Being an introverted parent comes with a unique set of challenges. Lately I’ve tried to become more aware of how MY challenges and needs are contributing to my own parental “misbehavior” – yelling, losing my cool, or just being unable to weather the everyday demands of parenting with a calm and compassionate attitude.
I am prone to sensory overload, particularly in the realm of NOISE. It was only in the last year or so, when I read Quiet by Susan Cain, that I learned that sensory overload is a very common trait of introverts. I always thought I was just grouchy! And I might be a little grouchy by nature, but being sensitive to sound and what I perceive as “chaos” (too many people talking at once, too many different inputs at once) is an enormous influence not only on my mood, but on how well I am able to function.
Even though Miles is also an introvert, he enjoys noise. I think that he does struggle to process too many different auditory inputs at once the way I do, but he also likes white noise and engine and motor sounds a lot. So at times we run into conflict with each other when he is busy making engine sounds while playing cars, or doing the various other sound effects he likes to make. Repetitive sounds in particular drive me bananas, but I know that he probably doesn’t have much ability to rein in his noise making, and on top of that he is calming himself down by making them – so I don’t want to stop that. However, that’s usually a fairly easy problem to solve by removing myself to a quiet room.
A trickier conflict comes into play with Julius because he is NOT an introvert. As much as I delight in being able to have conversations with my two year old, there are times when his constant talking makes me feel like someone is hammering nails into my head. The most difficult times are when we come home from being somewhere that has completely drained my energy – a play date, the children’s museum – and I desperately need to be alone. The best way I can describe the feeling is that it’s like having low blood sugar, but instead of needing to eat I need to escape into my own head, preferably in silence. These are precisely the times that Julius recharges by asking me for help doing a hundred things and fixing a hundred snacks – it’s very predictable that I am going to snap at him! I know that I’m the adult and it’s my job to suck it up, not his, but it’s hard. That need to recharge is real and it’s strong. I do my best to set him up with some food and something to play with before I escape. Meanwhile, Miles will pretty reliably have already gone off to be by HIMself because he is like me that way.
Another common pitfall of introvert parenting for me is winding up someplace that’s very noisy and crazy and only THEN realizing that I just don’t have the ability to handle that much stimulation at the moment. If I’m tired (which is often, obviously) or I’ve done too much already (this tends to happen on Mike’s days off when we cram in too much activity) I have a weakened ability to handle sensory input like a noisy room. Having to speak loudly or yell to make myself heard above the din is likely to send me over the edge. Places like the children’s museum or a bounce house place (all the white noise of the fans that keep the bouncers inflated is very intense for me) can be too much if I’m not in the right mood.
This all makes me sound sensitive and ill tempered, and I guess I can be. But at the same time, I can recharge and rebound if I just get some time with a quiet activity (and let’s face it, a little caffeine might help). Smartphones are a boon to introvert parenting, because to some extent, it’s a way to escape and recharge on the go without having to actually BE alone or take a lot of time to myself. Having said that, I’m no good at multitasking, so if I’m somewhere where I need to keep both eyes on the kids, I can’t be checking out Facebook too. Being alone to write or read is definitely a more potent battery charge for me but it has to be a solid chunk of uninterrupted time to be any good – and we all know how easy to come by those chunks are for parents!
One common misconception, or maybe it’s just a gross overgeneralization, about introverts is that we don’t like to be social at all. That is not true of me and I know not every introvert feels that way. I enjoy time with people and crave it when I go too long without it. But it’s tiring. It’s like how some people enjoy workouts (I’m not one of them!) – you have fun and it feels good while you’re doing it, but you have your limits and afterward you need to rest. If you push too hard or don’t rest properly, it feels bad and takes longer to recover. But I never want people to think that while I’m sitting there talking to them I’m longing to get away – that’s hardly ever the case. I just might need a nap when we’re done!
As the kids get older I will do my best to explain to them what introverts and extroverts are all about, so they understand themselves and other people better. I wish I’d known all my life that I wasn’t totally weird, in fact I was a pretty classic introvert (well, and maybe a little weird too).