The day the new neighbors moved in two doors down, I was excited for my 7-year-old son. After sneaking many furtive glances as they came and went, we determined they had a little boy around the same age as Sammy. And after having lived in a neighborhood swarming with little girls for almost five years, this was reason to celebrate. Finally, Sam would have a friend -- a real, live neighborhood buddy!
Funny thing though: Over the next few weeks, he never even mentioned the possibility of playing with the little boy. Was he just being shy? I wondered. No, that didn't sound like Sammy. Finally, one day after school I suggested tentatively, "Do you want to go together to the neighbors to ask the little boy to play? Maybe he likes hockey too!" His response? "No thanks, Mommy. I'm not really into the whole 'friend' thing. I prefer to play alone."
Sigh... I guess in some ways, my son is more like me than I thought.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not anti-social, and I don't think I'm particularly socially awkward. I love being around people, and I think I'm a decent conversationalist. That said, there are a few things I've come to accept about myself -- about the way I am and the way I'm made -- and I have to say, in 90% of circumstances and situations, I'm OK with how I am.
Three fun facts about me:
1. I love being around people and activity. Once a day.
Being around people who aren't my family is an event for me. I love being with my friends... in small doses. I love going to barbecues and parties, to church and out for dinner with friends, but generally speaking, one activity a day is more than enough for me. OK, let's get real: I'd probably be just fine with one activity per week.
2. Generally speaking, I'm happiest when I'm alone.
Does that make me anti-social? I don't know. I couldn't be by myself all the time, certainly. I know I would miss people after a while with no human contact (I would, right?). I can rarely recall feeling lonely as an adult... or even as a kid, for that matter. I always have lots to think about and lots to do. I'm entrepreneurial and always have ideas brewing, so there's never a shortage of things I could be doing.
3. I'm the most productive when I'm alone.
There's a reason I've worked from home for the past 15 years. When I worked in an office setting, I loved my colleagues. I enjoyed chit-chatting, and it was nice to have people there to bounce ideas around with. But in my estimation, working from home, I get done in three hours what I used to get done in eight. I rip through my work and never miss a deadline, making for satisfied clients and a happy Holly.
So, what does this have to do with parenting, you may be asking? Stay with me.
When I ventured into parenthood just over 10 years ago, honestly, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Prior to having my daughter, I had already worked from home for a few years. This meant I could schedule meetings when I wanted to, but was rarely in situations where I had to be with people.
Then along came my daughter: my beautiful, sweet, extroverted daughter. My daughter who hated napping because it meant being away from people. My daughter who was never happier than when she was out and about, surrounded by lots of people, noise and activity. And 10 years in? She still thrives on activity. She could be with friends 24 hours a day. She still has a hard time falling asleep -- I think to her, it means giving up on all the fun and activity of the day.
Two and a half years after my daughter was born, Sammy joined us. Oh, did he join us. He came out screaming and didn't stop for months. And you know what was super awesome? He, too, did best when we were out and about. Surrounded by lots of people, noise and activity.
And me, the home body and introvert? I was, as you can imagine, somewhat less excited about the prospect of being 'out and about' all day, every day. Every single day... until Sammy was about 2. He didn't do well at home. He cried and fussed and needed constant entertainment and stimulation.
And even as the kids got a bit older, and my high need toddler turned into a home-loving, contented preschooler, the challenges of being an introvert and a mom remained. While we didn't need to be out all the time, I discovered something interesting. Something no one tells you before you have kids. Something someone MUST tell you before you have kids:
They are with you ALL THE TIME.
As in 24 hours a day. If you're lucky enough to have a baby or child who sleeps through the night and takes naps, you get some down time. If not, you're screwed. 20 minutes naps scattered throughout the day are NOT, in case you were wondering, enough time for an introvert to re-charge his or her batteries.
When you go to bed, there is no guarantee they will not join you. When you go to the bathroom, you can be certain they will follow you. When you need 15 minutes of completely quiet, uninterrupted time just to THINK, it will not happen.
You are ON. All the time. On call, on shift, on board. You have little people needing Band-Aids, food, entertainment and perhaps most importantly of all, for you to be emotionally present with them (not just physically present, which is way easier in my opinion).
As an introvert, being alone is what energizes me. When I'm alone, I can think about my kids, miss them and plan what we're going to do next. But when they're with me ALL THE TIME, there is no time to think about them, miss them or plan what we're going to do next. I parent off-the-cuff, doing what has to be done, putting out fires and getting through the day.
I often tell people that I really only started to love parenting the day my youngest started kindergarten. I know that sounds like a terrible thing to say, but I think my temperament is a large part of that. I loved my kids from the day they were born, but it was only when I had time to think about them and to miss them that I really started to love parenting.
While they're at school, I have complete quiet in which to work, to be alone with my thoughts and to plan what fun things we're going to do together. I may not have 24 hours a day with them anymore, but the five hours between school and bedtime are more purposeful, more special and definitely more fun.
If you're an introvert and the parent of a small human, it can be very freeing to realize that maybe it's not just that you "don't like the baby stage." Maybe it's just that being with people 24 hours a day -- even the wonderful little beings you created -- is difficult and draining.
And it's OK (and even, I think, necessary) to take time away from your little energy-suckers to recharge and to think about them and to miss them. That may mean getting a babysitter sometimes (even if you're a stay-at-home parent), getting a mother's helper (a young teen or tween to play with your kids so you can chill in your bedroom alone) or setting them up with a movie so you can have an hour to re-charge your batteries.
These things don't make you a bad parent... they make you a wise and realistic parent, one who understands and accepts your temperament and limitations; one who does what's necessary to keep your family and home running smoothly.
Are you an introvert? Have you taken any steps to set aside some alone time to save your sanity?
Holly Klaassen is a freelance writer and creator of The Fussy Baby Site, a site for parents of fussy, colicky or high need babies. Not all babies are 'easy'! Visit her site for support and information to help you survive and celebrate your high need baby!