• Being Alone and Being Lonely Are Two Different Things

    Here’s one thing I’ve learned in my two years as a mother: experiencing solitude and experiencing loneliness are not the same thing.

    Before I became a mom, I frequently sought out solitude, but seldom felt lonely.

    Pre-baby hammock relaxation
    Pre-baby hammock relaxation

    Now I sometimes feel a bit lonely but — until recently — hardly ever experience true solitude in the same way that I did before having a child.

    I’ve been reading One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One by Lauren Sandler, and Sandler makes some provocative and insightful points about what we think we “know” about only children.  (I’m reading it for my Parenting Book Book Club For Parents Who Hate Most Parenting Books over at School of Smock.  Join the ongoing conversation about this book and Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us by Christine Gross-Loh!)

    According to Sander, being alone is an objective state.  You may like it; you might not.  You may find being alone recharges your energy (as introverts like me do), or you may prefer to be around others.  But loneliness is different.  You’re not happy when you’re lonely.  You’re missing a connection with others.  It’s unpleasant.

    In our culture, Sandler states, “We often mistake loneliness with solitude, confusing a state of grievous misery with a placid state of contentment.”

    One of the main themes of the book is that only kids are not necessarily lonely at all, despite the stereotype.  They learn to be their own companions and are generally content in their own company.  They are more likely to be self-sufficient, to have a strong sense of self.    That only kid sitting by himself in the sandbox or drawing pictures without siblings may not be lonely at all, although it’s tempting to feel sorry for him.  But he might not be longing for company in the slightest.

    On the other hand, motherhood can be truly lonely.  A new mom can literally never be all alone during the whole day:  surrounded by toddlers at the park, accompanied to the bathroom by her child, woken to the sounds of a screaming child over the baby monitor during the quiet first rays of morning sunlight.  But she may not feel a constant daily connection to friends or to a support system.

    Solitude is about finding the time and space to have a deep relationship with yourself.  Solitude can be “down time,” moments to reconnect and recharge.

    I experience solitude and peace during:

    • reading
    • walking or running
    • cooking a long meal

    For me, cultivating happiness as a mom is about finding that balance: connecting with myself and with others.  Connecting enough not to feel lonely, allowing myself to be alone enough to be calm.

    In One and Only, Sandler contends that only children are particularly good at this balance.  They’re skillful at forming and keeping social connections — on their own terms — but also seek and cherish time alone.

    How do you find this balance?  Do you think that only kids are better at this balancing act?

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  • A Guide to New Motherhood — as an Introvert

    “Quiet” and rare new mom moment

    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.

    Quiet: The Power of Introverts - By Susan Cain
    Quiet: The Power of Introverts – By Susan Cain (Photo credit: mhdbadi)

    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?




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