Parenting for introverts

In my post on nurturing friendships, I started to see a theme in the comments: a lot of blog readers call themselves introverts. I suppose this makes sense. Blog reading and commenting is a form of socializing that introverts would like, whereas extremely gregarious people may be out in the hallway talking when they get a free minute or two at work.

As we learned from Quiet, being an introvert isn’t about being shy. I’m not shy. I am perfectly fine with public speaking. But I tend to find being by myself (or sometimes in small, intimate groups) energizing, whereas a more extroverted sort gathers energy from lots of other people. I tend to need quiet time to recover from group time.

Several comments noted that one of the hard parts of parenting young kids is that you’re rarely by yourself. If you find constant interaction draining, this can be a tough thing to deal with. And yet you don’t read a lot about this. Much of the parenting-is-tough narrative is about feeling isolated, whereas some introverts would really love to feel a bit more isolated, darn it.

So how can introverts survive the years until their kids don’t want to be around them?

As I’ve thought about my life, I’ve realized this is one upside to working. I like my projects, of course, but I also love that work gives me a reason to be by myself for multiple hours a day. Choose your profession carefully if you’re aiming for this (politics, for instance, is probably a bad choice) but solitude can be a bonus of the right kind of work.

You can also enforce quiet time. Nap time is as much about the person taking care of the kid as it is about the kid. Once they outgrow the nap, transition it to quiet book reading time or screen time, and take the opportunity to recharge.

You can ask your partner for help. Especially if you’ve been home with the kids during the day, it is not unreasonable to ask your partner to take them for a bit in the evening so you can have alone time. If both partners are employed, you can arrange times for each of you to do what you want. An introvert might want to read; a more extraverted person might want to meet up with friends one night a week. You can do the same thing on weekends, too. Sometimes, just knowing that you’ll get a quiet 2-hour block of time on Sunday can make the weekend feel more doable. Just don’t assume your partner will get your hints. You have to have a conversation about this if it’s going to happen.

As a side note, a few single moms in the Mosaic Project hired a sitter for a few hours on the weekend for precisely this reason — it’s decompression time, and they could be by themselves.

If all else fails, learn to love the wee or late hours. I’ve been waking up early sometimes just for the additional quiet. We’ve moved “bedtime” (really, doors shut time — they don’t sleep) up to 8:30 from 9:00 for sheer sanity’s sake. It doesn’t work every night, but when it does, it’s another half hour of reading, writing…and silence.

15 thoughts on “Parenting for introverts

  1. I think it helps if your kids are introverts too. I feel lucky that mine are. Now that my daughter is in her early teens, we’ve talked about the issue and about how she needs downtime from socializing. Not all of her friends are like this, and she’s had to be assertive with them to let them know that it’s not that she doesn’t like them, it’s just that she needs time each day to be by herself. I’m glad we have the introvert/extravert vocabulary nowadays so we can have intelligent, constructive conversations about the issue. It’s a big improvement over the hectoring I used to get when I was a kid about spending too much time in my room.

    1. @Karen – it is good to have this language. Probably in a business context too, given that for years a lot of employment screening tests have been about weeding out introverts.

  2. It can be challenging to have a little “mini-me” who is JUST like me … except that she is extrovert extraordinaire … where I claim introvert. Is it horrid that the constant yammer after school is just too much sometimes?

        1. I have to say that while I look forward to my younger one being able to TELL me what she needs instead of screeching, I am not particularly looking forward to having two kids talking at me all the time 😉 But then again, maybe they’ll talk to each other instead.

  3. These are great points. I’ve been up since 5:30 enjoying my alone time… it’s far more precious than sleep to me.

    We do quiet time every day here too (during the toddler’s naptime). I plan on keeping it up until they move out. 😉

    One of my kids who is a hardcore extrovert… she literally bounces off other people. She’s the ONLY one who ever says the “b” word (bored) or sometimes asks to go to public school (the others love homeschooling), and I suspect it’s because she needs playing with friends more than the others.

  4. I’m definitely an introvert (a friendly one, but still an introvert), and although I didn’t realize this at the time, it’s probably one reason that I was super, super consistent with naptimes and bedtimes when my children were little.

    Now that the kids are older and don’t go to sleep for several hours in the middle of the day (!), I find my alone time early in the morning, before they’re out and about.

    I do sometimes feel like homeschooling is a bit of a challenge for me due to my introvertedness (There are people here! All the time! And they need me to talk to them!), I can also see where homeschooling could be very challenging for an extrovert too.

  5. I’m an introvert, but I never thought about this when my son was small and clingy. I see now that it was a real factor in my stress at that time. (Duh.) He was never much of a napper, but I did enforce quiet time when he had to stay in his room so I could have a short break. I had a few nice years of solitude when he went to school until my husband and I sold our business. He came home and joined me in our (previously MY) home office, and that about drove me insane. I was completely incapable of getting any work done with him sharing my office. It took a few years to prod him into outfitting his own home office, but since then things have been much better. I have my own space to retreat to, with a door I can close if necessary.

  6. I love this post as it captures what I feel is an essential part of my motherhood story. “I just want to be alone in the quiet.” Yesterday my husband took our 4 year old to run an errand and the 2 year old was napping and I just felt so restored after that hour alone in silence. This is one reason I love to go to work – sitting alone in my office. It’s so hard to strike the right balance but so worth it when you do. And yes, I have needed to tell my husband, please take her so I can have a quiet time. Now that he understands my need for quiet he is more helpful.

  7. I am an introvert. However, we have five boys, ages 1.5 to 11. There is always someone who needs something. Who is actively being an extrovert can change. Spending time with my family does not mean that my activities have to be hovering activities focused 100% on the child. Doing household chores for example can still be family time. As we ebb and flow throughout our day, we interact in ways that help us to learn, grow, and define our relationship. Yet, working on seemingly separate tasks does not necessarily mean that we are not spending time together. Sure, we also need time when we are all purposefully together having fun or trying to accomplish something. And some one-on-one time with each kid is also important. But if any of the grownups or kids need downtime, real away-from-the-crowd- time, then that’s okay. It’s usually short but substantial. It also does not need to carry any guilt.

    1. Losing guilt over spending time “alone together” is a really great point. I think fondly about times growing up where all of us — my parents and my brother and I — were together in the living room, each reading our own books. My husband and I frequently do the same, and time with my brother still usually involves just being in the same room listening to music or reading, but not talking. A family of introverts does get the same sense of togetherness just being near each other, not needing to constantly interact. It will be interesting to watch how my two sons manage as they get older — they’re 4 and 1, and the oldest is much more extroverted.

  8. I like to have at least an hour of alone time before anyone else wakes up. This happens now that my kids are older and have more predictable sleep, but the 0-2 age was tough for me without predictable alone time.

  9. I am laughing at myself for never making this connection about parenting young children. It makes so much sense. I find I need quiet time every day, and I am happiest if I get a bit in the morning and a bit through exercise or post-bedtime routine.

  10. A friend recommended a book about parenting based on your Myers-Briggs type. I can’t remember the title, but I bet that also addressed the idea of introverts parenting. I’m grateful that kid #1 is also an introvert. Not sure about #2 yet, though. I have my fears 😉

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