An Introvert's Guide to Stay at Home Mothering

Perhaps this will be surprising in light of all my posts about traveling the world and throwing parties big and small, but I am an introvert. Totally. (Or maybe you saw this, so you already knew.)

I'm not shy and I do enjoy interacting with people, but I don't find it invigorating. I find it taxing. So when I need to spend a lot of time around others, especially making conversation, especially-especially making conversation with strangers, I need to find some way to get away from it all and recharge my batteries.

Many aspects of life present unique challenges to the introvert: talking to new people, answering the telephone, eye contact . . . the transition from "regular" life to stay-at-home-motherhood is going to be a big change no matter what type of person you are. But, as an introvert, I found the thought of some aspects of it to be particularly daunting.

Some things I was right to worry about, but other things have been wonderful in ways I never could have imagined. Here's what I've learned about introverted mothering:

1. You don't have to leave the house, but you should anyway.

Before I had a baby, I had a regular job. I had to get dressed and leave the house and interact with the people. Some days it was great, some days it was hard, but all days it got done. Then, all of a sudden, I was a stay at home mom. It was right there in the name, I could STAY - AT - HOME.

But, for me, it was a terrible idea to really do it. Staying home all day in my jammies made me feel icky and disconnected from the world.

Making sure I got myself and my baby dressed and out of the house -- every day -- even if it was just to run an errand or go for a walk, made a huge difference in my general outlook.

2. Moms groups are hard at first, but they get easier.

We moved from the San Francisco-area to Chicago to Los Angeles while I was having my first three kids, and it was a big challenge to start over in each new place. I had to give myself a whole year to figure out how to get places (I have a BAD sense of direction) and make new friends.

I was always really intimidated by the idea of meeting new people, especially in groups. But I also found that that was by far the best way to do it.
Catholic moms' groups were my saving grace. They were full of really nice women and plenty of kids for my kids to play with. And I found that it was easier for me to interact with a group of moms than one on one at a play date. I could leave when I needed to without that meaning that playtime was over for everyone. And, somehow, eventually, I found so many similarities with the moms I have met in various devout Catholic groups over the years that I feel very little of the discomfort that I used to feel even when meeting a new group for the first time.
Our Rosary Group and Homeschool Group both meet at a park, which also makes it easy to bring a book or some needle-work along with me. The kids get to play, I get to visit with my friends, but if I need to take a break from conversation, I can read or embroider without it seeming like I'm sitting in someone's house shunning their company.
And most importantly, the families I have met in these groups have really been a positive influence on my parenting philosophies and my faith journey. It makes a difference to my comfort level that we actually do agree on the most fundamental issues. I'm happy to have friends from all different walks of life and I'm happy to have discussions with friends about issues. But it is nice to have a safe-haven of people that I know have the same core beliefs and goals for our children. As a young mom, I was just not comfortable feeling like I had to defend my faith against heretics just so my kids could play with some friends.

Honestly, I think I'm probably equipped to handle that (pleasantly) now, but I wasn't then. And no matter what, it isn't as relaxing.

3. You should try to have enough children that you never have to sit through play dates.
As much as I (mostly) enjoy moms groups, I still sometimes struggle with individual play dates. It's a challenge to feel like I have to entertain and converse with and make eye contact with one mom for many hours at a time.

I've found that the best remedy for this is just to have enough kids of my own that they can play with each other and I don't have to worry about finding outside people for them to play with.
But, barring that, I've found some other things that help. I try to have people over to our house, instead of going to their houses. At my own house I feel like I can excuse myself for a few minutes to tend to the baby or do something in the kitchen and have a moment to recharge. I also like going to the beach or a park where we'll sit next to each other facing the ocean or the playground rather than just sitting there looking at each other in a quiet living room. Awkward silences just can't exist next to the thrum of the ocean waves or the shrieks and giggles of a park. And I prefer to have two or three moms over at a time, rather than just one. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if there are more of them, they can talk to each other as well as me and I feel less pressure to personally keep the conversation going.

And this is another area in which I've made a lot of progress. Any of you who follow my blog (or Bonnie's) know that I just recently had a play date/blogger meet-up that broke all my rules and was all kinds of fun.

4. You CAN find time to be alone each day. And you should.
I am a stickler about nap time. I do not schedule classes or activities or events during nap time. Even special occasions only rarely interfere with nap time around here.
oh nap time, how I do love you
This is partially because I believe my young children really are generally much more pleasant when they have napped, and partially because it's the perfect excuse to always be home for some personal quiet time in the afternoon.
I make sure that all my little ones will nap at the same time, which means I put the toddler(s) down first, then the baby, so that I don't end up with a baby who wakes up just as I've finished nap time routines with toddlers. Older kids finish schoolwork, or read, or do an art project -- something they can do quietly and unsupervised. Kids who can't be trusted to handle that get put down for naps no matter how old they are.
I go to my room and shut the door (newborns get to come with me) and nap or pray or read or watch something on Netflix. Usually it's a combination of those things. I am a much more pleasant and effective mother for it.
I also have a husband who makes it possible for me to go for a run and say a Rosary and get to daily Mass almost every morning, which really sets a good tone for the day.

5. You do not have to say "yes" to all the things your kids ask you to do with them. But you should say "yes" to some of the things.
Because I almost always get some time to myself in the mornings and afternoons, I am better able to demand more of myself during the rest of the day.
Now that I have school-aged kids, I have learned that I need to sit with them at all times while they are doing their schoolwork. If I wander off to do my own things (even if those things are the dishes), schoolwork doesn't get done and there is lots of yelling. No one likes that. But since I have my early-morning to charge me up and my afternoon to look forward to, I really can focus all my attention on my kids during those most important hours.
With my younger kids, I have an unofficial and top-secret policy of saying "yes" to at least one thing they ask me to do with them during the day. Especially when I had only little ones, they mostly looked to me to entertain them. Sitting on the floor and playing trains isn't something that I am naturally interested in doing, and it's important to me that my kids learn to entertain themselves or engage with their siblings, but I also don't want to be a mom who is always saying "no" to things like that.
So, I make every effort to say "yes" to some requests, even though I still say "no" to a lot of them. And since I prefer reading books or playing board games to more open-ended things like tea parties or playing in the sandbox, I try to jump on it if they happen to ask for one of those.
With little ones, I also try to be mindful of including them on things I already need to do, that they could help with. My four-year-old loves to help fold laundry and my five-year-old loves to help in the kitchen. If we've done those things together, they don't mind if I spend some time on my own with blogs or emails or Facebook.

6. You are going to have to make some phone calls. Just do it. It'll be okay.

Motherhood does often require me to get outside my comfort zone. I have to make phone calls, I have to volunteer for activities, I have to help with sports teams and the homeschool group. I have to do play dates.

And I survive. I thrive even. I am much better at doing those things now than I was a few years ago. Introversion isn't something that can (or needs to be) "cured" but I am a more confident, competent human being because, as a mother, I have had to become one.

From this:

To this:

7. You will never be more comfortable in a big group of people than you are when that big group of people is your immediate family.
This was the big surprise for me. My kids don't think I'm awkward, they think I'm brilliant. Crazy, right? I can be myself around them. I am almost as comfortable in a room with all of them in it as I am all by myself. Sometimes I even prefer it. I don't ever feel like they'll misunderstand me or be offended by something I've said. They know me and get me and love me. They forgive me. They totally want to hang out with me.

My fretful high school self could never have hoped to be such a part of the in-crowd as I am now.

So, sure, there are specific challenges to being an introverted mom, but, overall, I've been shocked to find that having kids has helped me learn coping skills and has given me the ultimate safe-haven of people I know and love and trust. Seriously, I have never been as accepted as I am right now. I'm the most popular girl at my school.