Kate was one of those moms whose smile got bigger the louder the party got.
Her jovial self was at the center of storms of kids flying around tables strewn with half-eaten cupcakes and shreds of gift wrap. The more activity was around her, the happier Kate became, swimming gleefully in the sea of chaos.
As for me? The louder the party got, the more desperately I wanted to hide.
Kate is the kind of mom I think I should be. Happy in the unceasing onslaught of sensation that is parenting.
And because I’m so not this kind of person, I feel like I’m never enough. I feel like I really should like all this sensation. I wanted to be a mom, after all. Or so my mind tells me.
But here’s something I forget over and over again: I’m an introvert, and the model of ideal motherhood (and personhood) that’s sold to us in American culture is relentlessly extroverted.
Being an introverted parent feels wrong because no one talks about it.
There are definitely gifts that come with being an introverted parent, though they rarely get the limelight on social media.
As an introvert, I have the superpower of teaching my daughter the magnificent map of her own internal landscape, because I’ve spent my life mapping my own.
I adore our quiet moments of connection and meaning-making: Showing her the magic of a bean sprout breaking through the soil. Drawing together at our kitchen table. Talking about her feelings in our Calming Corner.
But there’s no way around the reality that it’s hard being both an introvert and a parent in today’s world.
As an introvert, I charge my energetic batteries alone, in the refuge of my own mind and heart.
But I am a full-time mother living in a nuclear family, where I am one body expected to do the work of a village.
In our single-family household, I am my child’s primary, and often only, source of interaction. And a toddler needs lots - and I mean lots - of interaction.
Time in my internal temple is often impossible to come by. And in the moments where I am able to carve it out, I’m often too depleted to give myself the nurturing that I need.
Also, because I have no role models for introverted mothering, it’s hard for me to define my need for my own internal space as anything but “selfish.” I hesitate to ask my husband to watch our daughter, “just” because I need time alone.
The cultural model of motherhood that I’ve inherited looks something like this: a woman who is forever happy to give her energy, her body, and her time, and who thrives amidst the swarm of constant sensation around her “because she loves her kids so much.”
But is this really true? The cultural imprint makes me believe that this is an either/or situation: Either I love my daughter and want to be around her all the time, or I love myself and seek time alone.
The truth is not either/or. It’s in the and:
I love my extroverted daughter beyond all words, and I also love myself.
Taking time to care for myself is not a sign that I love my daughter less. I model taking care of myself so that she will grow to believe that this is what a woman, and a mother, does.
Caring for myself means loving her so much that I’m willing to do what’s uncomfortable and against my cultural imprint because I want her to love herself.
So how do I mother my daughter while also charging my battery and keeping my sanity as an introvert?
I can’t always create more time alone for myself, but what works magic for me is supercharging the time that I do have to bask in my internal refuge.
Supercharging Our Internal Refuge
In the three years that I’ve been an introverted mama, I’ve learned the hard way that not all time by myself charges me up equally.
For instance, when I find myself in a coveted sensation-overload-free moment, it’s tempting to whip out my phone to check social media, email, or just zone out.
But what I’ve discovered is that even though I might feel amused or distracted by what’s on my phone, these mindless moments only exacerbate feelings of anxiety that are in my body.
When I have to return to parenting after one of these moments, I haven’t gotten any more energy or capacity to keep going through our day. I’ve just drained myself in a different way.
The practice that really charges me up, even if I just have a few minutes alone, I call heart listening.
Next time you get a few minutes to yourself, try this out:
Sit or lie down somewhere comfortable.
Close your eyes.
Place one or both hands on your heart.
Take a few deep breaths, lengthening your exhales.
Internally speak to your heart and say, “I’m here. I am listening.” The more sincerity you bring to these words, the more you’ll get from this practice.
Breathe and truly listen. Wait patiently.
You may notice a feeling coming up that you’ve been avoiding. If possible, feel it all the way. Tears will likely surface.
Practice emotional validation toward yourself like we practice with our kids, saying, “It’s okay to feel this way.”
Rest for as long as you need in this space of heart listening.
Yes, we might return to our parenting duties with wet eyes and a grieving heart. And this is a good opportunity for us to normalize with our kids that parents have feelings, and also, that we take care of ourselves.
Heart listening is how I supercharge the precious moments that I get in my internal refuge, and how even as an introvert, I’m able to return to parenting with more capacity than before.
Listening to my own heart with the same compassion that I listen to my daughter is how I mother myself from within. I love myself through all my feelings, especially when part of me feels like I’m not enough. And my daughter can feel it.