Parenting When You’re an Introvert
written by Alexandra Rosas
The doorbell rang and I felt myself freeze. It was a surprise visit, unexpected company, someone dropping in to see one of my three children. Just when I was anticipating a quiet night at home.
My children looked up from their books and ran to the door, excited to see who was on the other side.
I didn’t want to sound upset, but the last thing I wanted was more people in my house after school and work. But I saw how eager my kids were, and at that moment, I shared in their happiness that someone came to see them.
The introvert in me was backed into a corner with nothing to do but put on a happy face and welcome our guest. I mentally checked how many hours I could take of noise and another body home with us: on a night with deadlines, dinner ahead, still needing to do my favorite family activity of watching a 30 minute show together, a number popped into my mind: two hours. Two hours at the most of ‘friends time’ and that would be a compromise we could all live with.
The kids opened the door and I followed behind them. “Hello!” I called out from the background, “come on in.” I looked at my children, “Just two hours, all right? We’ve all got things to do.”
(Things to do as an introvert means quiet and time to myself.)
Parenting as an introvert, not as a recluse or as a socially shy person, but as someone who needs down time after a full day of being with others. How do you do this when you’ve got children who are the opposite of what you are?
I know that relationships are necessary to a balanced life, and that unless you open your mouth and begin with a ‘hello’ you’ll never befriend anyone. I remember learning this in my high school sophomore class called Family Living, but that didn’t stop me from spending the majority of my high school years in my bedroom, on my bed, with my face in a book.
My face in a book is still my favorite way to spend a spare hour. I revel in quiet.
I know that being part of a family means that we’re not always going to get things the way we want them. To be happy for me is to try and provide what my family needs. But my feeling of peace comes from a low key and subdued household. It’s the quiet in my day that keeps me from going off the deep end.
My children are not like this. My children want to do things with other people. When they were young, I ignored the quiet I needed in order to give my children what they wanted. How this worked was not very well: while they did have our house as a place for their friends, they also had a stressed mother who never got the still moments she needed to catch her breath.
I didn’t want to be seen as anything less than the perfect open-armed mother for my children. The one who is always willing to be what my children need me to be. The truth was that I am an introvert, and the daily play dates and outings to library groups and parks and group activities were building up inside me to a point where I was escaping to the bathroom to sit on on top of a closed toilet, 10 times a day, for the solitude I was dying for.
When my children were about 8 and 10 years old, I knew I had to come clean – every day at home with them felt like a mad merry-go-round. I didn’t want them to be confused about what I was going to say, so I knew I had to help them see things as they were for me. I called them into the kitchen and we took our customary seats around the table. I began, “I love your friends, kids, and I love that you have people in your life that are your friends.”
They looked at me, eyes expectant. I could see them holding their breath. I went on, “I love your friends coming here, but I really need to do less running around and more time just being home, with us. I’m a person who needs quiet to feel less stressed. Do you know what I mean?”
“No,” they both answered. I could see them waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“It means that I feel like I’m always moving, and what I really miss is just being still. Like now, this wonderful quiet and being at home that we have. I like that. That’s what makes me feel strong.”
They kept staring, wanting more of an explanation on how this would affect them. “So… what I need to do is have your friends here only certain days and not every day and for us to have a few days a week where we’re not running somewhere to do something. Will that work for you guys?”
“Like only Saturdays with friends but not Saturdays and Sundays with friends?” they asked.
“Yes! Like that! That’s what I’d like!”
“Sure, Mom. We can take turns.” I could hear the relief in their voices. “We thought it was going to be something bad, like no more friends here or no more going to story time or something like that. But we can do that stuff you need. The quiet stuff.”
They had gotten it.
That afternoon, after my son’s friend had left, right on time in two hours, my son smiled and said to me, “You took that well, Mom.” I laughed because they have come to know me. “I did, didn’t I? I know you like having your friends over and I’m glad you have people that like to be with you.”
I heard the door close and my son shout goodbye. I stretched out on the sofa, ready to take in the quiet. I opened my book to pick up where I left off, but before I did, I thanked my children.“Thanks to you all for understanding how I need some quiet every day.”
Parenting as an introvert is easier when you let your family know what that means for you, and them. How else would my kids know about me if I didn’t explain? I didn’t want them to think of me as short tempered and impatient, but that could have been the case had I never let them know about who I am. I wanted them to know that I appreciated what they needed in their lives, too. They understand what balance means to me, and this introvert parent/extrovert kid thing, works with respect and compassion for what we both need.
And now that I have their promise of helping me find my alone time every day, I’m proud to say that I’ve been able to work up from two to to three hours in ‘friend time.’
Alexandra is a first-generation American who writes cultural memoir and humor. She performs as a national storyteller with The Moth and is a Co-Producer of Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee. A BlogHer Voice of the Year four years running, Alexandra has been published in several anthologies. She is a regular contributor to Milwaukee Public Radio, Huffington Post, Purple Clover, and was voted Parenting Media Association’s National Gold Award “Best Parenting Blog” for her MetroParent Milwaukee column, MomLogic. A Babble Top 100 Mom Blogger and featured on TodayParents as Funniest Parents on Facebook, you can follow her on Facebook, her blog Good Day, Regular People , or twitter. She lives with her family in Cedarburg, Wisconsin.