A few months ago, a friend of mine was sharing her introvert guilt, explaining that she hates events at her daughter’s school where she has to make small talk. I told her I sympathize because I am an introvert, too. She responded with, “I figured you were. You spend every day with imaginary worlds and people.”
I laughed at how right she was. As a full-time writer, I’m typing or researching for six or seven hours a day, with only my iTunes playlists for company. It’s a solitary job, but that’s never bothered me. I give speeches and author talks, mingle at and throw parties, but those activities leave me drained and craving decompression. I’m the sort of person who finds solitude restorative and necessary, who would forgo that party in favor of a cozy fire, a good book or a long, intimate chat with a best friend. I would happily take this quiet universe as my norm, except for one thing. I’m the mother of three young children.
I’ve learned certain truths about how introversion affects my “mom personality.” I will never be a PTA president, or that mom who is such a frequent volunteer at the school that she should be put on the payroll. I am happier dropping my kids off at parties than staying to chat with other moms. I will gladly read books aloud in my children’s classes, or teach workshops, but the idea of standing up to argue a point before the school board makes my heart race. I’m comfortable with these truths, but there are others that I have yet to make peace with.
While I work, I miss my children. I look forward to seeing them at the end of the day, but transitioning from the peace of my work to the chaos of my boisterous kiddos isn’t always easy. I liken it to the way the space shuttle might respond on reentering the atmosphere. There is the infinite silence of space, and then … I’m a fireball hurtling toward Earth. Calm is shattered by laughter, tears, screeching, running and general bedlam of every kind. I love it, for a time, and start out feeling well-equipped and refreshed enough to deal with it. Yet, inevitably, in the harried hours of the afternoon when homework, dinnertime, piano, baseball and playtime converge, I falter in patience and energy. The hundredth time I hear “MOM!!!” screamed in chorus, my pulse is pounding, my temper flaring, my tranquility trampled into exhaustion.
Rather than letting the deluge of stimuli overwhelm me, I try to prepare for it. I wake well before my children each day. Exercising and getting dressed before I have to start their morning routine lets me soak up the stillness before the storm. This way, I keep some of my introvert “energy” on reserve so I can draw from it later. Before I pick up my kids from school, I mentally refocus, pulling myself out of work and into the moment when I’ll see their smiling faces in the school hallway. If I’m still dwelling on my work, I’m much more likely to be distracted, instead of mentally present.
I guide my children into introvert-friendly activities we can all enjoy and benefit from. I love creative projects, and we can spend hours working with art supplies. We take long walks, going on bug hunts, or, after a rainfall, on worm-rescue missions. We channel energy into singing and dancing around the kitchen, or the kids ride bikes in our driveway or play on the swing set while I watch. I don’t always have to be in the middle of their play. It’s enough for them to have my presence as I watch and relish how they interact with each other. We build cushion and chair forts in our family room, play board games and read for hours at a stretch, cuddling under blankets on the couch or in their beds. If I intersperse these quieter activities with the wilder ones, I’m a calmer, happier, more willing and giving mother.
It’s important for me to remember, though, that my children’s social needs aren’t the same as mine. Two of my children tend toward introversion, but the third is an extrovert. Our son Aidan spends so much time talking during family meals that we have to remind him to eat. At bedtime, he’d rather be hanging out in his brother’s or sister’s room than alone in his. He thrives on social contact, and I have to make an effort to provide it for him through play dates and other interactions with friends. There has to be a balance between our introverted and extroverted activities as a family. The restorative moments of quiet I take help bolster my energy so I can achieve that balance. Those moments keep me from being incinerated in the chaos of reentry.
Today, I vow to make peace with myself, to let go of any guilt over being an introverted mom. I may not be the most visible mom at school, or the most verbal, but I’m present in other ways. I hope that I’m teaching my children that there’s value in stillness and comfort in quiet and solitude.
One morning last fall, my children woke before dawn. It was chilly, the air flirting with winter, but we bundled up and slipped outside. Sipping hot chocolate brimming with marshmallows, we cuddled on our porch and watched the sunrise. As it broke through the trees in golds and roses, my daughter kissed me and whispered, “Thank you for this, Mama.”
It was a great moment, the sort that makes my doubt vanish, revives my confidence and makes me believe that I’m doing right by my children. I smiled, because it’s those unexpected delights — a sunrise, birdsong, sweet chocolate on our tongues — those moments of reflection and awe that I hope my children discover. In that way, perhaps, my introversion is also a gift to them.
Suzanne Nelson is the author of “Serendipity’s Footsteps,” “Cake Pop Crush” and many other novels for middle grade and young adult readers. A former editor, Suzanne worked for Scholastic, Penguin Books for Young Readers and Holiday House. She tweets @snelsonbooks.
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