The Most Important Thing About Introverted Parenting

21 Sep

 Just because we’re a family of introverts doesn’t mean that it’s quiet around our house. On the contrary: you’re likely to hear music blaring, peals of giggles, and a nearly incessant stream of chatter from my five-year-old son, Felix. Most of the time, that is…because at some point, each of us requires a bit of peace, some downtime for recharging our mental batteries.

For many little kids, that means taking a mid-afternoon nap. Not for Felix. He has enough energy to power a small city, and his hands are always busy doing something. The boy has never been a great sleeper, and at the tender age of two he gave up napping altogether. As a full-time stay-at-home parent and an introvert, I wasn’t too happy about this turn of events. I was a great playmate in the morning, but if I didn’t have at least half an hour to read, write, or close my eyes at some point midday, I’d find my temper running shorter and shorter by dinnertime. Felix’s mood would become erratic as well, and eventually, someone—often both of us!—would end up in tears over a ridiculous argument.

My wife and I have had to come up with creative techniques to coax him into taking a break. As a toddler, Felix had what we called “sha-sha” time (named after what my wife’s grandmother would say to soothe her as a child), a period of 20-40 minutes when he listened to quiet music in his darkened room and built elaborate rail systems with his wooden train set. I’d lay on his bed, reading or dozing. Before sha-sha, we’d read; afterward, we’d snack. Even if it wasn’t a by-the-book nap, it provided a peaceful pause in the day’s activities from which we’d emerge renewed.

These days, Felix has independent playtime, when he builds quietly with his LEGOs while we listen to music. Sometimes I do chores or cook—activities that relax me (yes, I know, that might sound strange, but I can daydream while my hands are occupied). Often, though, I sit down with a pile of plastic blocks too. The two of us can construct spaceships, castles, and houses out of LEGO for hours without saying a word. Partaking in any sort of shared activity that requires no verbal communication, like doing art side-by-side, enables us to be together while also being in our own heads. We each recover a bit of our spark while sharing the comfort of being in the same space.

This seems to me the most important thing about introverted parenting: respecting your need to have time to yourself, even if you’re in the same room with your kid, and finding creative ways to do so. Having a few of those moments—whether you’re literally alone or not—make it possible to be fully present for your child the rest of the day.

One big savior for us? Television. I know: plenty of parents, armed by scientific studies, are against giving too much (or any at all) screen time to little kids. But Felix needs opportunities to zone out, whether it’s with a book or in front of the screen. When he was a toddler, I’d get to the point reading aloud when both my voice and will to live would start to fade, so I began allowing short stretches of TV time. Today, it’s a cherished part of his routine. He has about forty minutes on a school day, once he’s done his homework and before dinner, to watch TV. On the weekends, my wife and I join him for afternoon movies. Afterward, he’s refreshed and ready to rejoin the social world, usually with a minimum of whining.

Okay, so spending time with your child is one thing, but what happens when other parents get thrown into the mix? When your child is still a baby, you don’t have to worry about unwanted socializing because the play dates at that point are mostly for the adults. If you don’t want to have them, then don’t.

Things change when your child grows old enough to show an interest in other kids and making friends. At that point, you have to suck it up, though you can still socialize on your terms.

I know parents who enjoy long, unstructured hangouts where everyone flits from activity to activity and space to space. They might meet at the playground, mosey down to the nearest ice cream parlor to grab a treat, and finally move to someone’s house, gabbing all the way. That kind of socializing is not for me. It’s never been for me! I can make small talk for a while and have deeper talks about life, love, and literature for even longer, but at some point I need to escape.

Felix seems to have the same tendency. He loves playing with other kids for a little bit. Then his attention flags, and he becomes less playful and more rough. A moment of frustration might lead to him stomping his block tower. Or he may sit on my lap and show more interest in hanging out with the adults than the kids. These are all clear signs that he’s reached his social limit and requires a calm space to himself to re-energize. Of course, being five years old, he doesn’t recognize that or want to acknowledge it, so I offer him an incentive to coax him home—a snack, a special activity, or a favorite TV show.

When scheduling play dates, I let the other parents know not just when we’re coming but also when we’re likely to leave so that we don’t overextend ourselves. I don’t feel ashamed about setting an endpoint—there’s nothing wrong with being an introvert!—it’s what works best for us. I make that clear to my parenting friends. “We’d love to come over for lunch,” I’ll say. “And we’ll probably get going around two or so, so we can get home for a rest.”

When we invite friends over, we tend to do it around meal times so that there’s a clear end point. After dinner, you’ve got to go! Honestly, though, we don’t often host play dates at our place because we find them generally tiring. Besides, if one parent takes Felix to someone else’s house for a play date, then the other parent gets time alone at home, which can’t happen when our home is invaded!

Like doing anything as a parent, being an introvert requires a bit more effort and intention on your part since you’re not just managing your child’s proclivities but balancing them with your own as well. My wife and I consider ourselves fortunate that Felix’s energy matches ours, partly because we’re able to understand his needs but also because we’re not often at odds—socializing-wise, anyway. (Like all parents and children everywhere, we have our issues!)

When Felix feels exhausted from a long day in school or even just a short play date with a friend, there’s a warm kind of understanding that passes between us. I don’t push him to get out of his shell more or criticize him when he says he’s tired and requires some cuddling and “spacing out.” I know where he’s coming from because I need this too!

My son and I have a special kind of bond, a mostly unspoken one—the kind only two introverts can have and appreciate.



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