Dear grocery store clerk,
I’d like to apologize. I’ve been avoiding you. You offer to take my groceries to the car and I turn you down. You try to get my attention in the parking lot to take my cart back and I pretend I don’t see you.
I’d like to apologize. I’ve been avoiding you. I have waited too long to return your phone calls or I haven’t returned them at all.
Dear sweet children of mine,
I’d like to apologize. I’ve been avoiding you. I have reached my socialization quota for the day. Instead of finding a quiet space, I had a meltdown.
I’d like to apologize. I’ve been avoiding you. I spent 45 minutes serving drinks and food to you. I socialized with you. I laughed at your jokes and made a few of my own. I engaged your children. I was warm, friendly, and accommodating. But I reached my limit and needed to go hide in the galley for a few minutes so that I could recharge my batteries.
I want to let you all in on a little secret. I want to help you understand why I really don’t want to talk.
Talking to you actually hurts me on the inside. I wish I could explain it but I can’t. If we were old friends, it would be easier. We would have already spent the time necessary to grow into an ease with each other’s souls. Although even with old friends, I have a limit.
I belong to that lucky group of people known as “introverts”. I am able to handle social interaction with others for a certain amount of time before reaching a point of exhaustion. I have googled my personality type ad nauseum. I have often wondered if introverts somehow overlap with those on the autism spectrum. Maybe that would explain why it’s so painful sometimes for me to interact socially. (I don’t pass any of the autism tests, however).
I once overheard some colleagues talking about how they couldn’t understand why some flight attendants they passed walking through the airport would not acknowledge them, look them in the eye, or say “hello”. I didn’t say anything; however, I thought to myself that I could relate to those people. I understood that some of them simply did not have the emotional energy to greet stranger after stranger in a busy airport (even if we do wear the same uniform).
I have learned over the last five years that being an introverted stay at home mom is especially challenging. (Although staying at home with little kids is not easy for any kind of parent no matter what kind of personality).
I can only describe the feeling of reaching the breaking point like this: it’s like having an invisible force field around me all day that starts to break down. Captain, shields at 15%.
Then it’s gone. Once it’s gone, the social interactions with my kids begin to feel like little knives stabbing me all over. I begin to shut down. I want to run. And hide.
But I can’t.
Add to that a hypersensitivity to certain environmental stimuli and things get really interesting. I do sometimes enjoy excitement and flurries of activity, but for the most part, I need a calm, quiet home to thrive.
What unique challenges do introverts face in staying home with their kids?
1. We get overwhelmed with social interaction
Introverts avoid social interaction; however, children require lots of it! Having kids forced me to come out of my shell BIG TIME. My kids are literally talking to me almost every minute of the day. It would drive any introvert crazy to have a group of adults talking their ear off all day long. This is even more challenging if there is more than one child to take care of. When my kids get along well, they are loud. When they bicker, they are loud. If I hear somebody say “mommy!” one more time…
2. We blame ourselves for being failures as parents
Introverts tend to be perfectionists. Because we lean towards introspection, we blame everything on ourselves. We feel an internal pressure to meet an impossibly high standard. Oftentimes our best isn’t good enough. We strive instead for perfection (an impossible goal, by the way). We tend not to seek help because we should be able to handle this, right? [For a good resource on dealing with perfectionism, check out Kevin Lehman’s book: “Why Your Best Is Good Enough”.]
3. We tend to isolate
They say it takes a village to raise kids. Either introverts don’t have a village or they have a very small one. If we are fortunate to have lots of family around to help, it is easier. However, this is not always the case. I’ve met many moms who don’t have family that lives close. Many times our village consists mostly of friends that are also moms of small kids. This makes reaching out more difficult. We have a harder time helping each other because we are in the same situation of having overwhelmed schedules. Because we seldom ask for help when we need it (even of our husbands), any village we do have may not be of much use.
4. We need way more alone time than we get
If you have small children, you are rarely alone. I have two sweet little stalkers shadows that want to be everywhere that I am and do everything that I am doing. If you are an introvert, you know how hard that is and how it can push your buttons. I want to be able to brush my teeth sometimes without being followed into the bathroom. After hours of dealing with these sweet little button-pushers, I may feel like screaming or tearing my hair out!
5. We don’t get the time we need to recharge
Before kids, I would go to my room, lock the door, and just be by myself if I had reached my social limit. I would revel in the peace and quiet and allow my energy reserves to be replenished through any number of quiet activities. Stay at home moms rarely get this kind of time to recharge, though. Many of us have husbands who work very hard and come home tired. We try not to put a lot of burden on them to fill our void, understanding they too need some quiet space.
Introverts often become stay-at-home moms out of choice, not out of inclination
It would be so much easier for me to go to a job every day and leave my kids with someone to take care of (or put them on the bus). I have chosen to stay home because it is my conviction, not because it flows naturally from me. There are days I wake up in the morning and don’t feel like facing another day of little kids. I have to pray for grace on these days to do the right thing even when I don’t feel like it.
The homeschooling introvert: upping the ante
As an introvert, my dream would be to put my kids on a school bus in the morning and not see them again until 3pm. It would be so much easier! Choosing to not only take care of them, but also provide their educational needs adds an even heavier burden to the introverted parent.
What about extroverts?
It would be unfair to say that extroverted stay at home parents have it easy. I know too many to believe that’s true. However, I can say that as an introvert, I have always wished I had a little more of their kind of personality. It seems as if many aspects of life would be easier if I drew my energy from people!
The Blessing of the Hard Choice
Those of us with little children are in a season of challenges and blessings. The challenges won’t last forever and neither will the blessings that are unique to this time in our young children’s lives. My kids will move on to other stages in their life before I can blink an eye. Right now, they always want to be with me. Right now, I am their hero. In a few years, they will want to be more independent. They will start questioning things I teach them. They will prefer their friends to me (hopefully not all the time!)
In the meantime, I receive this season with its high points and its trials. I know I need to count these moments because every older mom I talk to tells me how fast it goes by. Some long to be able to go back and experience their kids as little ones again.
If you are an introvert who has chosen the difficult path of being at home with your kids, let me encourage you by saying that you have truly chosen not only the road less traveled, but also the road that is far more challenging for you. God will honor those choices. Also, remember that God chose you to be your kids’ mom (or dad), with all your personality traits with which He especially gifted you.
Cast your bread upon the waters,
For you will find it after many days.
[Photo Credit, David Niblack, Imagebase.net]