Friday, July 20, 2012

Introversion and Motherhood

I have been reading a book called Introverts in the Church, which has proved to be both interesting and infuriating at the same time. Some books are just like that, you know?  And you want to stop reading them because they are so exasperating, but then a good paragraph or two will show up so you keep reading.  Then, if you are me, you keep reading despite the weirdness because you want to give an accurate analysis to all of millions of readers devoted friends and family who read your blog.  Also, if you are me, you keep reading because then you can rant to your husband about all of the ridiculousness contained therein...and watch him get that silly, "There goes Amelia again" look on his face (which I find rather adorable because I want to be known for my ability to Discuss Things).

Yes, I'm reading Introverts in the Church and I want to write up a few of my thoughts on the subject, BUT I can't find the book.  It has disappeared.  I don't know if the dog ingested it or Harriet buried it in the garden or what.  It's not readily available at the moment, so you're going to have to wait for my rants.  Sorry.

This does not mean that you escape (should you choose to read on) a discussion of how my recent foray into the understanding of introversion has helped me.  Consider this: I have been helping Bug and Eleanor work on their 4-H sewing projects every weekday afternoon.  This is all fine and dandy while the little kids are napping, but as soon as they wake up my attention becomes split into about fifty different directions: Harriet needs a snack, Margaret messed up the zipper (again), Eleanor is asking why the machine isn't sewing, and Edmund is whining for who-knows-what-reason.  Add the general noise and chaos of the Young Heathens who have come to spend the night and you'll find me in the bathroom behind the shower curtain wishing for some kind of child tranquilizers...or Mary Poppins snapping fingers, at least.

Before I read my books on introversion the above situation would have led to the following conclusions:
  1. I hate sewing
  2. I hate teaching people how to sew
  3. I hate small children
  4. I hate noise
  5. I hate having to keep calm when all I want to do is run and scream
  6. I hate the idea of ever having more than two children
  7. I hate myself for thinking such horrible things
Granted, these are strong statements, but they represent the total frazzled nature of my brain.  And I'll admit to thinking some of these thoughts yesterday before the what-I've-learned-about-introverts kicked into my thought gears.  Here's what I remembered:
  1. Introverts don't like being interrupted during a task. They like to knuckle down to a task with a great deal of focus and get the job DONE, for Pete's sake.  This is why I am perfectly willing/able/very happy to teach the girls how to sew when we can do it without interruptions and when we can really devote a period of time to the projects.  Therefore, it's not the sewing or the teaching process that fries my nerves, it's the constant interruptions associated with having two very small children.
  2. Noise, confusion, and activity zap introverts' energy levels.  While extroverts get energized from loud and rambunctious environments, introverts have the exact opposite experience.  So when my house is filled to bursting with active children and the noise is being bounced around the 512 square foot living space, no wonder I want to run and hide.  It's not that I dislike children...I just have my energy zapped from having to deal with the noise and activity level associated with lots of kids.  This is a vicious cycle because the less control I maintain, the more chaotic it gets, and the more my energy plummets.  
  3. Being an introvert is the way God made me.  I don't have to hate myself for having limits to my personality.  I can learn more about what makes me tick...and figure out ways in which God is stretching me and sanctifying the sinful aspects of my personality (such as my idolization of Aloneness)...but I don't have to impose my inability to tolerate long sessions of noise into "I will never have any more children."  Or "I am a horrible hateful person."
All of this led me to wonder: Okay, so I do want more kids and I do want to enjoy parenting them in spite of the noise and interruptions.  How do I live as an introvert and a mother without losing my mind?  Millions of other women have done it. Where's the manual?  What's the trick?  (Besides either a) sending the little monsters to school or b) buying a Victorian mansion with separate rooms for everyone.)

When I read Quiet and Introverts in the Church, certain "helps" stood out to me: things like creating a quiet time and setting limits for extroverted interactions/expectations.  I started to think about how I could apply those "helps" specifically to my role as a mommy to two very little kids.  Of course, my tendency is to say, "Hey, if I can't have three hours of absolute silence every day, I'm just throwing in the towel."  However, I really want to make this work, for my own sanity and for positive relationships with my children.  Here are my ideas:
  • Mandate a daily quiet time.  This is hard-ish now, since Harriet's naps are inconsistent.  But I do make sure that when Edmund takes his afternoon nap, Harriet is either asleep or watching a movie that she really likes.  Then I completely forget about the dishes and housework, and I read my Bible, another book, or work on a portable craft project.  Yes, my mothering responsibilities are still there, but at least they are subdued for a half hour or so.  As the kids get older (and we either remodel or buy a bigger home) I want Quiet Time to be part of our daily routine. It only helps everyone.
  • Make quiet opportunities.  This week I have been noticing that most of my undesirable chores are really perfect quiet "escape" moments.  Washing the dishes allows me to keep an eye on H and E, while also engaging in some introspective thought time.  Hanging the clothes out on the line is strangely relaxing when I know that Harriet can wander about the yard (and E can sit in the Bumbo and stare at Nature) and I can have a few moments of quiet with just me and the laundry.  It's really great!
  • Exercise regularly.  I can't have the kids hanging on me when I exercise, be it at Jazzercise or when I go running.  Both activities force me to stop, leave the children with reliable babysitters, and zone out while I burn the calories.  For me, exercising is more than keeping in shape.  It's a chance to accomplish a task without interruption, be temporarily devoid of responsibility of small folk, and have the opportunity to think about abstract ideas.  I used to think that exercising was a waste of time.  Not anymore!
  • Stop trying to be the extroverted mother.  I have a really hard time not participating with everything that my kids are doing.  I want to be a "good mom" by always engaging Harriet in conversation, always playing with her, always singing and dancing along to the Wiggles.  But guess what?  She can learn to play alone sometimes without compromising our fabulous relationship.  She can foster her own quiet side by thinking her own thoughts without my running commentary.
  • Keep one household area clean and tidy.  Just like noise and confusion zap my energy, cluttered spaces drive me to utter distraction.  Any mother of a two-year-old knows that you can't spend the entire day picking up after the child, so I've designated one spot that I'm going to keep clear for my sanity's sake.  
  • Request a regular break time.  I haven't implemented this idea yet, but I think it will work better when Steve has his four days on/off schedule.  I want to request an hour or so (after situating the kids happily with their father) to Leave The House, go get a coffee, and sit in some quiet place like the library or something.  This could be every other week, or so, but I want to make it a regular re-charge session.  
When I look back on these ideas, I think, "Wow, Amelia, aren't you being selfish...demanding all of these quiet things?"  The truth is, Nope, I'm not.  I have a feeling that when I am taking care of my needs for quiet, I will be able to meet the needs of my kids better.  When I'm developing quiet moments into my routine, I'll be able to handle the loud and chaotic days.  And when I can't have those quiet times, I can trust that God knows exactly what he did when he made me...and instead of feeling guilty for not ramping up my noise tolerance, I can trust him for grace to deal with the situation with love and strength.

So what are your ideas?  How do you/would you integrate your introverted personality with the oft-times loud and crazy role of motherhood?