Recently I saw a thread on social media in which other introvert-parents were lamenting how they never get to be alone anymore. One of the people on the thread hadn’t been home alone for over a year. She said that since her baby was born, her only time to herself was during her commute to work. Ouch.
I just want to tell this woman and anyone else that never gets time to yourself: I’ve been there and it wasn’t healthy for me.
The sad thing is that as I read this thread, I realized most of the parents commenting on it were trying to affirm her experience. They were trying to tell this woman that it was okay to never be alone because it is supposedly better for kids to always be with their parents. I disagree. I believe that if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be your best parent. It’s called self-care. And it’s not selfish. I’ve tried to go without making time for what’s important to me and it was a disaster for my whole family.
I sat in front of my screen reading and rereading the thread. I tried to come up with a reply, that explained everything I felt and shared how I cope as an introvert-parent without sounding preachy. Instead I came up with this…
A Survival Guide for Introverts Parenting Young Children
(A special shout out to my extrovert-husband who spends a lot of time with the kids and makes much of this a reality.)
1. Get time to yourself. Seems like a no-brainer, right? But when you are actually the parent of someone who is approximately 20 inches long and is dependent on you for their every need, it becomes a lot harder to justify a few hours to sit around by yourself doing “nothing”. But having time alone is a necessity. It’s pretty much a human right. Fight for it, even if the person you are fighting with is your own guilty self. I’m super attached to my little ones but sometimes, I need to be away from them. It’s good for me and I believe that it’s good for them too.
2. Take quiet wherever you can get it. For example, I now value those rare moments when I’m alone in the car. I used to listen to my iPod or NPR. Now I don’t listen to anything but the spinning tires and the air swooshing around me. It is the most beautiful music I can imagine. It allows the thoughts and ideas that I once had constantly flooding my mind to slowly seep back into my brain. An hour or so of quiet thought makes me feel human again. The quiet I cultivate within myself translates to more patience with my family.
3. Get into the habit of waking up earlier or going to bed later than everyone in your family. Or be like me and do both. I don’t need as much sleep as my kids or my husband, so I use the last few hours before bed to read a novel, catch up on writing, or waste time on the internet. It doesn’t matter what I do because those hours belong to me and that keeps me sane. In the morning, if I can wake up and get downstairs before everyone, I make the coffee and get a few chores done in a chaos-free environment. It gets my day started off on a calmer note.
4. Have an area of your house that is just for you. If it can be an entire room, that’s great. If you don’t have that kind of space, give yourself a corner, a desk. Just have some place that you can keep things that only you touch. Every introvert needs to have a physical space where you can be yourself and not be needed by anyone else.
5. Initiate quiet interaction and/or play with your kids. Puzzles, coloring, reading aloud, crafts, taking walks, and working in the garden- these are all activities that tend to be calm and peaceful even with very young kids. One of my favorite things to do with my three year old is ask him, “What do you hear?” We stay as quiet as possible and try to name five things that we can hear. Another thing I like to do with my kids is hang out in the hammock on our front porch. Something about lying together in that confined space calms everyone down and allows for the deep, meaningful interaction that introverts crave.
What do you do for self-care? How do you maintain the identity you had before kids? How do you sneak time in to be alone or to do what is important to you?