Wednesday, August 7, 2013

An Introvert's Guide to Stay at Home Mothering

Perhaps this will be surprising in light of all my posts about traveling the world and throwing parties big and small, but I am an introvert. Totally. (Or maybe you saw this, so you already knew.)

I'm not shy and I do enjoy interacting with people, but I don't find it invigorating. I find it taxing. So when I need to spend a lot of time around others, especially making conversation, especially-especially making conversation with strangers, I need to find some way to get away from it all and recharge my batteries. 

Many aspects of life present unique challenges to the introvert: talking to new people, answering the telephone, eye contact . . .  the transition from "regular" life to stay-at-home-motherhood is going to be a big change no matter what type of person you are. But, as an introvert, I found the thought of some aspects of it to be particularly daunting. 

Some things I was right to worry about, but other things have been wonderful in ways I never could have imagined. Here's what I've learned about introverted mothering:



1. You don't have to leave the house, but you should anyway.


Before I had a baby, I had a regular job. I had to get dressed and leave the house and interact with the people. Some days it was great, some days it was hard, but all days it got done. Then, all of a sudden, I was a stay at home mom. It was right there in the name, I could STAY - AT - HOME.

But, for me, it was a terrible idea to really do it. Staying home all day in my jammies made me feel icky and disconnected from the world. 


Making sure I got myself and my baby dressed and out of the house -- every day -- even if it was just to run an errand or go for a walk, made a huge difference in my general outlook. 



3. Moms groups are hard at first, but they get easier.

We moved from the San Francisco-area to Chicago to Los Angeles while I was having my first three kids, and it was a big challenge to start over in each new place. I had to give myself a whole year to figure out how to get places (I have a BAD sense of direction) and make new friends.

I was always really intimidated by the idea of meeting new people, especially in groups. But I also found that that was by far the best way to do it.

Catholic moms' groups were my saving grace. They were full of really nice women and plenty of kids for my kids to play with. And I found that it was easier for me to interact with a group of moms than one on one at a play date. I could leave when I needed to without that meaning that playtime was over for everyone. And, somehow, eventually, I found so many similarities with the moms I have met in various devout Catholic groups over the years that I feel very little of the discomfort that I used to feel even when meeting a new group for the first time. 

Our Rosary Group and Homeschool Group both meet at a park, which also makes it easy to bring a book or some needle-work along with me. The kids get to play, I get to visit with my friends, but if I need to take a break from conversation, I can read or embroider without it seeming like I'm sitting in someone's house shunning their company.

And most importantly, the families I have met in these groups have really been a positive influence on my parenting philosophies and my faith journey. It makes a difference to my comfort level that we actually do agree on the most fundamental issues. I'm happy to have friends from all different walks of life and I'm happy to have discussions with friends about issues. But it is nice to have a safe-haven of people that I know have the same core beliefs and goals for our children. As a young mom, I was just not comfortable feeling like I had to defend my faith against heretics just so my kids could play with some friends. 

Honestly, I think I'm probably equipped to handle that (pleasantly) now, but I wasn't then. And no matter what, it isn't as relaxing.

3. You should try to have enough children that you never have to sit through play dates.


As much as I (mostly) enjoy moms groups, I still sometimes struggle with individual play dates. It's a challenge to feel like I have to entertain and converse with and make eye contact with one mom for many hours at a time.


I've found that the best remedy for this is just to have enough kids of my own that they can play with each other and I don't have to worry about finding outside people for them to play with. 

But, barring that, I've found some other things that help. I try to have people over to our house, instead of going to their houses. At my own house I feel like I can excuse myself for a few minutes to tend to the baby or do something in the kitchen and have a moment to recharge. I also like going to the beach or a park where we'll sit next to each other facing the ocean or the playground rather than just sitting there looking at each other in a quiet living room. Awkward silences just can't exist next to the thrum of the ocean waves or the shrieks and giggles of a park. And I prefer to have two or three moms over at a time, rather than just one. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if there are more of them, they can talk to each other as well as me and I feel less pressure to personally keep the conversation going. 

And this is another area in which I've made a lot of progress. Any of you who follow my blog (or Bonnie's) know that I just recently had a play date/blogger meet-up that broke all my rules and was all kinds of fun.

4. You CAN find time to be alone each day. And you should.


I am a stickler about nap time. I do not schedule classes or activities or events during nap time. Even special occasions only rarely interfere with nap time around here.

oh nap time, how I do love you

This is partially because I believe my young children really are generally much more pleasant when they have napped, and partially because it's the perfect excuse to always be home for some personal quiet time in the afternoon.

I make sure that all my little ones will nap at the same time, which means I put the toddler(s) down first, then the baby, so that I don't end up with a baby who wakes up just as I've finished nap time routines with toddlers. Older kids finish schoolwork, or read, or do an art project -- something they can do quietly and unsupervised. Kids who can't be trusted to handle that get put down for naps no matter how old they are.

I go to my room and shut the door (newborns get to come with me) and nap or pray or read or watch something on Netflix. Usually it's a combination of those things. I am a much more pleasant and effective mother for it. 

I also have a husband who makes it possible for me to go for a run and say a Rosary and get to daily Mass almost every morning, which really sets a good tone for the day.

5. You do not have to say "yes" to all the things your kids ask you to do with them. But you should say "yes" to some of the things.


Because I almost always get some time to myself in the mornings and afternoons, I am better able to demand more of myself during the rest of the day.

Now that I have school-aged kids, I have learned that I need to sit with them at all times while they are doing their schoolwork. If I wander off to do my own things (even if those things are the dishes), schoolwork doesn't get done and there is lots of yelling. No one likes that. But since I have my early-morning to charge me up and my afternoon to look forward to, I really can focus all my attention on my kids during those most important hours.

With my younger kids, I have an unofficial and top-secret policy of saying "yes" to at least one thing they ask me to do with them during the day. Especially when I had only little ones, they mostly looked to me to entertain them. Sitting on the floor and playing trains isn't something that I am naturally interested in doing, and it's important to me that my kids learn to entertain themselves or engage with their siblings, but I also don't want to be a mom who is always saying "no" to things like that.

So, I make every effort to say "yes" to some requests, even though I still say "no" to a lot of them. And since I prefer reading books or playing board games to more open-ended things like tea parties or playing in the sandbox, I try to jump on it if they happen to ask for one of those.

With little ones, I also try to be mindful of including them on things I already need to do, that they could help with. My four-year-old loves to help fold laundry and my five-year-old loves to help in the kitchen. If we've done those things together, they don't mind if I spend some time on my own with blogs or emails or Facebook.

6. You are going to have to make some phone calls. Just do it. It'll be okay.   

Motherhood does often require me to get outside my comfort zone. I have to make phone calls, I have to volunteer for activities, I have to help with sports teams and the homeschool group. I have to do play dates.

And I survive. I thrive even. I am much better at doing those things now than I was a few years ago. Introversion isn't something that can (or needs to be) "cured" but I am a more confident, competent human being because, as a mother, I have had to become one.

From this:



To this:





7. You will never be more comfortable in a big group of people than you are when that big group of people is your immediate family.

This was the big surprise for me. My kids don't think I'm awkward, they think I'm brilliant. Crazy, right? I can be myself around them. I am almost as comfortable in a room with all of them in it as I am all by myself. Sometimes I even prefer it. I don't ever feel like they'll misunderstand me or be offended by something I've said. They know me and get me and love me. They forgive me. They totally want to hang out with me.
My fretful high school self could never have hoped to be such a part of the in-crowd as I am now.

So, sure, there are specific challenges to being an introverted mom, but, overall, I've been shocked to find that having kids has helped me learn coping skills and has given me the ultimate safe-haven of people I know and love and trust. Seriously, I have never been as accepted as I am right now. I'm the most popular girl at my school.


 

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30 comments:

  1. I can so relate to almost all of this. I'm introverted as well, and I've found that all these things really help me as well..especially the getting out of the house every day, the joining groups and the saying "no" and saying "yes" part.

    I really need to work on the nap/quiet time thing though...ever since my oldest stopped napping (LONG time ago), I haven't had the quiet/afternoon time anymore and I could really, really, really use it.

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  2. Oh, Kendra I can relate and I'm not even a SAHM! My first is 2.5 and I have yet to get up enough courage to do a moms group (trying out one in September through church) and our only non-family playdate has been with a blog friend meet up (no pressure to ever do it again even though I adore the girl and her kids and would in an instant).

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    1. Good luck with the moms group! I hope it will be awesome. I guess I didn't say it in so many words in the post, but I have backed out of some moms groups too, just because it was too stressful to socialize on a regular basis with moms who identified as Catholics, but didn't live as Catholics. So, here's hoping that that group is a perfect fit for you, but on the off chance it isn't, don't give up on them completely!

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  3. I have been reading your blog for a few months now and love it.
    I'm an extroverted introvert. People are always surprised to learn that I am drained by groups of people and interactions because I host dinner parties, traveled to other countries, and get mom groups together. Sound familiar?

    I also am just now transitioning from working mama to stay-at-home mama and I have to actively work against my inclination to stay home all the time. To add to it, we just moved so I am now starting from scratch once more. I think in some ways meeting new people is easier with kids, when you are a mom you have things already in common with any other mother. But since there is always someone with me, my drive to go seeking additional people is greatly decreased.
    I already follow all the steps you suggest and have to say they do work well for me as an introvert trying to find a balance. It's nice to meet another introvert out here in the web, I do think we float around comfortably in this space.
    Hannah
    http://heathandhome.wordpress.com/

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  4. Thank you for this. I am an introvert but the army has assisted me with getting out of my shell. I have attempted mom groups that were secularly based but I have not been satisfied enough to continue being a part of them. The Catholic Women of the Chapel ( military org.) has always provided such a great opener for me.

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  5. It is so good to find out that I am not alone in being an introvert that likes being with people. I spent so long thinking, "What is wrong with me?" LOL

    You have so many great suggestions here.

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  6. Have you been reading my draft folder? I seriously had something similar to this spinning around in my head! All of this is so true and you put it perfectly.

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  7. Good advice!
    How did you find these Mom groups? There are not a lot of young families at my parish in Ontario, Canada. I have a few secular mom friends, whom I relate to on some levels, but not on the really important ones.

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    1. Even if you don't plan to homeschool, finding a Catholic homeschool group in your area is a great way to connect with the "Catholic Underground" as it were. They'll probably either have or know about a moms play group. Some even do preschool co-ops. Parish groups have been hit and miss for me, but if you like your parish you'd probably like the moms group there. And if Opus Dei is active in your area that's a great resource for finding other Catholic families. Although their events don't tend to be chatty, so sometimes it's hard to get to know people at them. But if you can identify one extrovert and make friends with her, then she'll introduce you to everyone else. That's how it happened for me when we moved to LA!

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    2. Thanks for the advice! I am considering homeschool. My daughter is 7 months old so I have some time. I am mostly doubtful about my own ability in terms of discipline, and the ability to prepare her successfully for her future. I went to community college myself, and although I managed to get a good job after school, I am not sure if I have the skills needed to teach math and science to an 8th grader. That and the fact that we will hopefully have more children and I feel like I am so busy with 1. It scares me ha ha.
      But I digress, I will definitely contact a Catholic homeschool group They meet about an hour away from our small town but that may be the ticket. I never thought of that. I am lukewarm about my parish honestly. I love our Priest, but attendance is not very good. I actually pray for him a lot because he tries so hard but it must be discouraging. I know it is for me.

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    3. That anonymous comment was from the original poster. Christine S. I should get an account. I am new to the blog world! :)

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  8. My biggest struggle as an introverted stay-at-home mom is that I don't know any other moms my age! I live in Seattle. I'm 24 and I have an 18-month-old and one in the way. We moved here for my husband's job after he graduated a year ago and I've yet to meet any fellow stay-at-home moms that are under 30. Even at our parish! It's already kind of hard for me to talk with new people but even harder when they are all ten years older than me. Being from California, have you had any experience with this trend of having kids later?

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    1. Not so much in LA because here I run with a crowd of moms with up to 12 kids (!) so you've got to start pretty young to keep up. But when I lived in Northern California I mistook moms for grandmothers a couple of times until I learned to keep my mouth shut!

      I'm 36 now and have people I consider close friends who are ten years younger and ten years older than I am. I'd think that for a once-a-week play group, older moms would be better than nothing, and they might end up being a good resource. It's worth a try!

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    2. Oh, you're right, it's way better than nothing! I joined our parish mom's group when we moved here. The other moms are really nice and, like you said, a great resource. I've just had trouble forming close friendships with any of them. I think maybe because they see more as a little sister? It's still my favorite weekday event and so crucial to my sanity.

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  9. I feel you on this one. I'm being challenged right now because hubby has been sick for a week. Like can't-help-at-all kind of sick (flu, then strep infection, then migraine - poor guy!). So in the last week I have had about 7 minutes to myself. Today, when I went to pick up our milk the baby fell asleep in the car. So I drove up and around and out of the way to get home, just to get a couple more minutes.

    Also, having him home has messed up the afternoon "quiet time" so, yeah. I'm barely holding it together. Correction, I'm NOT holding it together. God is.

    You nailed it when you said that we have to challenge ourselves and get out of our comfort zones. The secret is seeing what your zones are, how far you can be pushed, and what you can do to support yourself.

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  10. Awesome. We have such similar personality types and approaches to mothering--I wish we could meet in person (but in groups of two or three!)

    Thanks for posting this--you hit the nail on the head. I will be referencing this one again!!

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  11. This is such a great post. I am also very protective of our afternoon nap time (and of my early-morning run, which seems key to my attitude the rest of the day!). As a fellow introvert, I can relate to the lure of staying at home and avoiding the world, but it makes me feel yucky if I do it more than one day in a row, so we try to get out.

    If I could just figure out a way to go to the bathroom by myself, I'd be so excited.

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  12. fine fine fine. I will look into that mom's group that meets on Fridays ;)

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  13. Just now finding this post (which you should perhaps link up to your recent FAMOUS introvert status if you haven't already)…oh my, I can relate. Sometimes I just need a break. And I can't thank you enough that even on your break time, you respond to comments and emails and the like. I do think that the internet is a great boon to introverts, though. Email is nice for that.

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  14. I've been thinking about this post a lot the last couple of months, since my husband's job situation changed so that I've finally been able to quit by lawyer job and be home full time with my two kiddos. I am a super-introvert (INTJ), and it is just exhausting to be with little people, especially my very talkative three-year-old, all day. I have a really hard time with the small talk and performative mothering of the mom groups, and we've moved to a new city, so meeting new people has been tough (I like people, just new people!). I guess I need to have more kids, but that's going to take a few years (and find a homeschool group, which means getting my husband 100% on-board with homeschooling - any tips there?). Anyway, my question on this post is: how does saying "yes" to only one thing a day work? My son (the three-year-old, my oldest) will not settle for one thing. I am doing a little homeschool (1/2 hour a day on reading stuff) with him, and try to just do one or two things a day with him to encourage independent play, but he just follows me around nagging me to play with him the rest of the day (except for the sacred naptime!). Also, he feels the need to have me watch or comment on everything he does if he does manage to play "alone" for a little while - everything requires some interaction from me. I've never been one to just play with him all day, so I don't know why he refuses to play on his own. I do play with him somewhat, I read him books, and he goes to a play preschool 2 mornings a week (a playdate I don't have to arrange, supervise, socialize at!), so I know he has plenty of interaction with people. So how do you actually implement this in the face of constant whining for play? It feels wrong to punish him for asking me to play, but he doesn't get the message that I have other things to do.

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    1. [Meant to say "I like people, just not *new* people!"]

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    2. Liz,
      It's harder with just one kid, especially if he's an extrovert. My eldest is an extrovert and I struggled with everything you've said here. Like you, I cherished nap time, and he went to preschool two mornings a week, which was good for both of us. I did have to do more things with him during the day than I have to with my kids now because he was the only kid. I highly recommend having some more kids if that's possible. If not, or in the meantime, I'd try having a daily schedule. Since there's no one else around you'll have to do more than one thing per day with him. I might schedule story time and an activity and playing together time, but also schedule playing on your own time, where he has to okay independently. If he pesters during that time, I'd gently remind him, then I'd say he needs to stay in his room, or outside. If you are really, really consistent about reminding him that it's paying in your own time so Mommy can't help you with that right now, I think he'll get the message eventually. That's what I'd try. Good luck!

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    3. I just got around to checking back for your response, and here it is! Thank you so much! I follow several blogs of moms with many kids, and i think that more kids is definitely the answer! He does have a little sister (12 months), and will hopefully have at least a couple more siblings (we got a bit of a late start, so i don't think we'll be able to catch up with you :-) ). I will be patient with him while we work on that project. Thanks!

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  15. Oh man. I am so glad I clicked over to this post. I don't have children yet, but I dream of leaving the 9-to-5 behind so I can get away from all the people! This is so helpful - thank you!

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  16. I'm an extrovert, but still found some great tips in here! Thanks!

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  17. I am not sure why I missed this before... It is all a great reminder. And I just started first grade with my oldest, and have been struggling with whether I should sit with her while she gets distracted or just leave her so I don't get frustrated. I guess the answer is stay and become a more patient person.

    And I LOVE my afternoon quiet time for everyone and HATE making phone calls.

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  18. Hi I was wondering if you have a post talking about what your schedule was like when you had all littles? I've got four and my oldest just turned five and so we are trying to start some schooling but man this stage in my life is really throwing me for a loop! I feel like the harder I try to follow a schedule and try to get things done the less I get done and the more tired and frustrated I get. How much do you set up the other littles with something to do as appeared to just expect them to play/ nap when you are trying to get something done?

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    1. Hmmm . . . not exactly. I do have this Day in the Life post but I already had seven kids. I've definitely always tried to have a routine, always understanding that things will never go exactly according to plan. When I had all littles I had regular chores, errands, and outings scheduled on a piece of paper taped to the inside of the pantry door. Each week I had a laundry day, and a grocery day, and an outing to the park or museum day. I had my chores scheduled out, what I'd do for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. That way I was sure to get to the important stuff at least once per week, but if it wasn't bathroom cleaning day, I didn't clean the bathroom and didn't sweat it. I would put the TV on for the kids during those two hours when I was trying to do chores, and mostly not at other times.

      I also worked hard to establish playing outside alone (but where I could see them through the window) as a thing my kids could do. After morning chores/TV time, I expected that my older kids would go outside and play (or down into the basement to play in the winter in Chicago!) so I could sew or work on other things that needed doing. Once I had kids that were being homeschooled, we focused on getting schoolwork done during morning nap time for babies, then during afternoon naps, I would lay down and rest too. I still do! And that allows me to stay up later at night, the only time when the house is truly quiet!

      Well, that was kind of all over the place. But I hope it helps a little! I think the thing to remember is to try a bunch of different stuff until you find the routine that works for YOU and then really REALLY defend it. With all little kids, you have to know what works for you and when to say no to stuff that doesn't.

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