the people I meet.
How I figured out I’m an introvert
Two truths – opposite but equal. I love my children, they bring me such joy. Yet, at times, I need to be alone. I need it. As it turns out, I am a true introvert. I love people, but I need space and quiet to replenish my energy so I can keep giving energy out. It’s not a choice, it’s a necessity. As a stay-at-home mum to two preschoolers, carving out that space, and feeling okay about doing so, has been my biggest challenge. It took me a while to figure out that I am an introvert, and if you met me it might take you a while too. I am chatty and friendly, not at all shy, and I worked in one of the most people-oriented jobs around (shout out to primary school teachers!).
I now see that in all those years before I became a mother, I had natural moments in a day in which I had space and quiet. I knew that I could happily read all day without seeing a soul, and it took a bit of persuading to get me out with a big group of people, but I was blissfully unaware that my enjoyment of being alone was actually the fuel that kept my engine going. I spent six hours in a classroom with 25 six year olds, but I had a lunch break, and the evenings and weekends were my own. I never ran out of fuel because the space I needed was pre-built into my life. Then I had two beautiful children in quick succession and everything changed. All that space I never knew I needed disappeared.
Are you an extrovert?
You might be a parent who puts the radio on to fill the silence. You may choose meeting up with friends over being by yourself. You may interrupt your children while they are playing so you can interact, or just sit happily in a room, filtering out the noise and chaos of kids playing around you.
If that sounds like you, then you are likely an extrovert – a person who regains your energy by being around people. I am not that person, and I venture to guess that I am not the only mum who when she calmly says, “I just need a little break for an hour or so” actually means, “I need to be alone so please let me be alone just for one hot second because my brain is so full of noise that I cannot even see straight.”
What happens when an introverted mother doesn’t refuel?
So what happens when you push yourself just a little further on less and less fuel, gladly giving of yourself, and ignoring that nagging, increasingly desperate feeling telling you to find some breathing space? What happens when an introverted mother goes months and years without the space needed to refuel her energy? The introverted mother runs out of puff, that’s what.
For me, running out of puff looked like a big ol’ meltdown in which I felt so panicky about the need to be by myself that I literally waited by the door until my husband walked in after an overnight shift and shouted, “I have to get out of here!” I ran out the door in tears, leaving one very confused husband and two tearful children in my wake. It was a low moment. (I will be honest, it was one of a number of low moments). That growing desperation I had to be alone had been a warning that I was moving too far away from a fundamental need.
I wish I had understood the clues to my temperament earlier, and avoided the feeling of guilt I had for trying to escape my children. I wish I had made peace earlier with the fact that I am a better mother when I have regular moments of time to myself. I am pretty sure I’m not the only introverted mother out there. You also may have wondered why you crave ‘alone time’ more than your friends. The following may resonate with you.
Clues you may be an introverted mum
- The children’s nap is sacrosanct – not because you are exhausted and need a rest, but because it’s the only time you have to enjoy being alone.
- You don’t answer the phone during naptime.
- You grieve the phasing out of naps more than seems reasonable.
- You shudder at the very idea of homeschooling (whilst deeply admiring all those who can do it!).
- You suspect your greatest years as a mum will be the school years (natural space comes into your life again!).
- While other parents reminisce about the delights of babyhood, you relish the growing independence of your children more than you miss the dependent baby years.
- Your greatest fantasy is a night in a hotel – by yourself.
- On the rare occasions you are alone, you are never bored.
If you read those clues and don’t relate, you might be tempted to wonder why on earth I had children if I like being alone so much, or perhaps it seems as if I am confusing introversion with the tiredness and desire for a break that every mum experiences.
Let’s be clear, it’s essential that all mothers take a break from their children now and then, no matter what their temperament is. When that break doesn’t happen, capacity gets lower and lower, and stress levels get higher because you are not feeding yourself the fuel your heart and mind need. How you take that break, and what you do to replenish yourself is what distinguishes you as an introverted or extroverted person.
My sister is an extrovert with three busy boys. If she has had a hard day, she craves adult company without her children. She may have a long conversation with her husband, or perhaps, a coffee out with a friend. But if a hard day ends with her being alone, that leaves her feeling flat. Conversely, if I have had a really hard day, I feel almost giddy at the thought of spending some time to myself ‘just pottering’. The baby and preschool years are challenging for any parent, but the introverted mother has another layer to contend with – the mental space we need to keep functioning is the very thing that is in shortest supply in these years.
I am now four years into parenthood, and am more accepting of how my temperament impacts on the way I parent. A simple solution would have been to have family take the children on a regular basis for an hour or two, but for lots of reasons, that option was not there when it was most needed. So I have found ways to find space and quiet, and have learned to value and protect it as the precious commodity it is.
Here’s what works for me
Rest time is non-negotiable
I have put energy into helping my four year old learn to play and read independently in his room for 45 minutes. I never do housework at that time as it may be the only moment in a 12 or 13 hour day that I have all to myself. I have learned to prioritise myself over the housework, for all our sakes.
I use TV
Before I actually had children, I was never going to use TV as a babysitter. Bless my little heart. I’ve learned that TV can be a tool to carve out space when I need to stand in the kitchen for five minutes without children literally attached to my legs. Do the kids need the TV? No, but sometimes I need them to, and I have finally accepted that it’s okay.
I have become more upfront with my husband
He is an extrovert so it took a while to learn my language. He now knows that when I say, “I would appreciate a little time to myself this weekend”, that actually means we may be at boiling point and for the sake of humanity, action must be taken immediately.
I play to my strengths
I love to play board games, do jigsaws and read books with my children. Baking together is a special activity that we all enjoy. What’s the common denominator in these activities? They all have a predetermined end point. Introverts do well with definite time frames.
My husband and I ensure that I have one night a year in a hotel all to myself
We have prioritised this expense in our budget. It doesn’t come under the ‘holiday’ or ‘discretionary spending’ categories – it comes under the category, ‘skip this, and the ship goes down.’
Being an introverted mother is a lesson in holding opposite feelings in one’s heart. This is never more obvious than that one night a year I spend alone. I look forward to it all year, I plan what I will do (spoiler alert – I do nothing but order room service and enjoy the freedom to read and watch TV) and afterwards, I feel so energised. Yet every year without fail, I cry as I leave for my one night away, because I love my children with all my heart. I just won’t ever homeschool them.
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