I’ve heard people say before that books have changed their lives — and reading has always been crucial to my daily life — but I was surprised when as a new parent, it was a non-parenting book that changed my personal experience the most.
Recently Stephanie told us about the book MotherStyles: Using Personality Type to Discover Your Parenting Strengths by Janet Penley. This book draws on the Myers-Briggs system of personality type classification to describe 16 distinct mothering approaches. It’s a great read and full of practical advice to help you understand yourself and improve your parenting.
The book that changed my life was Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. If you know you’re an introvert, there’s a good chance that you’ve already read it. Using research and stories of real people’s lives, she explores the unique qualities of introverts and what we lose as a culture when we don’t value their contributions. Susan Cain, through a couple years of popular media saturation, has made being an introvert hip and cool. (If you haven’t seen her TED talk, it’s terrific.)
Do you the following statements describe you? (Here’s also a great quiz from Susan Cain’s website.) Then there’s a good chance that you’re an introvert too!
- Do you crave less noise, less stimulation during most of your day?
- Do you much prefer having a glass of wine with a friend than mingling in a large party of strangers?
- Do you prefer to express yourself in writing?
- Do you often feel drained after a lot of social interaction, even if you’ve had a good time?
- Do you dislike small talk and prefer to have in-depth, one-on-one conversations about topics that are important to you?
- Do you do your best work on your own, rather than in a group?
Once I read the book, for the first time in my life I was proud to be an introvert. I wasn’t shy, there wasn’t something wrong with me. For the first time, I realized that I had personality traits that others may lack that were truly strengths. Being inward-directed, being best at focused, solitary work, these were not shameful, second-rate personality traits that should ideally be “fixed.” I could be proud to be “quiet” in a loud world.
Despite all this powerful self-realization, there was one problem: this did not help me at all in my daily life right this second. I was a stay at home mom to a loud, active, demanding, and intense toddler. He was — and continues to be — a force of nature. He’s a smart, curious, fun, and adorable little guy. But — like most toddlers — rest and quiet are not part of his vocabulary. Why walk or sit when you can climb, run, or charge? Why talk when you can scream, cry, or wail?
At the end of the day I can be emotionally and physically depleted. I’m simply done. I am often exhausted by the pace of my son’s constant chatter and need for constant verbal and physical engagement. I need to be alone — sometimes for hours — to recharge my emotional batteries. And then I’m back to normal self.
Millions of us are introverts. Millions of us are parents. So what do you do when the most important parts of parenting drain you more than most people?
1. First of all, ditch the guilt and stop viewing your introversion as a parenting liability. It doesn’t make you a bad parent to prefer quiet and calm, if a full schedule of daily activities leaves you drained. You need to schedule time for solitude and quiet the same way that you plan time for sleep, meals, and bathing. It’s not a luxury and it’s not a waste of time. Trust me: if you are an introvert, you will be a better parent if you have that time for yourself. And if that means sacrificing your standards for housekeeping, so be it. And it may mean your spouse may need to pick up more of the load.
2. Find ways for your child to release their physical energy and get outside stimulation that are outside the home. I enrolled my son in preschool, and he runs, chases, gets the stimulation of dozens of other kids, attends dance and music classes there. Look for classes and playgroups in which other adults are in charge.
3. Make sure that your spouse or partner understands that you are an introvert and what that means, particularly if he or she is clearly an extrovert. Explain that you’re not being selfish when you need time alone.
4. When you do have parts of your day — errands or your commute — that involve alone time, find activities that allow you to recharge. For instance, instead of exercising in a loud, crowded health club, consider going for a solitary walk or run. Find soothing music to listen to when you’re in the car.
5. Teach your child as much independence as appropriate for his age. Kids are not better off if they have an adult entertaining them every second of the day. If you are cooking dinner for 15 minutes, try to encourage your child to occupy himself for a while. Explain to your child, as soon as they can understand, that adults need a few minutes to themselves every once in a while. Self-reliance is a muscle that can be developed and strengthened as a child gets older.
Most of all, what has made the biggest difference for me is to realize that I am not selfish. Again, if you are an introvert, repeat after me: You are not selfish if you need alone time as a parent. Taking care of yourself makes you a better parent. Honor your own personality style and your family will be more likely to be happy and thrive.
If you are an introvert, or your spouse is one, what are some coping strategies that you use in your family?