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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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