I almost flunked 4th grade. I was in an independent study program and I couldn’t focus enough to get my work done. The students ranged from 4th to 7th grade in my class, and we sat in one large open room. It was noisy at best but most often a overwhelming onslaught to my introverted self.
Fortunately, my teacher was observant and creative. She suggested giving me credit for “daydreaming,” which we agreed would mean drawing and free writing. I could do those tasks outside of the classroom at the library, in the quiet study room that was normally reserved for older students, or in our building’s back patio while other classes were in session and it was quiet.
I didn’t know the term “introverted” back then, and likely my teacher didn’t either. Still, she recognized I needed quiet alone time to function and perform the tasks expected of me. She offered space for that and got me back on track. She also sewed the seeds the self-care practices I have been depending on ever since.
I have been thinking of the quiet of that back patio daydreaming time often recently. My little one is starting to talk in earnest, which means that she is now talking ALL THE TIME. She is also in an independent phase, which is balanced by a need for lots of reconnection with me. That’s manifesting in separation anxiety, unwillingness to play alone, and wanting to nurse more. She’s also starting to refuse naps some days, so I don’t always get a quiet break mid-day to recharge. I didn’t realize how much I depended on that down time until I started not having it.
By the time my man gets home from work I’m crawling up the walls, snapping at Bean to stop climbing on me and please be quiet for just a minute so I can think. I’m checking out into my Instagram feed or locking myself into the bathroom for a moment of solitude while I count the remaining hours until I can reasonably put her to bed.
And then I get her asleep and I collapse on the couch while two cats climb on my lap and my man snuggles up to tell me about his day or what he’s reading or turn on a movie for us to watch. All I want is for everyone to leave me alone and stop touching me. And then I feel like a jerk, because of course I want to hear about my man’s day and spend time with him but just
When I get to this point I can’t bear to be touched. I can’t focus my thoughts. My attention span shortens to the point that I walk into a room and can’t remember what I was going to do. I can’t be articulate about anything I need to communicate. I feel irritable and cranky and I snap over the most minor things.
I withdraw from everyone. I stop calling people back because I can’t bear to spend any precious alone time talking to anyone else. I keep my eyes down when I’m out to avoid interactions with strangers. I tune out my child’s inquisitive chatter and stop responding to her until she ramps up into a fit.
I learned ways to take care of my need for alone time pre-parenthood, but those don’t all work any more. I can’t just pick up a book and disappear for an hour like I used to. I no longer have a long solo commute to process my day. But slowly, slowly, I’m learning some strategies to keep more of my needs met.
Insist on daily quiet time
Naps are awesome. But on days when they don’t happen I make sure there is some other quiet gap in the middle of the day. Even if she doesn’t sleep, I see that Bean feels better after a rest and some time at least a little bit apart from each other. Bean still sleeps in a bed in our room, so her room is a play space which I have made safe, inviting and try to keep tidy. She’s pretty good about playing in there by herself for a while, though we haven’t practiced this enough for her to stay put for more than about 10 minutes. It is a start. As naps really become a thing of the past (sob!) I’ll get more structured about this, and use a timer or play a CD and let her know she needs to stay in her room until the music stops.
Make sure her needs are met
Bean’s recent neediness has been hard. But I’ve learned from stretches when she was sick or going through other needy spells that me pulling away or losing patience just makes the problem worse. She gets more clingy, I get more frustrated. Instead, I lean in (I can’t not think of Sheryl Sandberg when I use that phrase!). I make sure she’s had enough to eat, I offer her cuddles and extra play time. Soon enough she’ll wander off to do her own thing and I get my break.
Write it out
I have found writing is the most efficient way for me to process my thoughts. I can spend two hours in the garden shoveling dirt or I can write fast for 30 minutes. The first 20 minutes tend to be complaining drivel, but if I just keep going I almost always hit an epiphany. Though shoveling dirt burns more calories and there’s something to be said for that, too.
Even if I’m not alone, getting fresh air and sun, especially in the winter and early spring, helps my mood and ability to deal with parenting immensely. It is kind of magical. If nothing else is working, I put my walking shoes on, bundle Bean into the Bob and head out the door. Even if we just walk a couple of blocks and top at the local cafe for a cookie to share, I feel so recharged by the time we get home. And the chances are good that she’ll go play by herself for a while after an outing, so I get a little alone time to boot.
Schedule regular “me time”
While these strategies help me get little blocks of recharging throughout the day, I also need longer blocks of alone time to feel fully together. Lately I’ve been getting those chunks in yoga class (not really alone, but not interacting at least!), and during the one evening a week my guy is away from the house.
I realize I am not very good at making sure I have these breaks and this is where I need to work the most. I would like to have time alone in the garden in the evening once or twice a week. I’d like an hour or two on the weekend to sit in a coffee shop or wander through the art store or a bookshop. I would like, just occasionally, to go out to dinner alone. Just me and my journal like I used to when I was single.
What I have learned NOT to do is to stay up too late and short my body on sleep. It is so tempting to when the house is quiet and I’m involved in some project to just keep going. But the long day following a late night is just not worth it.
Are you an introvert? How do you balance the demands of motherhood with time alone to recharge?
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