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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.)

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Lego-love

Over the years, not only have we “acquired” three children we have also acquired a LOT of Lego people. And by a lot, I really mean a LOT.

So it’s no surprise that said Lego people turn up in some of the most “unusual” of places.

We have a game with one of our friends who always hides Lego people in various places whenever she visits. So, whenever I find one I’m never quite sure if it’s her mischief or the kids. But whoever it is who “distributes” Lego figures around our house  I’ve taken it upon myself over the last few months to take a sneaky pic every time I find one.

 

Liz Lovell: now is the time to confess if any of the photos below are your doing…. (my favourite one is the fruitbowl)

 

 


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I have to say that all this mischief has been put to an end now with the introduction of this:

 

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A very creative and clever friend of ours made it for Josiah out of an old printer drawer.

 

#EverythingIsAwesome

nine reflections from nine years of pre-schoolers

Something is brewing in the Robinson household.

After nearly nine years of raising pre-school children,  the third and last chabling is about to leave pre-school and prepare for the big wide world of PROPER school.

I’m not gonna lie: this season brings a whole range of emotions for me.

This week we attended our third and last pre-school graduation.

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And as I watched that last little chabling receive his graduation certificate, dressed in cap and gown and smothered in cuteness, I found myself trying hard to hold back the tears. And I wondered why with this one I was holding back the tears, when with the other two I sobbed shameless snot-faced-tears.

Maybe I was afraid that this time if I released the teary-floodgates I wouldn’t be able to close them.

You see, this time it’s different.

With this one I’m not just releasing him into a new season. I’m also releasing myself into a new season.

And that’s exciting. And a teensy bit scary as well.

Filled with highs and lows, moments of competence and many more of how-on-earth -am-I-supposed-to-do-this-parenting-thing , this pre-schooler season has been a rollercoaster. And I’ve loved the ride. Not every second of every minute of that ride. But isn’t that just like a real rollercoaster? You come off the ride exhilarated but in the moments when you dip down and your tummy hits the sky it feels more scary than fun. But overall you come off the ride and say that it was FUN.

And this pre-schooler ride has been challenging, and scary, and hopeless at times. But most of all I’m coming off this ride saying it was FUN. And I’m not the same person as I was when I started out on the ride.

So, as I often do in transitional times, I’ve been reflecting on what those years have meant to me and what I’ve learnt along the way.

So here you go… Nine reflections from nine years of pre-schoolers:

1. Change is constant

One thing I’ve noticed with pre-schoolers is that you’re just about getting used to one season just as the new one is ushered in. You’re just getting the hang of breast or bottle feeding and they start eating solids.  You’re just getting used to them sitting up and they start crawling. You’ve just about got the hang of looking after one kid and another one shows up. You’ve almost reached a place where they’re content in the buggy and then they go on a buggy board.

Knowing that change is a constant was helpful for me. It just meant I gave up trying to hold too tightly to a particular thing or season.  I love change but even for me I needed some constants in shifting seasons. For us the constants were the little routines that we put in place each day that didn’t change – how we did mealtimes or prayers, or bedtime routines. They became the constants in the ever-shifting world of pre-schoolers.

2. You’re never ready

You’re never ready for the emotions that children bring up. You’re never ready for those feelings of inadequacy when newborn crying just won’t cease. You’re never ready for that moment when your kid bites someone else’s kid. You’re never ready for the swelling-heart-pride as you watch them take those first steps. You’re never ready for the echo of their laughter in your heart.  You’re never ready. Even with the second and third child you’re never ready.

 

And yet, somehow, you have to be. And maybe that’s one of the biggest life-lessons for me in this season. I’m the kind of person that never feels ready for anything. I could always feel more equipped, more resourced, more informed.  And in most other things in my life I can make a choice to not do something because I don’t feel ready. But with parenting, you have to just choose to be ready.

Even when you don’t feel it.

Even when there isn’t enough information. Even when you feel wobbly. Because a small person is needing you to be ready. It’s scary and liberating all at the same time.

For me, this season has been about going to the One who is always ready. The One who always has enough wisdom, resource, love, forgiveness and patience. Thank you God that you are always ready.

 

3. You’ve got to walk the journey ahead of them

I’ve talked about this before.… our kids can’t win the ground that we haven’t already taken.  In this season we’ve been challenged first to think about how we relate to God when we’ve considered how we want our kids to relate to Him. And then we’ve tried to live and walk that way.  When we’ve considered the rhythms and routines we want our kids to walk in, we’ve had to walk in them ourselves first. When we’ve thought about how we want our kids to love others we’ve tried to model that to them. And when we’ve wanted them to see for themselves what it looks like to ask for forgiveness, and to say sorry we’ve had to be the first to do that. We’ve done it all imperfectly. But that’s ok, because integrity is not the same as perfection. We’re living examples not perfect examples.

 

4. Short-cuts don’t pay off. Nip it in the bud

A quick fix-produces a quick result. But it doesn’t produce a changed heart. There are quick and easy ways to get  children to stop crying, whining, shouting, or fighting. But sometimes they’re not the long-lasting ways. Genuine heart repentance and change is not the same as behaviour modification. The first is a long-road, and the latter is a short-cut. Behaviour modification is like trimming the weeds. But genuine repentance pulls the weed out at the root. Trimming the weeds can be done quickly and easily. Pulling out at the root takes longer, and takes a lot more effort.

I’ve tried both.

I know which one I find easier but I also know which technique I’d rather see the fruit of.

 

5. Every season is the best one…

Someone said this to me when the kids were young. I guess I’ve tried to carry it through with me over the years.

I’ve tried not to eagerly anticipate the next season or wistfully look back to a former one.

If you’re a parent you’ve probably heard countless other (older)  parents say “make the most of it.. they’ll be grown up before you know it.” When you’re in the throes of sleepless nights or toddler tantrums it can take all your self-restraint not to throttle someone who gives you those well-meaning words.

But those words are true. Kids grow up. Faster than you think.

And so viewing every season as the best one has been my way of trying to enjoy every moment. Not in an everything-is-wonderful-denial kind of way. Because there are always crappy days and sometimes those days merge into weeks.

But there is good in every season.

6….. Having said that… three under-5’s was a little bit nuts

Yes. It was.

Those were the days when all 3 of them were at home because they hadn’t started school and life felt a little bit hazy. In that  pre-schooler-fog, I would wake up some days not really sure of who I was, what I was doing or how I would make it through till bedtime. But I did. And He was faithful.

 

7. Your reactions become their reactions.

You know that moment when your kid trips up and falls down and then they turn round to look at your face? That’s the moment when they decide how they will respond to the fall. If your face is one of distress and concern their cry will be one of distress and concern. We cottoned on to that pretty quick with our kids so that when they fell we tried to say in a positive tone “up-you-get”, and unless the fall was really bad, that’s what they’d do.

It’s easy to see how your reactions become their reactions in those circumstances. But then there are the more subtle moments. The moments when you’re not quite so aware that they’re watching your reactions. The moments where you feel scared or fearful of something and they’re watching to see how you respond. The moments where someone is unkind to you and they’re watching your face. And your words. And your body language.

It similar to point 3.

Your reactions become their reactions.

 

8.  Never underestimate the power of food, sleep, and cuddles.

When babies are little it’s clear to see that food, sleep and cuddles make all the difference. If they eat and sleep well, and have lots of physical contact they’re pretty much happy. If they don’t, they’re not.

But when they get older they stop just falling asleep when they’re tired, regardless of where they are, and they no longer bawl their eyes out until they’re fed or held. And so it can be easy to forget that the basics of sleep, food and cuddles make the world of difference to a small person.  And to a big person, for that matter.

I remember at church we used to talk about the acronym HALT. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. We’d say that the more of those you had on your list the more you were prone to make bad choices. It’s no different for kids. The first thing I do if I see difficult or angry behaviour in my kids is to do a mental checklist:

  • When did they last eat?
  • Have they had enough sleep?
  • Have they felt loved? (which may be cuddles, but as they get older it may also be words of affirmation, gifts, quality time, or acts of service to varying degrees depending on which child it is)

Basic needs may seem basic. But they’re needs, not wants, so we can’t underestimate the impact of these things on our kids when there’s an insufficiency in one of them.

 

9. Parenting has helped me to be a better leader.

When I started out on the parenting journey I thought that I might be missing out, as I focused my attention to the home. But this has been a season of growth for me, not stagnation. The skills you need to be a good parent are the same skills that make a great leader.  So this season has not only been about growing in parenting. It’s been about growing in leadership too.

As I look down these nine reflections so many of them are transferable to leadership. Because at the end of the day they’re both about discipleship.

 

So these are my pre-schooler reflections. How about you – what are yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to make Missional Communities and children work together

There have been countless studies on how children learn, how they interact with information and how they grow.

One of the themes of this research is that there are three primary environments in which children learn – classroom, apprenticeship and immersion:

# Classroom – The child is taught something by somebody. They listen and then process the information being shared with them.
# Apprenticeship – The child is shown something by somebody. The child is involved in, and so learns from, a process. Information is engaged with and processed through implementation, experimentation and application.
# Immersion – The child experiences and gathers information from the culture, environment or context within which they live.

Sunday morning kids work is 45 minutes, an hour at best, in the week of a child’s life. There might be activities, object lessons or games to go along with the bible teaching to help the children think through how to apply what they are hearing. It’s good sharing of information but it’s still a classroom environment.

Missional community, extended families of 15 to 30 adults (and any number of children!!) on mission together, give children & young people the environment to learn by being part of a community that lives out its faith. They are given the opportunity to be part of a group that looks to share its faith with others that don’t know Jesus. They don’t just attend an event but learn from many different and varied life experiences. They are encouraged to take more responsibility and participate; to be part of the community – not just to be talked at but talked with. In a missional community context children are not just waiting for adults to define something but shaping and crafting it themselves. They can be involved in, and contribute to, the life of the community.

Children learn by living out their faith – not just learning about their faith from others. They take hold of it for themselves through apprenticeship and immersion – seeing their parents lead, learning how to study the Bible for themselves and share Biblical reflections themselves. The community necessitates that young people help with younger children. Children can share with adults their thoughts on a passage, serving and sharing faith together as family.

There are many different ways communities function as they gather but three ways we found missional communities can ‘work’ well as they gather together have come by thinking about family environments; environments that are normal to families, both Christian & non-Christian.

Three environments all families interact with  are:

1) The Educational environment (i.e school, nursery)

2) The Coffee Shop environment (i.e. Starbucks, restaurants)

3) The Party dynamic (i.e. birthdays)

# The Educational environment – is where the parents & children are learning together. We encourage families and extended families (missional communities) to think about rhythms of family prayer, worship and study. One of our family missional communities had gatherings where they took a bible passage and the children & young people came up with a drama, craft and teaching lesson from what they’d learnt and then shared with the adults.  Lots of applause and then good conversations were had afterwards!

The Coffee shop – is an adult environment with children present – tables, papers and coffee with activities in the room. This environment encourages the informal relationships and interactions between children, parents and the extended family. One geographical missional community did this as an access point for non-Christians with prayer cards and opportunities for conversations on the tables.

# The Children’s party environment – (if you haven’t yet got kids there’s a treat in store!!!) is an environment where parents serve the kids – everything is set up for the kids to have a great time together – noise, mess, chaos, games, fun………sweets!!

 

 

This is a great way to really help relationships & their faith come alive because if there’s one thing kids can do it’s have fun!! This is also an environment where non-christian parents and children can engage – enjoying the experience together.

Parents taking the responsibility as primary disciplers of their children and doing this in the context of a missional community is often a major but important shift

Effective missional communities use some or all of these dynamics as they gather and disciple their children rather than abdicate to the children’s workers or do a smaller, “worse” version of sunday school in a side room whilst the adults gather. Central children’s ministry should function to resource the communities – prayer, training, resources so that families can express their faith locally in community.

The synergy that comes from both a Sunday celebration (with central ministry resourcing) and a missional community lifestyle for discipleship of children is a dynamic that works for both parents & children. They are able to grow not only in relationship with God but also each other and they learn, together, how to be a family of missional disciples.

It’s not easy – but neither is being a parent!!

 

a day with littlest robbo (in pictures)

My time of mothering pre-school children is coming to an end. Littlest Robinson starts school in September and so, after 8 and a half years of having at least one pre-school child at home, I’m acutely aware that this season is drawing to a close. I’ve written before on what these years have been about for me (you can read one of those posts here.) But for now, I’m trying to make the most of this little chabling before he enters the big wide world of school.

With nursery, my work, and toddler group, it’s not often we get a whole day just to ourselves – just the two of us. But last week a whole day opened up. The sun had his hat on and I had plans to take Samuel to one particular Sheffield park. But in the end his suggestion outshone mine and we ended up in one of his (and my) favourite places: Bakewell.

Bakewell is pleasing to me on lots of levels. There are quaint little shops to meander in and out of, a pretty river to walk up and down and, maybe most importantly, some great fish and chip shops. And its appeal for Samuel mainly lies in the long straight path along the river  – perfect for scootering on –  all the way to a fantastic park, complete with muddy puddles. So, for both of us it equates to a pretty special place.

There’s always fun to be had with this little chipmunk. I’m thankful for his kind and caring nature, his zany sense of humour and his many kisses blown through the air towards me.