Thursday, August 8, 2013

Motherhood: The Introvert’s Challenge

Motherhood: The Introvert’s Challenge

(Click on title above to view this post on The Aquila Report where it was first published)

A few years ago, our family went on vacation with another family for a week. Perplexed, I watched my extroverted friend play one game after the next with her children, all day long. She kept saying things like, “I love my kids so much, I never get tired of spending time with them!” It was wonderful to see her experience so much joy with her kids and they were clearly having a great time with her…BUT I was feeling worse and worse about myself as the days went on. Was I a bad mother? Did I not love my kids as much as my friend loved hers? Why was it that I couldn’t muster up the energy to be more like her?  I started second-guessing myself and made myself miserable for the rest of the vacation.

The Tug

Motherhood is a challenge for every type of woman but I believe it is harder for the introvert. Why?  It is a 24/7 job with very little breaks or respite. Being around people generally drains the introvert of her energy. She naturally prefers the inner world of the mind. She is replenished and regains perspective on life and its problems by being alone with plenty of time to process quietly. Little people who have constant demands at all hours of the day and night pose a huge problem for the introverted mother. It is not that the introvert cannot enjoy being a mother, rather, that it is far easier for her to be sucked dry than for the extroverted person whose energy is replenished by being around people.
Being a mother to an infant was not hard for me because, though the physical demands were huge, the relationship with my baby consisted of a lot of care, affection and quiet times of nursing during which I could sit, think, pray, almost be alone.
As my baby started talking and 4 more little people entered my life in rapid succession, I started to feel the Tug. Non-stop people, extroverted kids who asked more questions than I thought was humanly possible, noise and chaos, mess and more mess, needs and more needs. All of this went against my quiet, peace-loving, introspective, ordered grain. I loved my children dearly, but I was often irritable, and often inwardly plotting ways to get away from them. I am guilty of spending more time in the bathroom than necessary, simply to get a few minutes of respite! I felt torn between my children’s need for me and my own need for being alone.

The Guilt

The Tug led to feelings of guilt. Why was it that I was feeling this constant urge to get away from my children if I loved them so much? Add to that the sincere Christian desire to live a life of self-sacrifice for the sake of the well-being of others and one has a recipe for burnout. The guilt led me into a vicious circle out of which I could never free myself. The harder I tried to work against my introverted nature to be the mom I thought my kids needed me to be, the more intense the feelings of “I need to get away” would become and the guiltier I would feel which would lead me to try even harder…you get the picture. As a Christian, I knew this could not be the way. It was trying in the flesh to change something I couldn’t change about myself.

The temptations
  • Trying to become something you’re not
The introverted mom will be tempted to try to live up to the standard the world has for the extroverted mom (which, by the way, is just as unrealistic for her): always giving, ever-entertaining, always pro-active, never waning in energy, always ready to talk, ever positive. The more you try, the more your failure will lead you either to pride or despair. Pride, thinking that you can do this formidable act in your own strength, even if it goes against every fiber of your being, or despair that you will never reach your standard which is, in the end, also a garden variety of pride.
  • Using natural tendencies as an excuse for sin
As a consequence to this despair, it is possible for the introverted mother to simply give up and go along with what feels most natural to her, giving in to her desires to be alone at the expense of others around her.  I must confess to having done this: using the TV as a babysitter one too many times, refusing to enter in to my kids’ conflicts out of sheer laziness, or telling them to just go away and not get in my hair, clearly communicating to them that they are a nuisance to me. Some other typical introvert sins, just to name a few,  are being grumpy and irritable when being around people, feeling resentful for having to help when it costs more time than planned, experiencing self-pity when one’s own needs aren’t being met. The list goes on…
  • Not finding any time for your husband
Another temptation is to neglect your husband.  Having spent all day and all of my energy giving to my children, I often have little mental, emotional or physical energy left to offer to my husband. I remember days where I had had my fill of interaction, physical affection and talking and the last thing I wanted was another person needing me and my affection in the evenings. My husband ended up getting the dregs of me and that wasn’t fair on him.
  • Not finding any time for God
Worst of all is the temptation to give all of our time and energy to our children at the expense of making a priority of spending time with God. Taking time away from my kids to commune with the Lord seemed like I was trying to get away from my kids once again, and this would play in to the feelings of guilt introverted moms often have. Because it is so easy to become depleted, introverted moms, especially, need protected time of silence, prayer, journaling, meditating and simply sitting doing nothing at the feet of Jesus. This is crucial in order to maintain spiritual vitality and draw the spiritual energy to face the challenges of a life full of demands, often beyond our limits. Only God can give that supernatural ability to love beyond what comes naturally, but it comes at a price: spending time in His presence. Introverted mothers need this and ought not to be made to feel guilty for requesting it. Husbands who want their introverted wives to thrive instead of wither must realize this and carve out time for them  so that they don’t need to feel guilty about spending time alone with God, as another “activity” that takes them away from their children and people in general.

The solution: Recognize your weaknesses and remember the Gospel 

There is no quick and easy solution to the introvert’s challenge in motherhood. But the main thing is learning to accept that God really is sovereign. Knowing God is sovereign, means that you can accept and embrace the way God made you. You do not have to become an extrovert to please God or love people well. He thought making you an introvert was the best thing for you and those around you. It was freeing for me to ponder the truth that God made me to be the right mother for my children and that my children are the right children for me, because God foreordained them to be a part of my life. The Gospel frees me to embrace who I am while not using my weaknesses as excuses for laziness. God’s Spirit will use me, introversion and all. My identity in Christ has got to be the foundation upon which I build my personal identity, regardless of introversion or extroversion. He has promised to perfect me, yes, even use my weaknesses in His service. That helps me relax, accept myself while not giving in to my natural sins and expect change as the Holy Spirit works in me, through all circumstances.  Sure, there will be challenges, but that is how God intends to grow me and make me more conformed to His image.  You will be stretched to your limits. Every time you fail or sin against your husband and children in your introverted way, is an opportunity for you to receive grace from God and to live out the gospel: repent, ask for your family’s forgiveness and let the Holy Spirit transform you. It is a hard but beautiful process to which your kids are privy. It is the story of redemption playing out before them.

Some practical things you can do:
  • Teach your kids to respect who you are. Children need to learn how to love and respect their parents just as parents are committed to loving their kids. I often find myself telling my kids, “the best way you can love me right now is letting me have some time alone.” This is obviously harder to do with very young children, but even toddlers can learn this. I want them to know me and my limits. This will teach them to respect other people someday too, such as friends, teachers and future spouses.
  • Build quiet time into the framework of your day. For babies, I called it “book time,” a time in which I put my babies in their crib with a few toys and books and left them alone for a set amount of time. Older children can read in their rooms and the time can be stretched to an hour or so. It is good for children to learn to be alone and build a basis for future quiet times with God.
  • Send kids outside to play and be loud, if feasible. Being out in nature is refreshing and soothing for kids and they can run around, using up some of that energy that drives you crazy when it is let out inside.
  • Introduce quiet, alone play time (building legos, drawing, puzzles, etc.). This fosters creativity and independence in kids.
  • Spend deliberate focused times of play with your child, alternating with unorganized, independent play. You do not have to be your child’s constant entertainer but kids also need to have some undivided attention to feel loved.
  • Maximize alone time. If you need a half an hour for devotions and a half an hour for exercise, how about combining the two in a run with a sermon or worship music? Or go grocery shopping when your husband is at home so you can go alone?
Play on your strengths

As an introverted mother, there are things that you can do with excellence to love your children. The more you do this, the more you will feel like you are loving them well and the less you will feel like motherhood is going against your natural grain.
  • Keep a journal for your child: write up the funny things they said, their spiritual development, your thoughts and impressions about them and give it to them when they leave the house. This gift will be invaluable to them as they see God’s hand at work in their lives all through their childhood
  • Write them a letter of encouragement
  • Go on dates with each child, as introverts tend to do much better in one-on-one settings
  • Love with -but also without words: use quiet moments like watching a movie to cuddle, give a back rub, simply be together without the strain of having to talk all the time
  • Explore the realm of ideas with your children (through good books, audio books, videos etc)
  • Pray for your children!
  • Remember to share what you are thinking! I often catch myself thinking good thoughts, but it doesn’t occur to me to share the realm of my mind with my kids. I have to stretch myself to do this, but my kids need to see my heart and what is driving me. Share what God is teaching you and doing in your life!