Today, when I had to (horrors!) unexpectedly interact with new people.
Today, when my older boy talked non-stop from the time he woke up until the time his eyes finally, blessedly, drifted shut.
Today, when my younger boy had a sudden need to be in physical contact with me at all possible moments.
Today, when my husband worked until the kids' bedtime, leaving me to spend the entire day cooking, cleaning, running errands, being social, and answering the preschooler's endless questions.
Today. Just one of those days. One of those perfect days for reflecting on motherhood as an introvert.
Some days I just don't know how to do it. I want to lash out at everyone, what about ME? Can I just have one hour with no one talking to me, touching me, or needing something from me? Where I can do what I want instead of what needs to be done - where I can write instead of clean, or knit instead of cook? Where I'm not being constantly dragged out of my thoughts and back into the needs of everyone else?
During one such desperate escape last month, I left the kids with their dad and fairly ran out the door with no particular destination in mind. I ended up at a strip mall with thoughts of heading to Starbucks to get in some quiet writing time. As I passed a hair salon, I did a double-take: "walk-ins welcome". I needed my hair cut in a bad way (the perils of moving to a new city and being too introverted to bother finding a new hairdresser). Before I knew what I was doing, I found myself at the front counter asking if they had an opening. They did.
I settled into the chair and the hairdresser began spritzing and fussing with my long thick hair. "Looks like you had an inverted cut last time? Do you want that left in?" I declined, too embarrassed to admit that my last hair cut had been a self-done hack job over the side of the bathtub. She got to work on my requested style, and I was immediately reminded of exactly why it had taken me so long to find a new hairdresser - the dreaded Small Talk.
Question, answer, awkward pause. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Stop! I wanted to shout. I left my kids at home to get away from the endless questions!
(At least she did a fabulous job on my hair.)
Such is the life of an introvert. 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 have to endure the infuriating teasing attempts to draw us out of our "shell", which apparently means "get you to talk as much as the rest of us are talking". For those of us who don't wear our emotions on our face, we receive endless "cheer up and smile!" comments from complete strangers.
(Am I really supposed to walk around with a big silly grin on my face all the time? Really?? I was happy until some random person told me to cheer up and smile. Now I'm just annoyed and ticked off.)
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. 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 found 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. "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 favourite 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.
Ahh...nearly two blissfully quiet hours of typing, and I'm now feeling myself again. Time to sleep in order to be sure I still have that regained energy tomorrow morning - because if there's any temptation an introvert regularly faces, it's staying up too late, reluctant to give up the extra alone time!
Are you an introvert? How do you balance the demands of motherhood with time alone to recharge?