Today is my oldest daughter’s first day of Kindergarten, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m excited because she’s excited. I’m excited because she goes to a great school and the teachers there do an absolutely fantastic job. I’m excited because she is going to learn so much and grow so much during this school year that it boggles my mind. But mostly, I’m excited because the kids will finally be out of the house.
I love my daughters more than anything else in this world. I love being their dad. I love braiding their hair and painting their fingernails and playing princess with them. I love taking them into the garden with me and teaching them about beekeeping. I have thoroughly enjoyed taking them to the pool and the beach and the museum this summer. We have had a great summer. But I am ready for summer to end.
You need to understand a few things before you start judging me.
First, please understand that for a variety of reasons we were never able to rely on consistent babysitters or daycare for our kids. For just over five years now we have been parents, and a majority of that time we have been the exclusive care-providers of our children. Because of our work schedules that has quite often meant that my wife and I have solo parented, trading off the kids halfway through the day so that the other one could go to work. Both the girls were in preschool this past school year, but we still had them beside us most of the day.
This has been a blessing. We have both been there for every milestone in our daughters’ lives. Every developmental step they have taken, we have taken with them. Our little family of four has an amazing bond because of these early years in my children’s lives. But that also means that we have been around the kids just so many hours, every day, every night. It has been nonstop.
The second thing I need you to understand is that I am an introvert. I recently had a standard psychological evaluation for my ordination process, and the doctor described me as one of the most introverted people he’s ever met. Earlier this summer my wife and kids spent three weeks away, visiting her family in San Diego. I missed them greatly, I missed everything about them, but never once in those three weeks did I feel lonely. It was exhilarating to have that much alone time, that much quiet, for the house to actually stay clean after I cleaned it.
So consider that I am an extreme introvert who for years was constantly with my kids, and I hope you’ll see why I’m so ready for school to start back. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy my kids, because I do. It isn’t because I’m anxious to do other things, because I’ve been getting plenty of things done. It isn’t because I’m ready to have a clean house again, because that’s just a temporary thing anyway. I’m ready for my kids to go back to school because I need time away from them in order to be my best, my healthiest self.
This is what I’ve come to understand, and what I wish I had understood earlier in my parenting. I am introverted, which means much more than that I like alone time. Introverts draw energy from alone time, from quiet places and activities. Introverts mentally process their experiences while alone and in quiet places. Introverts think differently, reason differently, react differently than our extroverted peers. One is not better than the other- introversion and extroversion both have their strengths- they are just different.
What this means, though, is that we introverts require that quiet, alone time in order to function properly. It is a mental health issue (which in turn affects every other aspect of health, too). To function as parents, spouses, coworkers, or just general members of society, we must have the time and space to let our minds do what they need to do. It is the equivalent of letting your body rest and your muscles recuperate.
Introverts are also more bothered by environmental stimuli. Noises, bright lights, movement in the periphery, any sort of stimulation can distract an introvert and keep him or her from engaging with their interior mental processes. You know who is great at creating environmental stimuli? Kids.
Parenting is hard. I heard a psychologist just today say that parenting is the number one cause of marital stress. It helps us to grapple with this difficult task if we understand what makes it difficult. For me and millions of parents like me, parenting is hard because we don’t have the quiet alone time we require to process what is happening. The non-stop noise and motion of healthy, happy children keeps us from focusing as we would like. Parenting is hard because our introvert brains are not functioning as they were designed to function.
It also helps to understand how young, developing minds work. Small children require repetition. That’s how their minds learn about the world, how they learn to function in the world, how they learn to make significant connections within the world. This is why we poor parents end up reading the same books, singing the same songs, playing the same games, watching the same videos over and over and over again. Children’s brains require repetition, and adult brains hate repetition. So automatically our adult brains are at odds with our children’s brains.
Put all of this together, and that is why a few years ago I found myself at my wit’s end, throwing my hands in the air and moaning, “I’m exhausted and I’m overstimulated and I’m bored all at the same time!” That was my reality until we finally got the kids into preschool, and it was not a healthy way to live.
So let me speak to you, mom and dad who are exhausted and overstimulated and bored all at the same time. Hear me, you who are ready for school to start back. Understand, introverted parent: there is nothing wrong with you. Do you see your friends on Facebook and Instagram posting happy pictures of their activities and adventures with their kids, and feel guilty that you aren’t enjoying the summer break as much as them? Don’t. Be the best father or mother that you can be, not the best that someone else can be.
To take care of your kids you need to take care of yourself, and in order to take care of yourself you need to know how you function best. So if you need that alone time, make that alone time a priority. Get up a little earlier and enjoy that cup of coffee. Put the kids to bed and sit in the dark with a glass of wine. Take yourself out to lunch and don’t speak to anyone. Your time alone is not taking away from your kids, it is giving them your best self.
I want to hear from my fellow introverted parents out there (because I know we’d prefer to communicate through writing anyway): how do you manage? Where do you find your alone time? What is your quiet place? Let us know in the comments.
And as always, if you like this post, please share it. If it blesses you, it will bless others. And for more stuff from me in the future, please like and follow my official Facebook page.