5 top tips for introvert mums

My name is Anna. I’m a follower of Jesus, a wife to Rich, a mum of three kids. And an introvert.

And I love being all of those things.

Recently a fellow-introvert asked me for any advice on how to function well as an introvert mum to small children. Now that I’m out of the haze of pre-school kids I can look back with a little more clarity on some of the ways I tried to help myself to both thrive as an introvert and as a mum. I wanted to be able to give myself as fully as possible to the kids, whilst also recognising that as an introvert I am primarily energised by having time alone. Being a mum brings challenges for whatever type of personality you are, so I make no assumption that introverts have any greater challenge than extroverts. But in this post I’m addressing some of the ways I sought to bring balance in being both an introvert and a mum.

So here are my five top tips…

  • Optimising naptimes

Oh, those precious naptimes. They were my lifeline, literally. In the early weeks of a newborn, naptimes were as much a naptime for me as they were for the baby. But as night-time sleep improved for the baby, his daytime naps could be used for all number of things. The biggest temptation was to use those times to get all the housework done, and there were days when that was a necessity. But I also tried to regularly use those times for restoration – doing things that really invigorated me, whether that was reading a book, doing something creative, writing, or just simply enjoying headspace to think things over. Sometimes I would take a sleeping-baby-in-buggy to a coffee shop, just so that I took myself away from the immediacy of household jobs.

  • Encouraging independent play

I had this false belief when my eldest was a newborn that I needed to be giving him all of my attention all the time. However, I gradually came to the conclusion that not only was this impossible, it wasn’t healthy for either me or the child. As I moved from one to two to three babies this would have proved particularly challenging. My eldest had just turned four when my third child was born – so I would have needed three of me in order to give them all 100% of my attention all the time. So, I started to encourage independent play from quite a young age. At times in the day when I knew my baby was usually happy I would leave him under the play-gym alone for a few minutes, and as they got older I would encourage them to have time in a safe environment, playing alone. They were always happy to do this, so it never felt like a forced issue for me. This meant that jobs, and everyday life could carry on whilst my baby was awake, rather than needing to do everything whilst they were asleep. It also bought me some headspace, resulting in both my batteries being recharged, as well as meaning that at other points I could really be “present” with him.

swing

 

  • Having realistic expectations of what it looks like to connect with God

If you’re an introvert and a Christian, chances are that pre-baby you would make a good amount of time to pray, to read, and to journal. And so the biggest question after having a baby is often ‘How do I relate to God now?’ For me, this took a while to iron out. I’m not a very good multi-tasker. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I’m not a very good multi-thinker. I literally can’t talk, and do anything else at the same time. For example, if Rich and I ever want to have a conversation in the car, he always has to drive. Otherwise I will still be in second gear whilst I’m driving at 70mph down the motorway. It’s not good for me, the car, or our relationship!

So, having a little person with me all the time meant that I often found it hard to pray, or to connect with God, or even to be able to acknowledge that God was with me. So, I learnt firstly that I needed to be kind to myself, in the same way that God was kind to me. He hadn’t forgotten me, even, and probably especially, in some of those foggy days where I wasn’t sure which way was up. And secondly, I learnt to connect with God through my children, rather than apart from them. The bible makes it abundantly clear that children are a blessing from God (e.g Psalm 127:3).  And so I tried to look for ways that they could bless me in my relationship with God. I looked for what they could teach me about being a child of God and having a heavenly Father who loved me unconditionally. I looked at them to teach me afresh what it meant to trust another implicitly. I gained from them a renewed sense of wonder, fascination, and joy at the world. I wrote more extensively on this particular breakthrough in a previous post entitled “What if we allowed our kids to be a channel rather than an obstacle.”, which you can read by clicking here. (It’s one of my favourite-ever-posts 🙂 )

  • Moving past the mum-guilt

Even the most secure mum can suffer from mum-guilt at one point or another. We worry that somehow we haven’t been, or done, enough for our kids. And sometimes making time for ourselves gets pushed to the bottom of the priority pile. It can feel almost self-indulgent to want this time when there is so much else that needs to be done. But mums are still people in their own right, and so allowing time for ourselves is really important. Having someone look after the kids whilst I grabbed an hour or two just to have some solitude was so life-giving for me, but it also had a positive impact for the rest of the family. It’s a bit like the safety demo on an aeroplane; I’m always struck by the advice to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting anyone else. You can’t help a child access their oxygen if you’re floundering for oxygen yourself. If you’re not careful you both end up dying. It’s the same in parenting. If we don’t somehow get the ‘oxygen’ that we need (and that ‘oxygen’ looks different for each one of us) then eventually we can’t function so well with our kids. One thing I have repeatedly observed is that if I haven’t had enough headspace, I literally can’t hear the kids talking to me, because I’m too busy with conversations in my own head. That introvert internal voice can get pretty loud sometimes. Having space away from them to process stuff means that I’m actually more attentive to them.

writing at the beach

 

  • Engaging with sacrifice

…Having said all that… parenting – whether you are introvert or extrovert –  is full of joy but also a constant lesson in learning to lay your life down. As Christians, we try to do this as we follow Jesus. But when small people enter our life their physical, emotional and spiritual needs bring an immediacy in putting them before ourselves. There is no easy way round that, no short-cut. That is the simple reality if we are to parent well. There are days when we will not have a single moment to ourselves. We will be stretched way beyond what we feel capable of, or able to give, and yet we have to choose to put our children before ourselves. I often find there is a fine line with being an introvert: we need time alone to re-charge but sometimes that easily move towards self-indulgence, or self-absorption. Parenting is a great crucible for us to learn how to expand our capacity in giving time and energy to others and learning how to function well externally as well as internally. Though stretching, it’s a great opportunity to learn greater dependence, humility, and His empowering. God uses those difficult times to refine us, so that we look a little more like Jesus.

 

Are you an introvert and a mum? Do you have any introvert mum tips?

(I guess a little post-script is helpful here, so that you can understand my life-circumstances over the past few years and my parenting philosophy, because this is my unique life set-up, which of course will differ from yours: Though I have engaged in both paid and voluntary work during those pre-school years, for the large chunk of my time I have been a stay-at-home mum. Our parenting philosophy was, in summary, choosing to fairly closely stick to routines, as well as forming strong and healthy attachments with each of our children. This was our parenting method, and what we felt most comfortable with, so there is no judgement on parenting styles here; this is not meant to be a parenting-style-blogpost. However, my views will inevitably influence some of my points above.)

the board of truth

Back in the day, when we younger, thinner, and less wrinkled, Rich made me a little book: The Book of Truth.

It was filled from cover-to-cover with bible verses which all proclaimed my identity in Christ. I needed my thinking to be reconfigured with God’s truth, and filling my mind with those bible verses was one way that helped to recalibrate my thinking in line with God’s. That’s the simple command that Paul gives in Romans 12 when he tells the church to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Of course the journey continues forever, this side of eternity. There are new aspects of God, and my identity in Him, that I need to re-engage with, or learn afresh, on a regular basis. There are some days where living in God’s truth feels a lot harder than others. I’m guessing maybe you feel the same.

I’ve been thinking about how we are helping our kids to walk in their true identity as God’s kids. We aim to read the bible every evening with our kids. This usually happens. But at the end of a long day, when everyone is feeling a bit cream-crackered, it can sometimes feel like a bit of a ticking-the-box thing, or a passing-on-information-thing. There is definitely some value in this, and the kids are picking up foundational truths. But I know from my own life that if the word isn’t applied, and if it doesn’t take root in my heart, it doesn’t really make any lasting difference: it just remains as head-knowledge.

We want the Holy Spirit to speak to our kids as they read the word, and we want to help equip them to apply God’s truth in their real, everyday, normal life. Because that’s where it has power to bring about transformation.

So a little bit similar to the Book of Truth, we have now developed the Board of Truth.  Just outside their room they have a chalkboard – with each of their names written on it. We have been writing little messages next to each name, which has a simple key truth they are currently reading through, or thinking about it in the bible, and how it applies to them right now.

I do not have nice, neat writing, so you probably can’t read very well what I’ve written in the picture below… but this gives the general idea. Esther actually re-worded her “truth” on this one, as she didn’t feel what I’d initially written accurately represented her key truth ( 🙂 )

board of truth

My hope is that this will help them absorb, and live out more fully what they are learning, rather than forget about it, and move on. It also helps us grown-ups to think more consciously about whether or not we are helping them to apply truth.

It’s just one very simple idea

How about you? – I’d love to hear any creative ways you have as you disciple your kids – we might “borrow” a few of them!

It’s Good News, people

Andy Hawthorne came to speak at our church today.

Andy is a well-known figure in UK evangelical circles. He founded The Message Trust in Manchester which powerfully works with young people in urban communities not only in Manchester, but across the UK, and now also in Cape Town, South Africa. You can read more about their incredible work here.

I’ve heard Andy speak many times before, and always come away both challenged and inspired. Today was no different. I left church buzzing with lots of thoughts from Andy’s preach, but my one takeaway from his talk was very simple. And it was more a reflection on Andy, than the words themselves.

What struck me was his Continue reading

When houses become homes

I love a good cull. Right now, laid in our hallway are five bin bags crammed with stuff to chuck, recycle or send to charity shops.

And I’ve only just begun.

Since Rich and I have been married we’ve lived in so many different houses that culling has just been part of life. We’ve lived in our current house for nearly five years, and it’s by far the longest we’ve lived in any one house. I’ve learnt to never say never… BUT we’ll probably never live in a house this big again. So with years of accumulated stuff and the likelihood of downsizing, this cull is going to be the cull of all culls.

As I’ve been culling I’ve also begun a process of reflecting on houses and homes. One thing I’ve learnt with houses is that’s all they are: houses. A home is a completely different thing. A home is a place where memories are made. Home is a place where you love and you are loved. A home is a place where you are free to be quiet or loud, to laugh or cry. It’s a safe environment to fail, and fail again, and then to keep trying. Home is a safe place to dance, without judgement, to MC Hammer in the kitchen. At least, in our home it is.

This particular home has had visitors from India, Burundi, Holland, America, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, South Africa, Poland, Germany, and all over England. And I’m sure many other places I’ve forgotten! It’s been a family base, not just to our nuclear family but to our extended family. It’s a place where we’ve loved God together, grown together and has been a place where those without family are welcomed in.

As I start to declutter and sort through our things I realise that we don’t get so much attached to the buildings as we do to the memories we associate with those places. And this home has been a beautiful shell to house those memories. I love the wooden floors, and I love the colours on the landing as the early morning sun shines through the stained glass windows. I love the roaring open fires on cold winter days, and the large kitchen with views to the distant hills.

 

 

I feel blessed to have lived in a home of aesthetic beauty. But it’s our memories of home that we take with us; our memories of all that God has done in and through our family in our time here.

Early on in our marriage God taught us a valuable lesson about houses and homes. It was our second year of marriage, and we bought our second house. It had been lived in by one couple for 50 years, and needed some tender loving care. With the help of his dad, Rich spent the best part of a year gutting and restoring it. We loved that house.

Just shortly after we’d finished gutting it we took a trip to India; our first trip together since my year there in ’99. It was a surveying-the- land type trip where we were asking God if he wanted us to serve as missionaries over there.

I was desperately hoping we’d get the green light to “go”; hoping at last that God would have come round to my way of thinking. Strangely enough, He had different plans. We’d only been on our trip for a couple of days when I clearly heard him say “Why wait to be missionaries?” And in that moment I saw the city of Sheffield. It was a defining moment for me. And it turned out to be a defining moment for the culture we would create in our marriage and in our family.

Why wait to be missionaries?

Our response at that point was to move to a deprived area in Sheffield to live as incarnational missionaries. We made a pig’s ear of it in so many ways. And there were also lots of breakthroughs. But that’s a story for another time.  

But the move to the deprived area meant leaving behind that house we’d lovingly restored. Somehow, if we’d been moving to India, it might have felt easier to leave behind. But leaving that house to move across the other side of the city felt like one of the most costly decisions we ever made. I know that as we made that decision, something inside of us was nailed to the cross at that point too. We realised that houses were just houses, and homes could be created in any place we gave our hearts to.

A missionary life means accepting the call to ‘Go’. Sometimes it means we go somewhere more aesthetically beautiful, sometimes not. That’s not our decision to make. Our decision to make is whether or not we hear and obey the call to ‘Go’.

We’ve had the privilege of living in a beautiful house these last five years. But through that journey that God took us on all those years ago, I’ve learnt that there’s something much more important than a beautiful house. I love nice stuff. I love things to be aesthetically pleasing. I love to make a home feel creative and welcoming. And I will always try to do that, whatever type of home we have. I used to somehow feel ashamed of liking nice things but I’ve learnt that’s part of the way I’m made, and I think it’s a good thing.

But what I also know is that a home is so much more than beauty and aesthetics. It’s the memories we create in that home that are important: they are the things we take with us. And a beautiful house should never make us so comfortable that we can no longer hear, or no longer want to hear, the call of God to move us on to something or somewhere else, when the time is right.

When we moved to our current home I can remember thanking God for it, and saying “God, this is your home. We receive it as a blessing for this season. It’s yours to take whenever the time is right.” I knew that I needed to say that prayer out-loud at that point, because I never wanted to get  to the place where the house would trump the calling. I know how easy it is for that to happen, ever so subtly.

And now that time is approaching. The calling has come.

And as the culling increases, so will my memories and my thanksgivings for the time in this home.

It’s been a beautiful shell to house many, many precious memories.

My Void

Anna wrote last week about The Void. She talked about how in the space she has, with the quiet and echo of silence, she hears God afresh; that the silence and space is a gift to be received not a struggle to survive.

My Void is different. Anna & I have committed to a season where I am travelling for the ministry God has given us. There’s a lot that we do locally & together but the season we’re in also involves some travel that involves me “going” & Anna Continue reading