As I sit here enjoying the brief respite that nap time brings, along with my very large coffee and homemade breakfast biscuits (stay tuned, recipe to come!), I am reflecting on the first 6 months of my journey into parenting. More specifically, parenting as an introvert.
I feel that being an introvert is something that’s often misunderstood, and so becomes almost a dirty word. People think that it means that you’re anti-social, or that you don’t like people, and that isn’t true at all. I love my friends and family, and have had some of my best times over the last few years since we started “girls’ nights”, where we can all gather over food and wine, and just enjoy each other’s company. What introversion really means to me is all about how we recharge. Extroverts are energized by other people, whereas introverts recharge by being alone.
Personally, I’m a really strong introvert. I need that alone time. And not need like “I’ll be a bit cranky if I don’t get it”, but need like crying and screaming in the corner pulling my hair out need. For me, this has been the biggest challenge of parenting. Simply being needed that much is exhausting and draining for me. When the baby doesn’t need me, the cat’s meowing because she wants attention, or my husband needs something, or housework needs to be done, or I’m working where 30 other people need me. Some days it’s hard to find time just to breathe, especially when I’m making a choice between breakfast or a shower, lunch or cleaning the kitchen so I can make dinner…
Don’t get me wrong, my husband does help. But his upbringing was different to mine, and so we do things very differently. I don’t feel like cooking dinner but I do it because we have food in the fridge and I want to save money. He doesn’t feel like cooking so he orders take out. I’m not saying either is better, it’s just different. And when you’re running on very low reserves, different can be frustrating too. And then of course, there’s the mommy guilt. The little voice that tells you what you should be doing instead of sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee, that tells you that you’re a bad mother for wanting time away from the baby.
If any of this sounds familiar, I feel for you, I really do. Parenting is hard, and parenting as an introvert brings its own list of very specific challenges that other people just may not get. And so I wanted to share a few of the conclusions that I’ve come to over the last 6 months.
1. You’re not alone
Introverts make up 25-50% of the population, so you’re not the only person dealing with this. Of course, you may not wish to reach out to those people, and they may prefer to be in their own bubble for a while too! But just knowing that I’m not abnormal has helped.
2. It’s OK to need what you need
I was racked with guilt about wanting time away from my family. Here I was with a great husband and a beautiful, healthy, happy baby boy, and I just wanted to leave them at home and go somewhere else. Anywhere else. What I had to accept is that while being a parent changes your priorities, it doesn’t change your fundamental personality. If you needed a certain amount of alone time to recharge before you had kids, you’ll still need it after you have them. That’s just a part of who you are, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The worst thing you can do is to completely ignore what you need. You can’t take care of anyone if you’re running on empty.
3. It doesn’t make you a bad parent
Mommy guilt is real. Whether it’s because you use disposable diapers, feed your baby formula, put them in daycare while you’re at work, let them watch TV or eat junk food, or simply because you need a break from them for a couple of hours, there always seems to be something that someone says we should be doing better. In fact, apparently 94% of parents struggle with guilt over their parenting choices. The truth of the matter is that no-one is perfect, and it just isn’t possible to have and do everything. You simply can’t work full time and be at home with the baby full time and do all of the housework and have a healthy homemade dinner on the table at 6 every day and have perfect make-up and hair and workout and and and…. At least, I don’t see how, and I certainly wouldn’t be sane if that was my life. I feel very privileged that I don’t have to work full time and am able to be at home with my baby during the day. But I work in the evenings, so I sacrifice time with my husband. And there are days that I have to choose between having a shower and eating breakfast, so typically I choose to eat, because I’m nursing a baby and need the calories. So maybe on those days, I spend a few hours with my hair smelling of baby vomit that got spat up into it at 6:30 am. Choice and sacrifice is part of the deal of being an adult, and it doesn’t make you a bad parent or mean that you don’t love your child. In fact, it makes you a great parent, because you’re doing what needs to be done, and that includes taking care of yourself on a level that other people can’t help with. So if you need a night out with the girls and a couple of glasses of wine (a.k.a. Mommy juice!), that’s OK. And if you need to leave the baby at home with Daddy for a couple of hours while you go to a yoga class, go to the gym, get your haircut, get a manicure, or just go to starbucks or the park and read a book, that’s OK too. I can’t speak for everyone, but my husband actually likes having extra time with the baby, because he really only gets an hour a day with him otherwise, so you might actually be doing everyone a favor if you take a few hours for yourself. Doing what’s right for you (at least sometimes) is what’s right for your family.
4. Tell your partner/support person
One of the hardest parts of this for me was to tell my husband that this was what I needed, and a lot of that comes back to the Mommy guilt and the feeling that I should be able to do everything and should be doing it better. But once I told him we were able to make a plan so that it doesn’t get out of hand. On Saturday mornings, I leave my husband and baby at home with a bottle of expressed milk in the fridge, and I go to a yoga class with one of my favorite instructors. Sometimes I’ll come straight home so that I can watch the English Premier League football afterwards (I will still leave my husband to take care of the baby during this), and sometimes I’ll go to a coffee shop where I’ll buy myself a snack and a coffee and I’ll sit in the sun and read a book. Yep – I’ll spend money on myself, and I’ll be by myself for an hour or more, doing something that outwardly achieves nothing. And you know what? It’s great, and I don’t feel guilty for doing it anymore, because I know that inwardly what it achieves is keeping me sane, and that’s vital for me and for my family. My husband now knows that he needs to be at home and completely available on a Saturday morning. And if your partner isn’t available, ask someone else to watch the baby. Something I’ve learned from my friends is that everyone wants to play with the baby for a couple of hours. So remind yourself that it’s OK to let them!
I hope something in there helps you if this is something you’re working through. And if you have any other tips or advice for introvert parents, I’d love to hear them!