I knew I was in for it when she was only 5-months-old.
I was only trying to get us out of the house for a bit, maybe find some adult interaction. So I decided that even though she was probably too little, we’d check out Story Time at the library.
It was utter chaos: kids running everywhere, parents chatting, and the poor library staffer trying to rein them all in and quiet them all down so she could read. I was overstimulated within five minutes, and said to myself, “We are NEVER coming back here!”
Right at that moment I looked down at Abby.
She was straining off my lap, arms wide, with a huge smile on her face. She (non-verbally) radiated the sentiment that this was the greatest. day. of. her. life.
I smiled a tremulous, oh-no-what-have-you-done-God smile as it dawned on me: I have an extrovert on my hands.
If you haven’t guessed already, you should know that I’m an introvert. I don’t remember when I first learned this term or began to study the concept, but it resonates with who I am on a deep, soul level.
Introversion is not about being shy or socially awkward (though I can be those things from time to time.) It’s really about how you obtain energy. Extroverts feel a charge of energy after they have been out with other people, talking and interacting. Introverts leave those situations drained. We long for a quiet spot, preferably in our own homes, to sit and be still and not have anyone talking to us (at least not anyone who expects a response.)
Realizing that my daughter had all the characteristics of an extrovert was both amusing and terrifying to my new-mama heart.
I had already noticed that when were in public, we seemed to get an inordinate amount of attention from strangers. I’d look up from scanning my grocery list in the middle of the cereal aisle to find a couple smiling my direction. I would be momentarily confused, concerned that I had experienced a wardrobe malfunction, only to turn and see Abby, grinning from ear to ear, waving at them from the cart. I was starting to put the pieces together.
My theory was confirmed two months later when we took a family vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii. I was terrified at the idea that my newly sleep-trained, almost-7-month-old wouldn’t handle the pace of vacation well. And I was partially right. She definitely didn’t care for the pace. It was MUCH too slow for her. As long as we were getting in and out of the car, buckling into stroller or baby carrier, hiking through volcanoes and out to waterfalls, she was thrilled. Throw in a restaurant or museum with other people and she was ecstatic. But if we returned to our cabin to sit and relax: oh no! She wasn’t having that!
As she’s growing older and becoming more verbal, our differences are becoming clearer. I have to acknowledge that the same overwhelmed, coming-out-of-my-skin feeling I get when I’m overstimulated out in a crowd is the same feeling (or at least similar to what) she experiences when we’ve been at home for a whole day. I can tell because of how she reacts: whining, crying, refusing to be satisfied. It’s exactly how I would act after a long day of interaction, if I wasn’t a grown person with an understanding of socially appropriate behavior.
The difference in how I function in the world as an introverted mom, versus how I dealt with this aspect of my personality as a single woman, or even when I was married without a child, is surprisingly stark. Where I used to be fairly confident in asserting my need for time alone, I now feel loads of guilt about it. Intellectually I know the need is real. Emotionally…well, that’s a totally different story.
Sometimes I handle it well. Sometimes I can tell my husband that I need a break (before I hit the actual end of my rope.) Almost every time I’ve left her with a babysitter or family member I’ve felt little to no anguish. I know myself, and I know time away is good for me, and therefore her.
But in my more anxious, less self-assured moments I’ve struggled with the absolutely false idea that I’m not cut out to be her mom. That I can’t keep up with the level of stimulation she requires to be happy. That as soon as she’s old enough to figure out what a boring fuddy-duddy I am, she’ll dump me like a hot potato and go out looking for a mom who’s more fun. (Hey, nobody ever said anxiety was rational.) Or that in my need for quiet and solitude I will make her feel like something is wrong with her, that I wish she was different, that I don’t love her for who she is.
Last year we put her in preschool three mornings a week. I felt guilty about it, since it costs us money and as a stay-at-home-mom I’m not bringing any money into our situation. But as an only child at 2-years-old, she was excellent at interacting with adults and not so great at interacting with other kids. I knew it would be beneficial for her, which eased some of my angst.
And I was right. Her vocabulary, peer interaction, independence, and imaginative play shot through the roof within a few weeks. Conversely, the space to think, clean, and grocery shop in peace gave me the energy boost I needed to be a good mom the other 31 of 40 hours we had been spending alone together each week (not to mention evenings and weekends.)
So when the school year was winding down and I was facing the long summer of just the two of us again, I was worried. Let me be really clear: I love my child to pieces. She is adorable and hilarious and I am so thankful to be her mom. But she’s three now, highly verbal, and she craves interaction. There is no leaving her to chatter on her own. She wants my responses, and if she doesn’t get them she persists, increasing in volume, until I pay attention. I knew that I would be overwhelmed, and I was not wrong.
I tried implementing some structure, getting us out of the house as much as was reasonable with the blazing summer heat and without an unlimited Toddler Entertainment budget. My husband and I took a 9-day trip to Europe in July, and left her with her grandparents, where she had cousins and other family members to keep her company. We took date nights and left her overnight with a trusted friend a few times. Mostly, we managed. We rode her trike around our cul-de-sac approximately 9,000 times. We read books, and built block towers, doctored all her baby dolls, and tried out different parks.
But as the summer wound down, and my energy was continuously depleted at a faster rate than I could recharge in the span of a two-hour daily naptime (which itself became inconsiderately inconsistent,) I felt the lies become more insidious.
Lies that whisper, “if you loved your child more, you wouldn’t need time away from her.” And, “if you were a better mom, you’d get over this being an introvert business.” And, “look at that mom on Instagram doing all the fun activities. She has three kids and seems to actually enjoy their company. What’s wrong with you that you’re so selfish? You only have one! You should have never become a mother if you need so much time alone.”
I’ll be candid, in the past few weeks there have been some low moments. Like the day I completely burst into tears because of the sheer barrage of words coming in my direction. Or the multiple times I’ve left a store without all the things on my list because I was too frazzled to continue shopping. Or the evenings when I gave my husband my emotional leftovers (not at all appetizing, let me assure you.)
Those moments left me feeling like a fraud and a failure and writing about them here feels almost too vulnerable to share.
The thing about these kinds of lies is that they are completely irrational. They make me think that in my stressed out, overstimulated state, impatient and snappy and unable to think, much less teach my daughter anything valuable, I’m somehow doing a better job than if I simply took a little time away and so I could return refreshed and rejuvenated, with reserves of patience to deal with the myriad stressors that come with being the mother of a toddler. That’s just crazy!
They also turn my focus to myself, what I can do, or should do. How I’m succeeding or failing. The truth of the matter is that I’m completely useless. On my own, I’m going to make a mess of this thing, as well as any other thing I try to do in my own strength.
The truth I’ve clung to for the past three years is the one I’m squeezing tight, even as she heads back to preschool and I start to remember what it’s like when I am at my best, most rested, most recharged self: God gave her to me, and He has been with us all along.
He formed her in my womb and gave me the grace to carry her 8 days past her due date.
He stood by the hospital bed during my 24 hours of labor and He guided the surgeon’s hand when she was delivered by emergency C-section.
He sat with me through the dark days and nights of breastfeeding struggle and the pain that came with realizing the path I’d envisioned for motherhood wasn’t panning out.
He has held me through the bouts of anxiety which have come calling in the past three years.
He is with me now, in this stage, and He won’t be going anywhere in the next.
And just like He gave me my darling Abigail Grace, He gave ME to HER. He knew she would be independent to the max, headstrong and determined. He knew she would be bright, and funny, and, if left untrained and undisciplined, wild and out of control.
My introversion and her extroversion are not oil and water. He didn’t make a mistake.
We are like coffee and cream…better together.
She teaches me to lighten up and not take life so seriously, to come out of my shell and beyond the walls of my comfortable box. She makes clear the limits of my strength, and how desperately I need to cling to Jesus every single day.
And I can teach her to listen, to be respectful of others’ differences. To be a friend to the shy and a comfort to the scared. To use her powerful personality for God’s kingdom, not for her own popularity or fame.
It’s not easy. It’s exhausting. It is worthwhile.
And that is why I am doing my best to embrace who God made each of us to be. To quash my urge to cram her into a box where she’s seen but not heard. To stop beating myself up because I need time away to recharge.
God knew I was an introvert when He gave me my extroverted girl. He’s not mad at me for being the woman He created me to be.
I can’t waste my time berating myself or wishing I was different. She’s growing up fast. I need all the energy I have today, to guide her and teach her. To assist Him in preparing her to be the woman He created her to be.
What a high honor. What a great responsibility. What a joy.