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.
- 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.
- 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.)