Tuesday, September 10, 2019

On raising children as an introvert

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Before I had my first child 12 years ago, I worried about how I would balance my need for quiet alone time with the care of a baby. I have my skepticism toward those personality tests that purport to tell you who you are for all time, but I will say that every time I've taken one, the slider is always the full way over toward introversion. There are few people I feel wholly comfortable around, people I can sit in a room with and feel my batteries recharging rather than draining. By the time I had Mikko, I was down to one: my husband. How would a child fit into this system?

As it turns out, things were fine — for a while. Babies don't require a lot of back-and-forth. You can still have your thoughts while cooing their direction, nursing in long moments of stillness, changing diapers and giving baths.

It's more once they talk that you have to weigh how your conversational styles mesh. Do they enjoy long pauses? What toddler or preschooler does? Do they need time away from YOU? Very few little kids would voluntarily choose so.

That said, at first it was just the one child and two parents, and we could spot each other. I could go for walks, or Sam could ensconce himself to write, trading off childcare.

Then we had two kids, and now we were evenly matched. But two kids still felt manageable. Mostly.

Alrik talked earlier than Mikko and enjoyed it even more. He took over as our family chatterbox, and yet I persisted.

When Karsten was born, trading off childcare and work and downtime became more of a puzzle. Three to one felt like a lot for a while, but we got used to it.

But here's where I'm at now, and I'm struggling: Mikko is 12, Alrik is 8, and Karsten is 4. Everyone is verbal, and how. We homeschool and work from home, so we're nearly always together. Everyone needs attention, with three cups that need a lot of filling. Two of my children have been struggling with mental health issues, as have I, so there's no leaving them to their own devices. Sam and I need to be hands-on, pretty much all day long.

This is right. This is fine. This is what our children need of us, and it's our job to provide that, and I choose it willingly.

But. But.

Sometimes I feel like I'm stifling. Sometimes I feel the need to get away like a physical ache, like a buildup of pressure in my chest that gives me little attention to devote to anything else.

I suggest The Quiet Game. I say we're going to listen to music for a while. I lock the bathroom door and sit on the pot for twenty minutes. I hide. I hide! From my own children, I hide. Only when I know they're safe and can locate another adult besides me, but yes.

I wanted to write an article about this topic for a long time, but I wanted it to be cheery and helpful, with simple advice about how to refill your own cup while keeping your children's brimming. But after spending the past year in a crippling blend of anxiety, depression, and, let's be honest, a midlife crisis, where I couldn't write or dance or find any way out of my own day-to-day, where I'd say I was just going through the motions, but sometimes not even that — I have no wisdom to dispense. Just my story, just empathy if you, too, struggle with this balance.

On the brighter side, I do feel like this is a phase. Things have been easier before, and likely will be again. These are particularly needy ages and moments for my kids, and I honor that. Sam and the kids and I still do want to continue homeschooling, something I check in with regularly. I don't think school plus an out-of-house job would magically make everything better for us, or me, given that two of our children have severe separation anxiety, and one also has other challenges that would make classroom life overwhelming. We can't afford outside help at the moment, such as a mother's helper or babysitter, so Sam and I have to continue tag-teaming.

For now, I'll continue stealing my moments: a walk without a tagalong, a rare errand by my lonesome, staying up far too late just because it's finally — so — quiet, the times my youngest falls asleep in the car and we sit in the parking lot while everyone else goes inside.

Let me know your balance and how you manage being "on" for your kids with the time you need off on your own.



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