Thursday, August 26, 2010

Taking Back My Own Mind

Recently, Amy Welborn Dubruiel posted about what it means to be an introvert. (Hat tip to Melanie Bettinelli via Facebook.) Amy said

To be an introvert can mean any variety of solitude-seeking qualities, but in current pop-psychology (and perhaps real psychology) terms, it has most of all to do with your source of mental and emotional energy.  An extrovert’s energy comes from being around and interacting with others.   An introvert gets recharged by being alone.

I have always considered myself to be an introvert, but I hadn't put together the connection between that desire for solitude and a person's source of mental and emotional energy. I had never connected the need for solitude and my need for peace of mind, serenity, and, indeed, energy. I had just thought of it as a matter of preference and comfort. 

My husband, I remember before we were married, would always ask me what I was thinking because he knew I was always thinking about something. He would even tease me about it. I was always meditating or reflecting on something or other. 

Then I had children. 

And my opportunities for quiet personal reflection and meditation dwindled. Significantly. Almost completely. I couldn't get through reading a chapter or resting 10 minutes without requests for help with socks, or more water, or needing to change a tushie, or something. Always something. And that is simply the nature of small children.

But for over two years now, I've felt somehow drained. I've felt stretched and thin, like butter scraped across too much bread. (Lord of the Rings just came to mind.) I tried to find something non-exertive for myself to get some rest even during the day while the girls were awake. From Farmville to Kakuru to Facebook ... something that gave me a "break" without requiring much effort on my part. But I still felt drained. They are fun but do not meet my need to recharge.

So I was particularly interested when I read Amy's reflection on the needs of the introvert for alone time to recharge. I don't get much if any "alone" time. Most of my showers don't even fall in the "alone time" category. Felicity doesn't even usually nap anymore, and my girls like to get up at the crack of dawn. So from 6am until 7:30pm, I always have at least one, occasionally two and usually three little girls to look after.

And while they do sometimes play on their own or with each other, Cecilia is about as extrovert as a child can get and wants attention from as many people as possible as often as possible. People with whom to interact make her happy, make her feel alive. And she has the energy for it. Anyone who is at our house is there, as far as she is concerned, to play with her and she will give them a workout. Seriously, if you need exercise or want to exhaust your kids, come on over. She will keep them hopping, running, crawling, skipping, bouncing, building, destroying, dragging, pushing, pulling, jumping, chasing, following, and any other ing you can think of until she is red in the face and they can cancel their membership at the gym or are ready for bed. So it is difficult for her four-year-old interaction-craving nature to understand why I want to just sit and read or rest and think.

Certainly, there is some time after the girls are in bed, but, especially while I am pregnant, I can be too tired by then to exercise my brain much. Certainly my brain isn't devoid of all thought, but I know I used to think a heck of a lot more than I do now. So I am wondering if, for my own sanity and the recovering of my own mind, I should make some time each day when I simply tell Cecilia that it is "Mommy's Quiet Time" and insist she play on her own. Of course, with small children the only thing predictable about life is its unpredictability, so it won't be perfect, but maybe having a structured "Mommy Time" might help me recharge.

Do you have structured "Mommy time?" How do your kids (and husband) handle it?


  1. Katherine,

    I am very militant about guarding my quiet time. When Bella started giving up her nap, I would tell her: "You don't have to sleep; but mommy needs quiet time. You can play outside or you can sit quietly and read. But no talking to me unless she's hurt or really needs something. She tests the boundaries and sometimes asks me to read to her or she forgets and starts to play and sing and such and I calmly remind her that she needs to be quiet so that Ben and Sophie can sleep and so that I can have my rest.

    I'd always thought Bella was an extrovert; but recently we've begun to second guess that. The days when we go out in the morning and interact with other people seem to be the days she's most likely to need an afternoon nap. I'm starting to wonder if she isn't just a very social introvert because she does seem to be drained by extended social interaction.

    Sophie on the other hand seems to get wound up on those days. I suspect she's really my extrovert.But I've been lucky because she's always looked to Bella to entertain her. She's really only super needy towards me when she wakes up while Bella is still sleeping. Then she seems terribly out of sorts until Bella wakes up.

    I agree with your assessment of feeling thin and worn out, exactly like too much butter on too little bread. Still, I do see that I'm lucky that all of my children are very good at entertaining themselves and do not demand that I amuse them. Perhaps because I simply refused to do so from the time when they were very little. Oh I didn't negelect them and I certainly spend time every day playing with them; but even when Bella was a baby she spent a certain amount of time on the floor playing by herself while I read and had "me time".

    Oh and can I say 4 days in a row of rain certainly were an even greater drain than usual. No outside time for the kids means less quiet time than usual for me. I am so dreading winter.

  2. Melanie,

    Thanks for responding. I thought you would have some input. We do have quiet time but it is a real struggle, particularly for Cecilia. And, in fairness, I don't always use it the best way possible. So I think I need to enforce it more as well as use it more wisely.

    I have encouraged, particularly Cecilia since Felicity took to it on her own more, playing by one's self, but Cecilia doesn't do it often. Those moments when they do play on their own are like a breath of fresh mountain air and I feel like I'm in a picture book. I don't think I encouraged Cecilia to play on her own enough when she was little and, given her personality, she probably needed more than some children would, but I don't know if I could have known that then.

    I've also wondered if having too many toys out could contribute to their feeling of needing an adult to play with them. Could they feel overwhelmed by the volume of toys that they feel they need help? I've been wanting to de-clutter the playroom but 2 outages and now a first trimester have seriously slowed any de-cluttering plans I had.

    That is interesting how perhaps Bella and Sophie are the opposite of what you thought. It is always interesting to see their personalities unfold and see how they behave as they become more confident.

    That is a lot of rain but after the 100 degree days, the earthquake, the hail, and the outages, I am SO ready to bid summer goodbye! But I know what you mean about winter. Hopefully the kids can play outside a fair amount this winter.

  3. Katherine,
    You are preaching to the choir. About 2 years ago or so, Danielle Bean also posted that she is an introverted mother of extroverted children. I was in shock, but I totally got where she was coming from. I need my quiet time. I honestly cannot read unless I'm in the bathroom. I am in awe of extroverted mothers who draw their energy from the constant interaction with their children. In fact, if I allow myself to compare myself with them, I find I always paint myself as a bad mother instead of just a different one. I am trying to strike that balance as I start on this journey of stay-at-home-mommyhood. I do not relish my "away" time at work on weekends (which I have to do to keep our house afloat financially) because it requires that I deal with adults (many of whom behave like children). Offering up a prayer for all of us moms who are introverts for the Blessed Mother's intercession to help us find balance!

  4. Katherine,

    I feel for you. The first trimester is absolutely the worst time to try to get any big projects like decluttering done.

    The only big project I've completed was our reorganization of the girls' room, which I suppose I should now call the kids' room since we're trying to get Ben to sleep in there now. That only happened because it absolutely had to when we got the new beds and shelves. I've still got bins of clothes I took out of there sitting around in the living room waiting to be sorted. I have no motivation to get to them, though.

    I did find that the new shelves helped so much with feeling in control of the mess. Now everything has it's place and Sophie and Bella are a little better at getting things back where they belong. Also I put some toys up in the closet and on the top shelves, especially those toys which have lots of little pieces that are easily scattered, things have been a little easier. Now in order to play with the messier toys, they have to ask for help. It means those toys get played with less; but it does really help with the clutter. At least I feel like I have a better handle on getting things picked up at the end of the day.

    Interesting theory that it might also help with independent play. Let me know if it works. (When you finally get the energy to tackle it.) I don't know if it might be in your budget to get new shelves or cabinets for toy storage, but that did give me that little boost.

    It does sound like your Cecilia is a handful. Some kids are just more like that than others. I wonder if she might do well if you reserved a few activities for her to do that were special for quiet time.

    Have you heard about workboxes? I read a bunch of blog posts about them a while back and it seems like they were being recommended for children who have hard time being self-directed. Basically, you set up a whole series of activities to be worked through, putting each in a separate box or bag. You can change them up every day, rotating through a bunch of different activities, for variety and to keep it always fresh. Here are some links to give you some ideas of how they work: