Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Introverts & the toddler years

I'm an introvert.

This doesn't mean that I'm shy, or scared of social interaction. It doesn't mean that I hate people or that I don't want to spend time with them.

It means that lots of social activity drains me of energy. Physcially, mentally and emotionally. I recharge by spending time by myself. I have to make a point of making time for myself otherwise I very quickly become drained, burnt out and the very thought of social interaction leaves me heading for hibernation.

When in hibernation, I don't want to talk, I find it difficult to make decisions, I get overwhelmed, stressed and tired very easily. I don't answer calls. I struggle to even answer texts! I back off from social media. I lose all creativity. I just want to be on my own. For a little while. To create some headspace.

It's not a bad thing, it's not a weakness or an illness, it's merely a personality trait.

By contrast, extroverts are energised by social interaction. If left alone for long periods of time, they become lethargic and depressive, they need to go out, meet people, do things and the more they do, the more they want to do! 

Often it feels like the world is geared towards extroverts. Work, church, family life is all built upon social interaction and if us introverts aren't careful, if we don't prioritise that alone-time, we burn out quickly.

But that's ok. Up until a couple of years ago I was good at that. I would often stop off at a coffee shop on my way home from work, or my long train commute gave me some space to think, or when my husband worked weekends I would while away lots of time sunbathing in the park, mooching around town, or reading a magazine in Starbucks. If I did that, I was set. I would live at a million miles an hour - working in a busy job, evening drinks, church meetings, socials, serving all day in church on a Sunday. All that was manageable and great and fun because I had that alone time built into my schedule.

Then... I became a mum.

Oh God!

The first few months were great - I mean she slept loads and cried very little. As the months turned into years I learnt to make the most of nap time - still being sure to enjoy it by doing my own thing.

Then... she stopped napping.

Oh God!

And since then, well, it's got harder.

Since then, there is no alone time. From 7am until 8pm. Toddlers require constant attention. They ask constant questions. They make constant messes. They need constant help. It's just, well constant.

"What you doing, Mummy?"

And for an introvert, constant is bad. Introverts need space. Physical space (decluttered, tidy space), mental space (time to think without being asked 'What you doing, Mummy?') and emotional space (to feel that you can process your thoughts and feelings without interruption).

Introverts + toddlers = burn out.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love my toddler. I love her cute face. I love her constant questions. I love that she is there, all the time, I love that she is dependant upon me. I love that I can be there for her 24/7 for as long as she needs me. I love that I am the one who gets to watch her every move and lead her through this first stage of life. I love that I can devote myself to her for this period.

I love it!

But it's exhausting. It's draining. It's hard.

So what's an introvert to do?

Get up!

If by some miracle she decides to have a lay-in and you wake up before her, get up! Don't waste that time sleeping. Get up! Grab yourself a hot drink and go and sit in the garden or curl up on the sofa. 15 minutes is enough to make you feel energized for the day.

Tidy up!

I often find that if the house is a mess then I just curl up and hibernate. Keep tidying, even when it feels pointless, even when she just gets everything out again, just keep at it. It's much better than surveying a state of chaos come 4pm and just giving up.

Fuel up!

It sounds obvious but we all do it. It is often 11am before I realise I've not had anything to eat or drink. Low blood sugar equals low energy and lethargy which is not going to help you when you get to a state of overwhelm. Be sure to eat and drink.  


If you set her up to do some painting, or play dough, don't just hover around and supervise. Sit down with her and do something simple, but creative. An adult colouring book, a cross stitch, or stitching up a felt brooch or something. I did this the other day with those fox brooches. I couldn't believe I managed to create something like that during Ruby's awake time, but the resulting feeling of creativity and accomplishment made me feel like I'd done something for myself and it got the creative juices flowing.

Cuddle up!

And when the day ends and little one is tucked up into bed, try to make the most of your evening. You might feel like crashing and burning, you might be too tired to even utter a sentence, but at least have a cuddle with your other half - it's easy to block them out, but they need to see you just as much as you need to be on your own!

And when all that's done...

... book a babysitter. Go to a coffee shop, mooch around town, go for a run or curl up with a good book, alone, just to recharge.

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