Occasionally I take my kids to story time at the library. It’s a nice chance for them to be out and around other kids while hopefully continuing to develop a love of reading. But since I’m an introvert, there’s just one problem with story time.
Yep, those dreaded little ditties with their clever hand motions and goofy dance moves mark the beginning of every story hour. Didn’t I become an adult so I wouldn’t have to do this kind of thing anymore? “Shake your sillies out!” the music taunts us. Well my sillies only come out for certain audiences, and the general library-going public is not one of them.
Now, I know there definitely are some introverts who enjoy this particular form of torture, but I also think there are a lot of people like me. People who don’t have “make a fool of myself” on their bucket list. (Lately my bucket list consists more of things like “spend an hour by myself” and “take a nap.”)
Story time at the library is not the only time when being an introverted parent can be… problematic.
As your kids develop their own friendships and get involved with school and activities outside of the home, there seems to be an endless parade of other parents and teachers you have to meet. Whether it’s a social event at your school or church, or simply the few minutes waiting in line outside your preschooler’s classroom, these times that require pleasant, surface-level chit-chat aren’t necessarily the times when introverts shine.
Schedules become more crowded with kids’ activities in the mix as well. Beyond your own activities outside of work and family, you also have your kids’ commitments to manage too, whittling away at that precious recharge time you need to feel energized.
Parenting can be draining for introverts and extraverts alike, but for different reasons. An introvert like myself may lament that all the kid-friendly places are so loud, crowded, and full of stimulation. You take your kids on a family outing to a children’s museum hoping to wear them out, when the only one worn out at the end is you!
Even the simple demands for attention from little ones who love nothing more than the pleasure of your company—continuously—can be draining for someone who needs alone time to recharge. As your kids grow up and start bringing other kids home to play or for sleepovers, it becomes even more challenging. And wanting to get away from your own kids can lead to feelings of guilt.
So how do you balance your kids’ needs with your own needs while still sending the right messages through your parenting? It’s a big question that probably no parent in the history of the universe could answer completely. Here are some strategies I’ve used for coping with some of the demands of parenting that don’t always play to an introvert’s strengths:
1. Give yourself permission to have down time
Stay-at-home parents can easily fall into the trap of letting their kids consume the entire day. Conversely, working parents with limited time in the evening to spend with kids may feel like they need to devote every second to them. Tell yourself it’s okay to disengage for a while to recharge.
If I’m feeling particularly drained from a day’s events and my kids are hoping for undivided attention, I will often set a mental time limit for myself. I’ll tell myself I’m going to give my kids thirty minutes of focused attention or playtime, for example. Then I’m going to disengage and let them find something else to do. Other times, I might suggest we do something quietly side by side, such as drawing or reading a book.
Additionally, I think it’s important for all parents to have a chance to be completely away from their kids. Work together with your spouse or partner to give each other breaks.
2. Don’t be afraid to set limits on draining activities
Take your kids to the children’s museum in town, but don’t feel like it has to be an all-day event just to get your money’s worth. Commit to going for an hour or an hour-and-a-half and then leaving. You’ll be a better parent if you’re not totally wiped out when you get home. Investing in a yearlong membership to places like this can sometimes make shorter trips more financially sensible.
At home, eliminate excessive stimulation to avoid getting wiped out. Send the kids outside to play when they want to be loud and rowdy. Outdoor time is good for them anyway! Enforce limits on television, video games and other media. There’s only so much of Spongebob Squarepants one can listen to in the background without starting to lose it.
3. Pick your moments to be “on” when you need to
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about helping introverted kids handle social situations, and I think a lot of those tips apply for adults as well. When you know you’re going to be meeting other parents or teachers or coaches, take a moment beforehand to mentally prepare yourself for the experience. Brainstorm some possible conversation topics you could discuss so that you’re not left drawing a blank in the moment. Try singling out just a couple of parents to talk to instead of worrying about the crowd of people.
And remember that while it’s important to be involved in your children’s lives and connecting with other parents is certainly a part of that, it’s okay not to be best friends with all of them.
Finally, when you’re in an uncomfortable situation—like my story time at the library example—think about what you would hope for your kids in that same situation, and model that. If you want your kids to know it’s okay to be silly and jump around, then join in with them. If you want them to know it’s okay to sit back and watch, then by all means sit back and watch.
Share your thoughts: When do you find being an introverted parent most challenging, and how do you handle it?
Becky Langdon is a senior columnist for Project Playtime and Stuffies®, America’s favorite plush toy with 7 secret pockets.