When Parenting Overwhelms:Tough Days as an Introverted Parent

Most of my introvert friends are childless or have one child.  They seemed to have instinctively known their child-rearing capabilities and stopped while they were ahead.  I on the other hand barreled through every red flag that warned me.  I overlooked the need for long spans of time to myself.  I didn’t notice how much I live for one on one conversations. I thought daydreaming while listening to music was a God-given right that everyone respected. I thought kids played while adults worked.

I desperately believed I was more than capable of being a stay-at-home mom and I had an aggressively competent husband to help.

As a girl my favorite toys were dolls. I loved taking care of them.  They never fought with each other or argued with me.  They were quiet children, just like me.

I now have three beautiful, creative, energetic, sensitive, individualistic children that are not all that quiet. I desperately believe in my love for them.

Divided Attention

 The sheer numbers are overwhelming at times.  As someone who is at home in a conversation with 1-2 people (more if they are good listeners), I am always at a disadvantage when all three kids talk with me. They pull at my attention like a three-way tug-o-war with a Stretch Armstrong.  Inevitably, someone ends up with my outstretched hand in their face and me telling them to wait until their sister/brother stops talking. No one wants to be quiet so an argument ensues over who was talking first or whose information is more important.  It turns into an unpleasant fight of who can be louder and more dominant.  It’s as if their lives depend on securing my undivided attention. It’s as if they sense that I can’t handle all of their energy so they battle to be the one whose energy I absorb. Nothing meaningful is shared and everyone ends up yelling and/or crying. No one feels at home.

Discipline/Control

I dislike having to pull rank. Yell. Punish. I struggle to think quickly of something I can take away to make them stop fighting. I separate everyone into time-outs in separate corners of the house. Or… I let them go on until something breaks or someone gets hurt. I’ve tried talking calmly.  I’ve tried leaving the room. I am either overrun or seen as uncaring.

Conflict

 I have a deep-seated need for there to be harmony around me.  I’m the harmonizer.  It’s my role in a family.  I’ve even witnessed myself trying to smooth over confrontations between friends in a group setting.  Conflict in any form drains me like nothing else.  Confrontation, disagreement, aggression, yelling – they are my kryptonite. Some people thrive on conflict.  I avoid it and them. This is not to say I am a doormat (anymore).  I am aware of my aversion.  I face conflict, but afterward I must recharge.  I need peace and solitude to renew. If that is not possible, I withdraw.

Withdrawal and Shame

For a time there was no space to renew in our home.  There was constant conflict and discontent.  No laughing.  No rest.  No peace.

I withdrew.

I was there, but not there.  I got through the day.  Made the meals.  Paid the bills. Did the laundry. Played chauffeur.  Managed all the obligatory tasks in robot-like fashion because that is all I had to give. Outwardly I appeared capable.

Needless to say, I was not a bastion of warmth and security for my kids or my husband. The shame that came with that knowledge only exasperated the problem. Why can’t I handle this? Why can’t I snap out of it? According to Marti Olsen Laney author of The Introvert Advantage,

Shame is related to being. We feel shame when we think we are unworthy or innately flawed. Shame impels us to withdraw and conceal ourselves. 

 All I wanted was to be present and loving.

I know bells are going off for some of you.  She was depressed. And I would say, yes, I was, but at the same time I could go out of the house and experience the most profound joy.

 Understanding and Sacrificing

Fortunately, I had read enough information on introversion and high sensitivity that I knew I was not alone in my aversion to over-stimulation and conflict. I knew roughly 25% of the population recharge in solitude (see There’s Nothing Wrong With You. You’re an Introvert.) I had also discovered friends with the same temperament.  When I was with them I felt understood, calm and alive. I recharged.

But I had to be able to renew at home.

Oriah of The Invitation states, Sometimes, to choose life we must break agreements… Sometimes it is necessary to lose something in order to gain. My marriage was comprised of two individuals with very different natures. Often when two people complement each other like that, great things are achieved. We achieved great external success, which is one of the reasons the marriage lasted 15 years, but when we focused inward we both felt innately flawed, misunderstood, and beaten up. Our temperaments went head to head, creating endless tension. My marriage and the need to be like everyone else were sacrificed.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Since we started the divorce process there has been less yelling in the house and more listening.  I would love to say the children don’t squabble and we live in blissful serenity but that would be a lie.  I can however honestly say that I am awake and in the game.  I don’t feel the need to withdraw. I get time to myself when the kids are with their dad. I miss them but I understand I am at my best after a renewal period (see 3 Things That Save Me From Mental and Emotional Burnout).

I am in no way saying the way to peaceful parenting is to get a divorce.  I am saying look at where the feelings of overwhelm are rooted.  Know you are capable of parenting at the highest level with the right mix of self-awareness, renewal time, reduced conflict and love for your kids.

Are the kids feeling insecure because you are emotionally absent? If so, why are you emotionally unavailable? Are you an introvert who needs downtime like a fish needs water? Life today is distressingly fast-paced and jam-packed for introverts AND extroverts. Are you simply overloaded?  Can you remove anything from your  lives that would reduce conflict?

P.S. My kids all slept in the same room last night by choice.  They wanted to have a family sleepover.:)  Less conflict leads to more time and energy to enjoy each other.

If When Parenting Overwhelms hit home with you, you may also enjoy these other space2live posts:

Confessions of an Introverted Parent

 In Defense of Introverted Parents

How to Protect and Liberate Your Energy:A Guide for Introverts and Anyone Who Feels Drained

Understanding the Introvert Cycle: Why We Go From Irritable to Ever-Loving

Further reading on what kind of parent you are based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: Exploding the Myth of the Ideal Parent

Suggested further reading for ways to transform the way we work and live: Be Excellent at Anything by Tony Schwartz

19 thoughts on “When Parenting Overwhelms:Tough Days as an Introverted Parent

    • I can’t imagine teaching a whole classroom of personalities. I volunteer and teach small art lessons in the elementary school 3-5 times a year and love it, but it’s easy for me because my visits are novel and I get to leave right afterwards.:)
      I have no idea where my instincts were when it came time to decide to parent. Kudos to you for knowing yourself so well. It’s funny, in college I dated a man who was an only child and only wanted to have one child. I was OK with that but some of my family members disagreed. They thought it wasn’t right to raise a child without siblings.
      I think I wanted to be able to handle more children, or I thought I should be able to do it. I thought my kids would all be like me.;) I was the easiest child to raise. But no, my children each have very strong individualist personalities. They are my greatest teachers.

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  2. I have often felt as though I were a ‘Homebody’. I prefer being home, with my family or perhaps alone, without being in a social setting. I LOVE my house and I LOVE the quiet. I have often told my husband, who doesn’t seem to understand, that too many social events and too many social settings drain me. I am not ‘SHY’, however, but often explain myself as such because I do prefer alone time over being very social. It was not until I read this blog that ‘IT ALL MADE SENSE’! I can talk your head off, if you are willing to listen, yet I prefer to be alone – more than I prefer to be with a lot of people. I love people, however! I am very empathetic! I try to help whoever needs it. Too much neediness though does, absolutely, drain me. I need ‘ME’ time. I am a SAHM to 2 very smart kids and a genius husband. I often wish that I could live up to ‘their expectations of me.’ They need me for everything. I feel guilty when I take time for myself or walk away or ask for a simple nap. So glad that I found your blog. All of these/your posts describe me exactly!!! Pleased to see that I am not alone! Thanks for your amazing blog!

    • You are definitely not alone!:) It is hard to shoulder the guilt felt when we think we let others down. The truth is it is very healthy to have personal boundaries and in the end your children will be wiser if they know how to express their needs for alone time. They will someday need it even if they are extroverts. With our frenetic culture both extroverts and introverts desire downtime occasionally.

      I hope you use some of the info and comments on space2live to explain your needs to your husband. Loved ones often take our need for solitude as a personal rejection. If he could see it is a genuine requirement for your well being it might make it easier for him to provide it.

      Keep on enjoying your home and loving the quiet. It is your space. It’s where you return to you.:)

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  5. I’m new to this blog and find some of your points interesting.

    But I’m wondering if you can add comment to this…you say having 3 kids “pull[s] at my attention like a three-way tug-o-war with a Stretch Armstrong. Inevitably, someone ends up with my outstretched hand in their face and me telling them to wait until their sister/brother stops talking. No one wants to be quiet so an argument ensues over who was talking first or whose information is more important. It turns into an unpleasant fight of who can be louder and more dominant. ”

    Um…don’t all kids want to talk at once? And um, isn’t it the parent’s job to teach to be respectful and talk it turn. Why can’t you, as the adult, deal with this (Introvert or not)?

    Seems to me you could manage the children and be a firm but fair parent, regardless being an introvert or an extrovert. And the simple “conflict” of children wanting attention wouldn’t be overwhelming. Unless there are other issues. Do you think there are? I’m struggling to understand your definition of “introvert”.

    • Thank you for giving me the chance to clarify my point with the above statement. I always like to hear how others interpret my words.

      Introverts are highly stimulated internally. When I am handling conflict with my children it just adds to the stimulation I already have buzzing inside of me. Most days this is manageable. Some days it’s overwhelming. It’s like having circuits overloaded. I know all parents have to deal with children squabbling and needing attention. This is normal kid stuff. I can feel my brain getting fuzzy and my energy draining if I find myself in the midst of it for too long. I absolutely believe children should learn respect and consideration at home. I strive to do that but honestly I get worn out. I’m outnumbered.

      I am extremely in tune with the emotions and feelings of my children. While I consider this a positive trait it does at times drain me because I want to give deep attention to each of them. I have felt at times (ok many times) that I am spread too thin. Trying to give attention to each child (beyond sustenance) as well as my husband. I know we all feel that but I am going to say that introverts process these feelings and lose energy more readily than extroverts. In general, extroverts GET energy from interactions. Introverts lose energy from constant interaction and need time to recharge in solitude (low stimulation).

      I will say that as my kids get older and since there is less tension in the house (marriage ended but removed a dark cloud in the home) my children are more calm and so am I. I always tried to model calm but now it’s easier.

      I hope this helps. Thanks again for your inquiry.

      • Ditto. ditto. ditto. I also want to deeply relate to each of my 3 youngest children. One has autism, one ADHD, and one NT. All children are different, but mine are the Xgames version of different. I relate to everything you said. Well put and very true. Thank you!

      • I’m sending you much patience and energy. I’m sure your children feel your desire to connect with them meaningfully. How do you take care of yourself? I hope you take time to recharge. Everyone benefits from a renewed parent. Thank you for reading and responding.:)

      • Hi Bree,

        I have to admit, I’m still struggling to understand. I’m a mom too and I agree that parenting can often times be overwhelming, exhausting and thankless. But being an introvert really doesn’t have anything to do with it. And that reality of parenting isn’t any easier to deal with if you are an extrovert (and I know because I am one). But like my introverted husband says – its the hard times with your kids that bonds you to them.

        I read your post about “Giving Up” season, where you talk about, “crying in the shower, 4AM anxiety, a sense of being trapped, lifeless eyes and a buildup of clutter and broken things…..”honestly, those are VERY clear signs of depression, not being an overwhelmed introvert.

        I urge you to talk to a therapist who can definitely help you and show you how to find more joy in your life. I think you’ll be very glad you did :)

      • Hi Meredith M,
        I appreciate your questions about introverted and extraverted, and how it goes along with parenting. A first impression response (difficult for an introvert to do, bc I haven’t analysed all you said from every angle yet :p) is that we could be likened to nearsightedness vs farsightedness. We really do operate that differently. Do you know any introverted women? We are different than men. Does your husband stay home to raise your children? I’m curious bc it speaks to the output factor. I also agree with part of your comments. Life is about balance for all of us.

      • Hi Meridith,
        I first of all want to thank you for speaking up and asking how introversion affects parenting. This gives me the opportunity to really think about what message I want to put out in the world. I absolutely agree that parenting can be overwhelming and exhausting (and rewarding and marvelous) for both introverts and extroverts. I have friends/family on both sides of the fence. If my feelings resonate with any of the extrovert parents out there, yay, we’re all in this together. The main difference between the two temperaments is how we create and burn energy. Introverts recharge in solitude or low stimulation environments. It gives us time time analyze, process and make associations between the information and experiences we have gathered. Our brains literally process information differently (we put much more in long term memory – thus taking longer to retrieve hence our propensity to think before we speak rather than talk it out). As LEN mentioned in her comment, we like to analyze from every angle.This takes constant mental energy. Extroverts gain energy by interacting and feeding off of stimulation. Parenting involves a lot of stimulation and not a lot of downtime to recharge. We all need physical time to recharge and often don’t get it as parents. I am proposing that introverts have an especially hard time creating and maintaining mental and emotional energy when parenting is at its most challenging.

        This blog is devoted to the introvert’s perspective, seeing our traits as gifts and helping others understand what it means to be an introvert.

        The Giving Up Season post was written over a year ago. I just chose to publish it now. If you read all the way through the piece I did mention ways of moving through the frustration and overwhelm. I’ve learned over the years how to do that. I am familiar with the signs of depression. I would say I was depressed a couple of years ago at the end of my marriage. I did do a lot of crying in the shower then as well as have anxiety attacks at 4AM. The difference is that I felt hopeless then. There was no end in sight. I got out of the downward spiral by taking action, getting out of the negative marriage, seeing a therapist and finding a tribe of amazing friends who became a strong support system. Now I know I’ll have sleepless nights, worry, crying in the shower, etc. but it will pass. I have a writing/therapy group that I meet with regularly. I also am more accepting of my nature now.

        I hope this helps Meridith. I am not saying introverts should get a pass when it comes to dealing with parenting struggles. I’m merely giving my perspective and letting others know they are not alone if they have the same feelings and experiences.

  6. I relate to this. I’m an i ntrovert too and often all I want is a quiet life. Now I almost get too much of it – my teenager likes her internet more than she likes me! I think it’s ok – we weren’t designed to bring up kids on our own in an isolated house in a nuclear family. No wonder some mothers wonder ‘why am I not enjoying this!’.

    • I do believe community is key to a satisfying life. I most definitely need my quiet time to recharge but I always reach a point where I desire human connection as well. I’m trying to convince my kids that technology is not the same as companionship. I so want them to know how to communicate their feelings and thoughts in real live conversations.;)

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