My mom and dad bravely hosted Easter at their house this weekend and my grandparents, all of my sisters, and our families were present including four young kids and two crazy dogs in my parents' cozy little house. After lunch we were all sitting in the living room enjoying coffee, dessert, and conversation. My grandmother, after watching the kids playing for a minute, looked at my mom and said, "Leslie, do you remember when you all used to spend the weekends at our house when the kids were small and I would have to go to bed at 7:00pm?" We started discussing this and realized that my dad has become very similar in that, when the family is all together, he will often turn in early or disappear to his room or in a book. He made the comment that, where he loves time with his family, at times it really drains him physically and he feels an urgent need to rest or be alone. He even took it further and said that, to him, alone time almost feels like a medicine. Once he's had it, even just a few minutes, he feels better able to face the world again. When he said this, it resonated with me so much, and I realized that I often feel this way as well but I've never been able to figure out why.
I've always loved going to church. I even look forward to it, but it never fails that, by the time I get home, I feel like, if I don't get a nap, I might die. Why is that? In college, always living with roommates and constantly around friends/classmates, I discovered how therapeutic running was for me, not just the physical component of it, but the alone time. And later, as an elementary school teacher, by the time my conference period came around, when other teachers were in each other's classrooms socializing, I would be locked in my classroom, with the lights low, and soft music playing just soaking in the quiet. But it's never been so apparent as it has since becoming a mom. I am the mom at the gym who, after dropping my kids off in the childcare center, will often just go outside and walk by myself or sit on the couches in the locker room at the end of my workout to get every ounce of my two-hour childcare included in my membership. And I've had so many guilt-filled moments where I've thought, "If my kids don't take a nap or go to bed soon, I feel like I might self-combust!" I've even gotten angry at times when they've refused to sleep at their designated times. I love my kids so much and I love spending time with them more than anyone besides my husband. I have friends whose kids nap with them, sleep with them, and are by their sides 24/7 and I honestly feel like I couldn't survive as a mother if I operated that way long term (although there have been so many times I've wished I could). As a mom who breastfeeds, I do believe those first few months with baby are extremely important for bonding and establishing supply and we do co-sleep in those pivotal months, but beyond 3-4 months, my babies are in their own beds in their own rooms. And I've often felt so selfish in comparison to my other mom friends. I chalked it up to the fact that I was single and childless for the first 30 years of my life so I just needed to get used to having little people with me and on me all the time. But after that conversation, I realized that it was more than just selfishness (although that can definitely contribute and make it way bigger of a thing if I'm not careful), it is also the way I was wired.
I went home and googled "motherhood and introvert" and came across countless articles that I could've written myself. Moms describing how they couldn't understand why they lived for nap and bed time when other mothers were describing how they couldn't wait for their kids to wake up and spend time with them. One mom said that she even saw a therapist who, mid-conversation, put her pen down and said, "Sweetie, there's nothing wrong with you. You're just an introvert. You NEED alone time just like you need food and water."
I've had a hard time putting the "introvert" label on myself because of how I love people and social interaction. I'm often wanting to get together with friends and have other families over. But, in my research, I realized that not all introverts have social aversions, but it is in those social interactions that they expend so much energy getting to know or interacting with others. When my boys are awake, I'm often trying to engage with them, teach them and include them in the things I'm doing, and, where I enjoy these interactions and find them extremely important, it can be exhausting to me, and there comes a point in my day where I just need a minute (or an hour) alone. I have found a way of coping by requiring a "quiet time" during our day. Even if my 3-year-old isn't acting sleepy, he still has an hour during the day where he reads books or plays quietly in his room. I've often felt guilty about this, thinking that if I was a good mom, I would want them with me all the time. But it's in my alone time that I'm able to be a good mom. I'm thankful for what I've learned because I feel like I can start extending more grace to myself as I continue to learn how to navigate the constant demands of motherhood with my true need for solitude.
What about you? What are some ways you've learned to cope as a mother and an introvert? Do you have a gauge for determining when you need it the most? Have you pre-scheduled it in to your day or week? I'm open to all suggestions as I'm figuring all of this out.