You know what makes me feel guilty these days? The fact that I don’t enjoy hanging out with my family more. Of course we have fun. Of course I love them. And yes, I realize that these are precious years I should appreciate to the fullest. (Why do you think I feel guilty?)
But a fundamental aspect of my personality makes it tough, sometimes, to feel like I’m giving my family my best. I’m an introvert.
I don’t hate people. I’m not agoraphobic or shy. I’m what some would call a social introvert. I enjoy the company of others, and I’m not excessively awkward in social settings—at least not that I’m aware of. The best definition I’ve found for my kind of introversion is that I’m energized by being alone. It’s like I’ve got a tank of available go-juice every day, and being around people requires me to expend more of it than another, less-introverted person might need. So by the time I’ve done my thing with clients and co-workers, tended to my children, touched base with their teachers, and caught up with my husband at the end of the day, I don’t have a lot left in me. In fact, I often feel pretty irritable.
Of course everyone needs alone time. But I’m amazed how little alone time some of my friends and fellow parents appear to require. They’ve got infinite patience for a seemingly infinite number of kid activities, and they’re still up for partying all night with other grown-ups on top of a weekend’s worth of other commitments. Sometimes I feel like I’m limping along, trying to keep up.
Before I had kids, introverted me could come home and watch TV or read a book in complete solitude if I wanted. Even with a spouse, it was easy to go in the other room to decompress and refuel.
Having children means having other people around you pretty much all the time. Even weekends can be trying, sometimes even worse, because I’m running an energy deficit just when it’s time for family fun.
And you know what? That’s my problem. I recognize it.
Kids shouldn’t have to care if you’re scraping the bottom of your barrel of patience. Children deserve fully engaged parents. They need someone to clean up the puke at 10 p.m. or listen when they’ve had a no good horrible very bad day. They enjoy having fun with Mom, not just doing homework together or looking at the back of a head while they’re being driven to school. It doesn’t matter if everything inside me is screaming to curl up with my computer and surf the Internet. I’m their mother. I want to be there for them so they feel secure and as loved as they truly are.
So I’ve developed a few strategies for managing my introversion, and for getting over the guilt when I’ve reached the bottom of my tank. I’m not always successful, but it helps to remember these things.
I try to get alone time. Whether I have to sneak away to a coffee shop or negotiate it with my husband, I grab solitude where I can find it.
I try to be mindful where I spend my social energy. I don’t advocate acting like a bitch to anyone, but if I’m being super sweet to the clerk at Home Depot and then snapping at my children, I know I need to re-set my priorities.
I try to be aware of when my tank is almost empty. That way I can tell the difference between a truly irritating situation and one where I’m just being irritable.
I let my family know I have limits. Like most moms, I take on more than I should. But I’m working on asking my children to do more for themselves, and having my husband take more responsibilities, so I’m not solely in charge of the cooking, cleaning and family calendar.
I push myself beyond where I think my limits are. Often it’s tempting to turn down invitations, stay in and hibernate. But most of the time, I find that I feel better if I actually do get out. Especially if it’s with other women.
I try to forgive myself. Sometimes I’ve just had it. I’m done, and I’m probably not much fun to be around. Times like those, I apologize if it’s needed, and then I give myself a do-over. Because when I tally up all the time that I spend with my family, there are more wonderful times than not-wonderful ones. And the fact that I’m making an effort counts. Or at least I like to think so.
Other working mom introverts, how do you juggle your need to be alone with the needs of family and co-workers? And how do you get over the guilt when the juggling doesn’t go as well as you’d like? Share your tips!