My old college buddy Gwen and I were exchanging parenting stories a few years ago, when we found ourselves on the thrilling subject of naps. "Cole took this super long nap the other day," Gwen explained. "I was able to clean out the hall closet and fold laundry, and then I started pacing the floor, thinking, C'mon Cole, wake up! I'm bored and ready to play."
At this point in the conversation, I nearly dropped my coffee mug on my foot.
Um... Did I just hear her right? Did she just say she WANTED her child to wake up from a nap? I wondered with amazement. Seconds later, my confusion was replaced with feelings of guilt for wishing my two boys would sleep as long as humanly possible. A little internal debate ensued, and all I could bring myself to say was, "Wow. What a great napper." And with that, we moved on to which Elmo toy drives us the most crazy.
The conversation plagued me for a little while, and then I realized what was going on here. Gwen is a full-blown extrovert. When she unwinds at the end of a long day, she jumps on the phone, listens to loud music or organizes a potluck in her cul-de-sac. Playing with a toddler is just one of many social interactions that she thrives on.
You can find me in the introvert camp. A quiet, empty house (and I mean empty) and a good book are what I crave when feeling exhausted and stressed. Playing peek-a-boo with a toddler is not my idea of recharging my batteries. Both Gwen and I are capable of being the life of the party when required, but at the end of a hectic day, we fill up our virtual gas tanks in very different ways.
When you're an introvert and you become a parent, your body goes through a little shock. Suddenly, you have very little alone time. Sure, your new baby is not talking to you -- and at times, not making much noise at all. But let's face it: You are never truly alone from the moment your first child is born.
Here are five things that I highly encourage other introverted parents to avoid:
1. Avoid beating yourself up for craving (or enjoying) time away from your littles. My favorite time of day is after the kids are tucked in bed -- and most introverts I know feel the same way. I love my kids. I really do. But I love the downtime I have after they are sound asleep. If you're an introverted parent, you will find yourself wanting for more alone time... and that is OK. Nothing to lose your "Good Parent" badge over.
2. Avoid making zero space for solitary time. Your kids want to hang on you, sit on you and wipe their snot on you. This all gets to be a bit much. If you are a true introvert, you need some quiet time to fill up your patience reserves. If you work outside the home during the day, you will need it even more. Find it where you can. Grab a magazine, announce that you need to visit the loo and spend an extra 10 minutes behind the locked door. If you can sneak out in the evening, go for a walk or run a quick errand. Maybe you can shoo your family out of the house for an hour or two on the weekend. The park or Target are great go-to places for partners and kids to wander aimlessly. Again, don't feel guilty for requesting or taking this time. You'll be a nicer, more effective parent if you carve out a little introvert-refueling time.
3. Avoid isolating yourself TOO much. I'm contradicting myself here, but even we introverts can have too much alone time. Yes, you are in the constant company of a little person, but that baby does not provide the conversation, laughs and intellectual stimuli that a good friend can. So schedule coffee dates, playdates or martini dates every few days or weeks. Or look for a solid parents' group in your community. You'll find that you'll enjoy your alone time more if you have a little out-of-the-nest time. And vice-versa.
4. Avoid places that will send you into sensory overload. Disney World in July. Bouncy house playnasiums on rainy days. Toys"R"Us on Black Friday. Any Chuck E. Cheese, any day of the of the year. Just avoid them. Mkay?
5. Avoid thinking it will be this way forever. My boys are in elementary school now. They leave at 7:30 a.m. and don't get home until 3. The first day that I dropped both of them off at school, I squealed with delight the entire drive home. Slight exaggeration... but not really. As the days passed, I was careful not to fill them up with work or PTA volunteering. I sincerely savored the time alone at home. The cool thing? When my kids walked in the door at the end of the day, I was SO excited to see their little dirty faces and have a big gab session. This will happen for you, too. As your kids grow, their neediness will lessen. The result will be extra chunks of time to read books, clean the house, binge-watch Netflix or do whatever floats your introverted boat.
Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and introverted mother of the two extroverted boys pictured below. She and her blog partner, Cheryl Sipkowski, MS, LPC, provide sanity-saving tips and workshops for new parents at Baby Proofed Parents. Follow BPP on Facebook and Twitter for real-time parenting tips and humor.