When I was a child, I dreamed of my future family. There were a few different versions of this family, depending on influential factors at the time. All versions included a son and a daughter, or perhaps, two daughters. My stay-at-home fantasy involved days filled with crafts and baking or playing in the garden, the sun casting a golden glow over a season of life that would be etched into my memory bank forever.
Except I had boys.
Two wild, loud, competitive boys.
My stay-at-home reality involved far too little sleep, way too much noise, and endless rounds of The Wiggles. It’s not that it wasn’t good. But it wasn’t what I imagined.
I wrestled hard.
I clenched my teeth through the tantrums, sibling tiffs, and clingy days of sickness.
And every day around 5 p.m., the tentacles of stress coiled their way around my temples, relenting their grip only once the boys were in bed, the lights were out, and this mama was off the clock. Well, until somebody called out in the night.
This was not how life was supposed to be. I’d bought into the myth of those diaper commercials. I’d gotten sucked into a Hollywood version of my own existence. While the Instagram moms were living like a lead actress on a blockbuster, I felt like an extra on a B-grade film.
And I was miserable.
I began to consider why my tolerance was pulled taught, my patience was always hovering near empty, and my peace was non-existent. As luck would have it, I came across an article that discussed introverts and their need for alone time, and finally everything clicked.
Looking at my life from a different perspective, I was able to get curious about my energy levels and the things that drain me. Rather than viewing my children as the little people who held my peace hostage, I saw them as unique. Not flawed or badly behaved, just wired differently.
It’s very easy as a parent to lose sight of this. We are so frequently overwhelmed with all the demands of modern life and the comparison to all the parents on social media who are rocking this gig — and we may come off feeling like complete failures.
5 Steps to Thrive as an Introverted Parent
But it doesn’t have to be this way. By investing a little energy and awareness into ourselves and our families, we can thrive as introverted parents. Here’s how:
1. Know yourself.
In a cookie-cutter world, we can quickly fall into the trap of thinking what works for one parent should work for us. Happily, we’re all wired so differently. Some more extroverted parents can cope well with rambunctious kids and highly stimulating environments. My husband is one such parent. He can tackle those indoor play centers with obnoxiously loud music and squealing children and still manage a conversation.
On the flip side, I go into shut-down mode when in those environments. Likewise, when the energy runs high for long periods (such as a kids party) or when I’m around my children constantly (school break), I need to remember that I’m not broken, just different. When I really understand how I’m wired and in what conditions I operate best, then I can see my uniqueness as a strength and quit apologizing for it.
2. Know your kids.
Just as it’s important to understand yourself, it’s vital as a parent to understand your children. Parenting experts will say, “You need to parent the child you have, not the child you wish you had.” I spent the first half of my time as a parent pushing against my kids because they are wired differently than me, differently than each other, and just not the quiet, crafty girls I thought I’d have.
My eldest son is an extrovert. He gets his energy from being around people and finds it very hard to separate, such as during bedtime or when I need a break. He is also a verbal processor. This child doesn’t have an unexpressed thought! From the moment he wakes, he provides a running commentary all day, which drains me.
His brother, however, is an introvert and an internal processor. He’s happiest in his own world, occupied with his own thoughts, and will drop in to connect occasionally before going back to his own activity.
As a parent, it’s a huge sanity-saver to understand your kids. Like us, they’re not broken, bad, or wrong — just different.
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3. Identify your needs.
Once you’ve figured out how you and your children are wired, you can move onto identifying your needs.
This is a challenge as parents because our role is so sacrificial. Our children and their needs naturally come first, but I believe introverted parents can quickly hit a wall here. The inherent neediness and (in the early days) helplessness of small children make them fairly draining to be around. Extroverted children especially can feel like they suck your social energy reserves dry.
One of my hardest lessons to learn was that I can’t pour from an empty cup. When I realized that it was absolutely crucial for me to have solitude and time away from my children to recharge in order to be a calm, happy, loving parent, I was able to stop beating myself up for being…well, me.
Likewise, it’s important to understand your kids’ needs so they can feel happy, secure, and able to take on the world.
A great example of this was during the car ride home after collecting my sons from school and day care. This experience was typically filled with tension and conflict as my eldest (the verbal processor) had so many experiences to share about his day, while my youngest (the internal processor) had been connected and stimulated all day and was ready to retreat into his own world for some downtime.
Once I explained to my son that his brother isn’t ready to listen right after we pick him up, we were able to come up with a plan that involved him inviting his brother into the conversation but stopping the flow if his brother put his hand up to signal he was talked out. This helped tame some of the backseat chaos, which ultimately made car rides less stressful for me.
This touches on the next point…
Once you’ve identified your needs, it’s important to communicate them in a kind and respectful way. This allows people to understand where you’re coming from and respect your boundaries.
I knew my extroverted child might feel rejected if I said I needed time away from him. To explain this in a way that a 5 and 3 year old could understand, I used the battery analogy.
I told my boys that Mommy’s batteries run down when I’m around lots of noise and people, just like the batteries that run down in their toys. The way I recharge my batteries is to have some quiet time by myself in my room. When my batteries are recharged, I can be a happy Mommy and ready to spend more time with them.
Don’t forget to let your partner/spouse in on your need for recharge time, too. I have to regularly remind my extroverted husband that we both operate differently in life. When he realizes this, he’s able to respect my need for space and quiet and even support me to get that time by being on Daddy duty.
I have taken the time to write out a list of all the activities that recharge me — most of them are free or very low-cost and don’t take a lot of time, such as a walk, reading a good book, or putting on some noise canceling headphones and doing a mindfulness exercise. The key here is choosing activities that really recharge you, not things that work well for your friends/partner.
5. Take responsibility.
Once you’ve gotten a solid understanding of how you’re wired and you’ve communicated your needs to those around you, it’s your responsibility to get those needs met.
I’m going to say that again for the folks in the back: It’s your responsibility to get your needs met. Not your kids’, not your spouse’s, not your friends’. It’s up to you.
This means scheduling time to recharge, even if that’s just 15 minutes per day or 3 x 10-minute blocks. Whatever you can practically manage in your season of life, make it a priority.
I struggled hard with this concept at first because I tend to show up easily for others but flake out on myself. I have to schedule in this time for myself or it will be snowballed by something/someone else. This looks like waking up earlier than everybody else to get some quiet time to plan my day, read, meditate, or write. If you’re not a morning person, try a night ritual once the kids are in bed. Do what works best for you.
Whatever you choose, make sure you guard that time. This means using your precious recharge time wisely, not with meaningless activities that drain you further.
Since following these points, I’ve turned a corner as a parent, wife, and a woman. When life gets busy or kids get sick, it’s easy for the wheels to fall off. But the difference in energy, happiness, and overall well-being is remarkable when I take the time to make myself a priority.
And you can, too, introvert. I’m (quietly) cheering you on.