Sunday, December 11, 2011

I think parenting is harder for introverts

Not long after the realization that I am an introvert changed my life, I discovered something else: I think parenting is harder for introverts. Think about it. Introverts may enjoy spending time with others (I do), but we need time to recharge in solitude after sustained social encounters. And what is parenting if not one long, continuous, sustained social encounter? (With a tiny person who is often irrational, non-verbal, immune to compromise, and deaf to cues that usually signal the need for the interaction to end soon, no less.)

I was reminded of this negative aspect of introversion on Friday. We spent more than six hours at church, first in the regular three-hour service and then enjoying (and partly orchestrating) a congregational Christmas party. It was very festive and I certainly enjoyed myself, but by the time we got home I just wanted to be in a dark, quiet room by myself so I could recuperate from all the interaction that can be so draining for introverts.



But guess what? Sweet Miriam and Magdalena felt no such fatigue and wanted to carry the fun and energy of the Christmas party over into our precious Friday afternoon. It was one of those times when I longed for a Grandma or Grandpa or passel of cousins to take over and absorb the energy that was crippling my introvert self.

I've noticed that in such situations, my body copes by shutting down emotional response. It's almost as if I unconsciously decide that if I can mute the input that is overloading me, I can pretend I'm recharging in a dark, quiet room by myself when in reality I'm playing My Little Ponies on the living room floor with two little girls. It's a way of coping, I guess, but I don't think it's healthy. Sometimes it gets to the point where if one of the kids trips and falls and hurts her knee (or whatever) when I am in that mode, I can see her crying and know that I should feel empathy or concern at that moment but it's all I can do to mimic the appropriate words and reaction. I'm just too drained to drag up the genuine emotional response, and to do so would destroy the recharge period that my body is trying so desperately to approximate.

Now, it's possible that this post really weirded out some of you, especially if you're an extrovert. It's OK, I don't expect you to understand. Just know that once I DO get to spend time alone in a dark, quiet room (aka, when I go to sleep at night), I am fresh, recharged, and things go back to normal and I bet I could even talk myself into spending six hours at church again...

14 comments:

Señora H-B said...

As a fellow introvert, I can empathize. It's not that the human interaction isn't fun, it's just not exhilarating like it is for extroverts. I have always wondered why babysitting is so exhausting. I guess I just never put it together that my introversion doesn't interact well with the intensity of kids. *sigh*...

Anna said...

I was actually just thinking about how parenting is hard on introverts as well, AND I do the whole emotional shutdown thing as well. You are right, it feels not-helpful/healthy.

I was just wondering if there is an opposite hardship for extroverts being parents. My guess is that being locked away from adult companionship for so much of the day is the hardship, but I'm definitely not speaking from experience.

Cobb Family said...

I never comment, but for this I had too. It's nice to know it's not just me this happens to. Thanks for sharing :).

Kathy Haynie said...

I, too, remember the "ahah!" moment when I realized I was an introvert. Too bad for my kiddos...I didn't gain that understanding until long after they were grown. Your thoughtful post has helped me feel less guilty for all the times I really didn't want to play with them...again...when they were little. I kind of suspect that Christ had some introvert tendencies. He went off to be alone in the wilderness, remember? But he also gathered all the little ones into his lap. Don't beat yourself up for being emotionally distant sometimes. It's just what is, and the important thing is that you are still there with your children. It's a part of who your are, and it's ok.

Aimee said...

I very much relate to your post. I am one of those odd "social" introverts, really, it's some odd combination on the meyers-brigg test. I love people, but oh how I love and crave my alone time. In the evening after a long day I go up to my room and recharge. My husband jokes we have separate living spaces b/c as soon as the kids are asleep I go to "my" living room upstairs, and his is downstairs. (He works from home mostly, so we see each other a lot!) As for simply going through the appropriate motions, I feel I do that lately with my 3 yo who craves physical affection. I often have to tell myself to get in the moment and appreciate it. By the time they are in bed and my husband wants to cuddle I don't want anyone touching me, I just want to go read or knit. Alone. :-) Great post!

Liz Johnson said...

As an extrovert, I get sick of my kids, but I don't need the dark/quiet thing to recharge... I need to talk on the phone (or in person) to an adult who speaks real words and has cohesive thought patterns. But I do get that same "I should feel sorry for you but I just can't" feeling that you get if I don't recharge.

This was a quite fascinating post.

Jen said...

Well, as someone who came out as an introvert [relatively] late in life, I TOTALLY relate to this. And really, it wasn't until YOU posted about introverted-ness that I had my aha! moment.

For me, this gets in the way the MOST when it comes to arranging social opportunities for my children.... For instance, if we have too many play dates during the week, I go nuts. I have to come home and decompress for a few hours. BUT. "Hours" don't have much availability in the life of a parent.

It's a conundrum, for sure.

Sherwood family said...

Amen! A long time ago, a friend talked about hiding from her children in the bathroom, and I was kind of horrified. Now I understand.

Britney said...

Another thought: Parenting is harder for introverts unless your kids happen to be introverts, too.

After a few hours of togetherness, my son and I crave time to unwind in our own separate spaces. Caring for him is not stressful, because we always tend to be on the same recharge schedule. My daughter, however, detests "room time" and anything like unto it. She'd much rather be playing with me ALL DAY. It's a challenge.

Bridget said...

I shouldn't said that parenting is *harder* for introverts. Just that it presents certain unexpected challenges.

I appreciate the validation. I wasn't sure how this post would go over and I'm glad I'm not alone.

Ariana said...

I think extroverts just don't understand how us introverts could possibly want/need so much quiet solitary time. It doens't click in their brain because they are wired different. I appreciate this post a lot!! I'm a pretty fierce introvert and homebody, so having kids running around all day makes me CrAzYYYY some days. I just need peace. For just a few minutes. And there's no hope of getting it till the hubby gets home, and even then, the potential is questionable.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Solitude is more valuable than gold to introverts. It doesn't come easy when small children are around. I vividly recall making a conscious decision when my first child was @ 1 to never resent my children or make them suffer for my craving for elusive tranquility. I took quiet when I could get it in whatever amount possible. Which many days was zero.

With all the kids grown up solitude is easy to come by, and it's still worth more than gold to me.

Amanda said...

Where's the "like" button?

I think you've just explained to me why my kids giving up naps has been such a hard transition. I need a break!

Crys said...

Good grief, thank goodness for Liz, I was about to say are we introverts the only ones reading blogs...or are you only friends with introverts on purpose...but then Liz saved the day :) Really interesting blog post. So for me, part of my introvertedness is that I'm just not that in to physical touch. I have one very extroverted brother, who happened to be here for two weeks. Poor child, one extrovert in a family of five introvert syblings...let's just say life has been hard for him. He often complains about the fact that we actually recoil from physical touch, something that he craves. And so a few years ago we made a rule that he could hug us but only for a few seconds, and yes sadly enough sometimes we will actually count the second outloud. Sad I know...so I decided with my kids that was just not ok and so I swallow it down and I actually keep a mental tab going....how long has it been since I've hugged my kids, said I love you, given them a kiss...ok it has been to long do it again Crys. It isn't that I don't love them, it's just that I don't naturally think to do these things in what I consider to be a healthy enough time frame and so I've made it a job to be done. And I realize that is ok because I do love them and I want them to grow up with the physical cues that tell them that.

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