I knew it was coming.
I woke up to the sound of the 4-year-old’s sleepy voice next to my bed. Instead of groaning and opening my eyes just a slit to half-heartedly greet the day (as is my usual morning routine), I rolled over and grimaced, eyes still tightly shut.
My groggy head was begging me for several more hours of sleep. Surely I could reason with this small human being and make her understand that I just can’t get up, not now.
It’s too early, I told her. The sun’s not even awake yet.
But she crawled in next to me anyway, telling me in pitiful tones that she was huuuungry.
And there it is, I thought.
Before the sleep is rubbed out of my eyes and the sun even starts to shine, someone needs me.
I had a feeling the rest of the day would unfold in just the same way. Call it a mom’s sixth sense, but I felt it in my bones that everyone was going to be in fine form today.
And by fine form, I mean that approximately every 3.75 minutes all.day.long. one of my four offspring would demand my presence as a milk maid, a short-order cook, a boo-boo-kisser, a tush-wiper, an arbitrator, a referee, and/or a competent grown up who can turn on their favorite TV show.
There are some days that these same adorable children band together like the Three Musketeers, playing happily and sharing everything and wishing peace and goodwill towards everyone in the world. On those days, their neediness level seems to be at a minimum and their mother’s heart is full of much rejoicing.
Today was not that day.
I know, I know, they’re children, for Pete’s sake — of course they’re needy and demanding. God made them that way, so they wouldn’t starve or have to sit in a dirty diaper all day, right?
BUT. There are several levels to their neediness. And there are limits to what this introverted mama can handle.
In case you were wondering, introversion is a personality trait that’s characterized by (among other things) a person’s tendency towards gaining energy from introspection, rather than from social interactions. (Learn more about the traits of introverts here and here.)
According to this post on Psychology Today, around 20% of the population tends towards introversion.
I wonder how many of those good people are mothers? I am. 🙂
Contrary to popular belief, introverts really do like people — just not a lot of people, and just not people all the time.
Catch that? We don’t like to be with people all of the time.
But wait. Aren’t moms of little ones actually with people? Like, all. of. the. time??
Kids don’t care whether or not you’re an introvert at heart. Kids will be kids all day long.
They will incessantly need you and talk to you without drawing breath; they will fight with their siblings and make all kinds of unearthly noise; and they will rise before the sun and whine for breakfast before you’ve ever even smelled your coffee beans.
So how does the introverted mama of four cute kids, ages six and under, deal with this all the time without ending up in the crazy farm?!
I actually have yet to see if I will make it to the other side of life with littles while at the same time keeping my sanity (some days the situation is very dubious), but I think the answer is a very delicate balance of both good mothering and good self-care.
Lately, I’ve spent quite some time thinking about how to best handle my introverted-mother-of-small-human-persons plight. Here are some ideas that I find help me when I’m really struggling.
Know your triggers
This is really key for me.
I first became a mother almost seven years ago, and it’s taken me until pretty recently to figure out that whenever I have strong feelings of overwhelm and defensiveness around my kids, it’s directly related to whether or not my introvertedness is being, for lack of a better phrase, trampled on.
Being aware of these feelings and where they’re coming from is, for me, a huge step toward managing my reactions to my loud and busy offspring throughout the day. (At least in theory.)
So far, I’ve identified three major scenarios that set my introverted personality on extreme edge:
- whining/demanding/fussing at breakfast (especially before I’ve even had my requisite two cups of joe)
- constant bickering among siblings, such that I have to referee every two minutes instead of doing anything else I need or want to get done
- and when there’s a lot of visual chaos (house is a mess, lots of laundry to fold, etc.)
(So, pretty much everything about life with small humans.) 🙂
I’m beginning to find that knowing my triggers helps me to take action to recharge…see below!
Take a midday timeout
This is one of my favorite and most coveted ways to recharge and reclaim my sanity. I carefully guard the sacred Daily Rest Time of my household and enforce it pretty strictly. The toddler still naps (most days} for 1–2 hours every day, and it’s during that time that I give the 6- and 4-year-olds something to do in another room so that I can have some time to myself.
During our Rest Time, I take the baby and do something restful and peaceful that makes me happy — reading, blogging, social media, napping, even just sitting outside in the sunshine. No chores, no hard labor. I just focus on recharging in the ways that I enjoy most.
Spend your evenings well
Sometimes, Rest Time doesn’t work out the way I hope it will. The toddler just won’t nap. Or the older kids fight and refuse to play quietly for very long.
If my time alone is interrupted before I’ve felt sufficiently recharged, then I know I’ll need to really make use of my evening to refill my tank before the next day.
I try not to stay up late doing housework. Instead, I usually do more of what I know feeds my introverted self. I spend time with my husband (who is also an introvert, so you know, there’s not a lot of chatting) — watching a favorite TV show, reading, praying, or catching up on social media, side by side in bed or on the couch. (Don’t judge us; we are happy introverts!)
Now that I think about it, even if I was able to have a good amount of uninterrupted midday quiet time, I still have a pretty strong need to spend my evenings quietly recharging. I think this is mostly because my introverted personality is completely taxed by the end of each day, crying out for peace and quiet and time for introspection.
Become a (short-term) recluse
There can be entire seasons in the lives and various stages of my sweet kiddos that are just off the charts in terms of neediness, noise, and intensity (like right now, with my 3-year-old). Sometimes, midday time outs and evening recharges just aren’t enough to balance me out again.
When this happens, I fall back on my bare-bones survival plan: I become a recluse.
I screen all my phone calls, I don’t do much outside communication of any kind, and I don’t accept invitations to social events. (If you’re an extrovert reading this, you probably just fell out of your chair.)
There truly are so many times that I really enjoy and even need to spend quality time (long-distance or in-person) with my friends — long phone calls, a girls’ night out, or a shopping trip with my mom can be really therapeutic.
However — and this is an important however — if my kids have been relentlessly attacking my introvertedness, then I can handle pretty much zero socialization until I’ve licked my wounds and sufficiently bolstered my spirits again.
As I said, this is a short-term survival plan, and it may not be for everyone. But it has helped me to recover during certain (recent) stages of constant overwhelm.
Here’s some final thoughts.
Moms need daily self-care to thrive. It’s not selfishness; it’s merciful love, directed at yourself.
And if you’re an introverted mama, you have to practice daily self-care that is tailored to your introverted needs. You’ll be a better, happier, and more peaceful mom because of it, I promise.
So take a good look at what your triggers are — what causes those feelings of stress, defensiveness, overwhelm, anger, or the unquenchable desire to find the nearest cave and hide yourself there with a good book and a Costco-sized bag of peanut M&Ms.
Then come up with a game-plan. Decide how you can daily recharge your introverted batteries. Get your spouse on the same page with you (it may take his help to make your game-plan work). And then be consistent in taking care of your needs.
This has worked wonders in my own life. I hope it will in yours, too, my fellow introvert.
And one more thing. I often forget that I can actually ask God for the graces I need to fulfill my vocation well. I don’t have to expect that I was naturally born with everything it takes to be a great mom every moment of the day. There are some things I need to ask God for (in spades) — like patience and peace and the ability to gracefully handle my extroverted children.
So ask Him for what you need today, especially if you’re feeling the need to head to that cave. 😉
Are you an introverted mama? Let me hear from you! (Introverts, unite!) I’d love to know your strategies for handling life with little people!
Copyright 2016 Lydia Borja