A version of this story was originally published on Sept. 13, 2019. It has been updated.
I was once asked what I wished I'd known before having kids. “I wish I knew they would be on me for two years," I replied.
I love my children, but there were afternoons when my husband would be outside playing with our offspring; I'd hear them laughing through the window and he'd call out, “Honey, come play with us!" and instead of leaping out to join in the mutual adoration I'd just think, No, thank you.
This is an unpopular position for a loving mother to find herself in. Nonetheless, for some of us there are reasons why it's a challenging experience to have a small person attached to you semi-permanently. I knew I was an introvert, but I didn't know how much it would impact my parenting.
What does it mean to be an introvert?
Scientists are discovering that introverts take in more information from their surroundings and require solitude to process it. If introverts can't get peace and quiet to digest the influx of information, they risk feeling overwhelmed—which can be hard.
Introverts' brains also have a higher level of activity than others, they run “hotter." This means that introverts tend to limit input from their environment; they may seek to avoid crowds or high-adrenaline situations as their brains are already pretty well activated. So when you add an excitable child to a brain that requires solitude, it can be frustrating.
What an introvert parent looks like
The dichotomy that I found myself in, as an introvert with a baby, was that you were meant to achieve “baby bliss." The socially acceptable way to behave when you have a child is to spend lots of time with them, to play with them (and enjoy it), to have a messy, noisy house, and to miss your children terribly when they're away.
Introverts can struggle with the expectations of parenthood when they seem to go against their own basic needs as a person. However, these issues, as difficult as they may be, often aren't the most pressing for an introvert. Instead, guilt may be the biggest struggle. The way an introvert's brain works best goes directly against “good" parenting and culture. Introvert parents may question their relevance and worth as a parent, and are at heightened risk of anxiety and depression.
Being an introvert is a good thing
Since introverts absorb more information than extroverts, they may notice things that others miss. This can be incredibly valuable in raising children. Introverts may sense children's triggers, the tiny signals that indicate a switch in mood or an impending meltdown. They may pay more attention to the minutiae of kid's lives, those simple things that mean the most. These things make for high quality parenting, which is just as important as the quantity of time you spend with your child.
Introverts are aware of their own shortcomings—they are more critical of themselves than extraverts, and focus more on mistake than triumphs. When extraverts are shaking off a bad day and planning on making the next one extra good, introverts are flagellating themselves and feeling shame or guilt around their actions.
It's not all gloom though. Once they move on from the flagellation, introverts actually have a really good grasp on what's going on, even when it's not exactly great.
How you can be an awesome mama if you're an introvert
1. Find some structure
Even if you never follow it, having a structure in mind when you start the day can be less overwhelming than trying to figure out what to do when small people are running around the house yelling and naked.
2. Use headphones
Put your children in the stroller/carrier and go for a walk with headphones in. Even getting 20 minutes to yourself makes a difference, and pointing out the occasional butterfly on a walk makes small people happy, too.
3. Prioritize alone time
If you get a babysitter, or regular childcare, make sure you either drop off your kid or that the babysitter takes them out. Time alone to putter around an empty house and hear yourself think is vital. It's OK to not want to be around other people, and it's perfectly fine to limit social engagements or avoid crowded, busy environments. It's not selfish, it's self-care.
4. Discover quiet activities that work for your family
They exist! Reading books together can be replenishing, as well as some craft activities. Find the things that work for you and your children and invest time in those activities every day.
Seger-Guttmann T, Medler-Liraz H. The costs of hiding and faking emotions: The case of extraverts and introverts. The Journal of Psychology. 2016 Apr 2;150(3):342-57. doi:10.1080/00223980.2015.1052358