This was originally posted August 11, 2012, on my previous blog. Caroline was almost six and I thought that she was an extrovert at the time. I’ve since concluded that she’s more introverted, but did not alter the original post to reflect this. I’m posting it now to add it to my 31 Days of Learning Differently series.
The past few weeks have been hard. I hit the proverbial wall this week and it all had to do with being so strongly introverted. On the bright side, I think God allowed me to realize something in the midst of it.
Singleness and childlessness were two of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced.
Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done.
I struggled with singleness and childlessness. Those seemingly never-ending years were an important part of my faith journey, and God used both of them in significant ways to shape me as a person. But in the midst of them I never really felt like I had any control over the situations. I could pray and wait and trust. It seemed that the overall theme that kept rising in my life was that God was calling me to patience and waiting in the midst of each situation.
But the parenting thing. This feels different. I’m not waiting on God to move and change something. It’s something I have to get up and do every day. And it is challenging in a completely different way. Yes, I need to rely on His power in my life to parent well. But it is still different than the paths I walked before. And so far I don’t see an overall theme coming forward to give me encouragement and confidence that I’m on the right path in my thinking about the situation.
The past couple of weeks have been full of people and devoid of any meaningful introvert time for me which is a sure recipe for disaster on pretty much every level. I started searching for articles online about parenting and introverts and found some gems. I felt encouraged after reading them if for no other reason than I knew afresh I wasn’t alone.
I thought Why Introverts Fail at Attachment Parenting had some fantastic gems of truth. Oh my. A few statements resonated loudly in my weary heart and mind, especially in contrast to so much of what is written about Christian parenting and homeschooling…
To put it simply, being an introvert means that being around other people slowly depletes my energy. I love talking with people, but it is as though I have a word limit both for hearing and for speaking. Once I have exceeded my limit for the day, I begin to lose my ability to be a kind or even polite person. I cannot be around people—any people—24/7. I absolutely have to have alone time to recharge my emotional batteries.
I am fully convinced that many—if not all—of the parenting experts favored by liberals are extroverts. Extroverts find themselves energized by connection to other people. So it isn’t surprising that extroverted parenting experts have told us that we should be overjoyed at spending every waking minute with our children. Extroverts have a nearly unlimited number of words that they can hear and say in a day, so they have told us to be constantly attentive to what our children say, to engage in every conversation. Extroverts can talk for hours on end, so it seems perfectly reasonable to them that everyone should be able to be tuned into toddler babbling and grade-school chatter for days on end without becoming suicidal or homicidal. Extroverts enjoy being in close physical proximity to other people and can go for days on end without any alone time. So they believe that everyone should be able to be able to wear a baby in a sling, be snuggled up to another person 24/7 without going completely out of their minds.
I would argue, however, that the first step to being a good parent is being a self-aware person. It is knowing and honoring your own limits. I believe that we are better parents when we work with our nature rather than against it. For those of us who are introverts, this means that we honor our own need for space, for quiet, for time alone. We do these things not because we are selfish, but because they make us better parents.
Look at it this way, when we discover that our children have special needs, we move heaven and earth to make the kind of accommodations that will allow them to thrive. Even if we decide that being an introvert handicaps us as a parent, we owe it to ourselves and to our children to make reasonable accommodations for ourselves so that we can thrive as parents.
I also appreciated a discussion I found on Mothering.com that tackled Introversion and Parenting. I related to many of the comments.
I laughed out loud a couple of times while reading Pity the Introvert. I loved this (and so will my mother-in-law):
A few years ago – well, probably around ten years ago, now that I think about it – one of my older sons asked me what my favorite day of the week was.
“Monday morning,” I said, “When everyone goes away.”
and this comment from a reader named Sue:
The first day of school after a long summer is the highlight of my year. I would walk back to my car saying ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty I’m free at last!” Have you ever read ‘Party of One: The Loners Manifesto’ by Anneli Rufus?? Some of it is a stretch but I liked her description about spending hours with friends would leave her feeling drained, like she had donated blood..all day long.
I thought Amy made some really great observations such as:
On days when everyone is around all day, I must stay up later than everyone in order to feel like I exist. I don’t mean that overdramatically, I just mean that my self doesn’t feel really connected until it’s…quiet and I can process stuff in my head.
coupled with this…
My oldest son is an extrovert. I mean…he’s an extreme extrovert. It took me a long time to figure this out. It all finally came together for me in the aftermath of doing one of the Myers-Briggs inventories (for school, of course. So we could all get along, etc.) and observing him during one more aggravating trip to the grocery store in which he could not, would not leave either his brother or sister alone. It finally hit me, “If he’s not interacting with someone, he doesn’t feel alive. ” And I grasped the corollary of that which was that I feel most alive when I’m alone. And we were going to have to figure out a way to co-exist.
This is EXACTLY where I am with mothering Caroline. Bless her little extroverted, only child heart… She wants interaction ALL. DAY. LONG. The other day we took her to the Children’s Museum in the morning and then we ran some errands. When we got home mid-afternoon, her tank must have been full because she actually went into the learning room and was fully engaged A.LONE. for the better part of an hour. I vacillated between total shock and thanksgiving. But it took all of the attention from me AND David until three in the afternoon before she got to that point. We simply cannot do that every day.
And bedtime… If she doesn’t have her word and interaction quota met… She CANNOT go to sleep or stay in bed. Drives me nuts to no end.
And, yet, I’m the same way on the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s past midnight and I should be in bed. I want to be in bed. But I’m sitting here typing because it is finally quiet and I can finally find a way to bring some life back into my introverted self. I can’t go to bed until I’ve had my introvert time. She can’t go to bed until she gets her extrovert time.
I have no idea how this is going to work. I’ve asked myself more than a few times lately if I am simply incapable of homeschooling and being a healthy person. And yet I believe with every fiber of my being that homeschooling is the best thing for Caroline even though she is an extrovert.
No answers tonight. Just some thoughts put to electronic paper so I can quiet my own mind and go to sleep.
This post is part of my my 31 Days of Learning Differently series.