Highly active kids want constant attention and don’t enjoy alone time. But there are ways to cope that can work for you both.
Visualize the scene. You’re in an airport lounge, surrounded by more than a hundred people, ready to board your flight. It’s completely silent, your baby is sleeping peacefully, and you’re just trying to relax. When abruptly, a shriek pierces through the air because your child decides it’s the right time to get hungry. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be, with all eyes on you, making you feel judged, while you try to breastfeed your crying baby. It’s like somebody just turned a spotlight on you, and whatever you do will somehow escalate the situation even further, at least in your mind. And to me, it felt so bad that I considered banning myself from all public outings in the future.
Life as an Introvert, Pre-Baby
I have always known I was an introvert. Granted, I may not have known the technical term for it, but I figured out soon that I was different from my extroverted friends. I did not like talking to people much, enjoyed my own company and alone time, avoided social gatherings, and was always the quietest one in the group.
But I had never had a problem navigating life with my different set of abilities. I harnessed the power of my introversion and used it to excel in different fields, such as writing. People around me looked up to me because I was so in touch with myself — they’d come to me for advice or just borrow my ear for their problems. I also found a partner — an extrovert very unlike myself — who understood my nature and personality traits and adjusted himself according to my needs, and vice-versa. We fit together like pieces of a puzzle, and everything was going perfectly until I was faced with the biggest challenge of my life: motherhood.
Becoming a Mother as an Introvert
I had believed that giving birth would be the hard part and that the rest of it would be all peachy. Yes, I expected my child to be a little naughty and a little outgoing like his dad, but on the whole, he would be well-behaved. What I did not anticipate was that my child would not just be an extrovert, but also have attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder as a colicky baby — one who fussed and cried more than most — an introvert’s worst nightmare (for lack of a better term).
As an introverted new mom, the first month after my baby’s birth was extremely tense for me because he was constantly crying and screeching all day. I was doubly agitated because I was worried about my baby’s health and my sanity all the time. Forget spending some of my time alone — I could not even get enough sleep, and by the end of each day, I was completely drained, physically and emotionally. Although, eventually, my husband and I did figure out tricks to calm our baby down and get him to sleep, he always needed constant attention and monitoring. Whatever little time I could get, I had to use it to catch up on my sleep to restore my energy, which made me-time completely impossible.
Once his colic started to reduce, I started to step out in public. But I always had to be on guard, because I was not able to anticipate when my son would have another bout of screaming and crying. It made me even more anxious because I not only had to deal with an agitated child in a crowded place, but also with my overthinking brain which constantly made me think that everyone was staring at me. Although I did get random strangers coming up to me to offer help or advice, in my mind, it always translated to, “You’re not a good mom!!!” The whole situation made me feel so helpless that I wanted to sit down and have a good cry myself.
As it turned out, even that was not an option for me. As the months progressed, my son showed no sign of slowing down. He loved to explore, he liked being outdoors and meeting people, and did not like being left alone (even when he was sleeping). Yep, he was the opposite of an introvert! And it occurred to me that, just like the way I had done before in life, I could find a way to work around this phase, as well. Granted, my hyperactive son was not going to give me a moment’s respite and still needed attention 24/7, but either I could give up and lose my sanity, or find a way to capitalize on it. All that said, here are a few ways that I learned how to cope as an introverted mom with an extroverted, colicky son.
7 Ways to Cope When You’re an Introverted Parent of a Highly Active Child
1. Take as many short breaks as possible so you can have some alone time.
Finding time for myself to recharge is incredibly important to me, and since I can not do it in long stretches, I started taking small time-outs. It could just be 10-15 minutes at a time, but during that period, I focus on a single task, like doing laundry or the dishes. Yes, these are mundane tasks, and it’s still not nearly enough alone time, but I look forward to these breaks when I can de-stress and not worry about my son.
2. Don’t exert yourself too much — after all, your active child will for the both of you.
Since my child is so physically active on his own, I try not to overexert myself (or him). It may sound selfish, but it helps me to cope. As he does not like to sit still for more than a minute, and gets disinterested in games equally fast, it hardly makes sense for me to try to force him to do something. We go on walks and sometimes sit and read, but more than that, it’s hardly worthwhile. It helps me save energy, as well.
3. Ask others for help, even with small tasks (they add up!).
I admit, without shame, that I am not superhuman. Sometimes, when I need a long break from everything, I hand over my responsibilities to my partner or another family member. I love being a mother, but I need my time alone, as well. (I’m sure my fellow introverts can relate!) Plus, I’ve found that if I try to multitask, and do an activity like reading or writing while I also try to watch my son, I quickly become overstimulated. So, if I need to do something, I ask someone else to watch him while I do it. This not only gives me a break, but lets my son bond with others, too. As an introvert, I know it’s not always easy to ask for help, but believe me, it’s worth it.
4. Find what attracts your child’s attention the most.
There are very few things that grab my child’s attention and make him sit still in one place for a long time, but I have found that some things do make him feel relaxed, at least for a few minutes. For example, he is fascinated with all the electronic gadgets in my house and loves to tinker with them, so I let him do it in a way that is safe and allows me some respite. He also loves putting things together, which is why puzzles are a good option for him. And when push comes to shove, I allow him to watch cartoons for a while, just to make him be still for some time. That is especially helpful during meal times, because otherwise, I will be running around the whole house with a spoon and no meal for us to eat.
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5. Put on some blinders (at least psychologically).
This is something I began to do when I went out in public. I realized that the more I concerned myself with other people’s opinions, the more I became anxious and panicked. Not that I can completely switch off my overthinking brain, but when it comes to my child’s comfort, I shut off the world and focus on him only. So the next time I found myself at an airport, I concentrated only on doing whatever he required and even went out of the way to ask other people for help when I couldn’t handle everything.
6. Practice self-care to stay calm and centered.
It might sound tiring after everything, but yes, self-care is crucial for your happiness. You may choose to do cardio or yoga, or you may prefer meditation, or you can just take long bubble baths or naps — anything that helps you to take time out from your duties and recharge yourself. For me, it’s a hot shower, followed by a good skincare routine and meditation. These help me get relaxed and feel confident about myself. Along with that, sleeping a good eight hours per night and eating three hearty and healthy meals is important to rejuvenate my energy.
7. Talk to someone, whether it’s another mother, a support group, or a therapist.
I know, talking to someone is easier said than done. I used to do a lot of research regarding ways to help my child grow better, but I found that talking to other mothers helped me gain more insight. Fortunately for me, one of my friend’s children was colicky, too, and she showed me a lot of ways to better handle my child. It did take effort for me as an introvert, but I realized that reaching out helped me in the long run. If not among close friends and family, then support groups, communities, and seeking out a therapist can also be a big help.
Now I’ve Embraced My Active Son and Act in Ways That Benefit Us Both
Now that my son is two, he is still not showing any signs of slowing down. He needs constant attention, his antics always attract public interest, and I hardly get more than two hours to myself per day. But now that I know better, I have learned to fully accept who he is and how to best cope in ways that benefit both of us. I’m glad that I got such a child. I have become so attuned to his nature that I can now predict what might set him off even before he knows it. And my son, in turn, is also starting to understand things like boundaries and quiet time. It may not be much, but it’s a good start.