Alone time. That’s the one thing I miss most fiercely. In my pre-parenting life, I used to walk to my favorite café on weekend afternoons — first in Providence, Rhode Island, then in Washington, D.C. I’d set up my laptop in a quiet corner and splurge on an overpriced coffee to buy me a few hours.
I wrote two novels that way, one published and one that exists somewhere in the cloud (I’m not sure exactly where) and also on hundreds of sheets of loose paper, gathering dust in the back of our storage closet. Not long after I finished my final draft, I gave birth to my first child.
I didn’t know then how precious those weekend afternoons were, how much I relied on them to gather energy for the coming workweek. I enjoyed writing, of course, but I also enjoyed staring out the window, chuckling at the complicated caffeinated beverages requested by the clientele, and wandering to and from the café, lost in the rhythms of my thoughts.
During my early days of motherhood, I was rarely alone, but I managed to snatch moments to myself while my daughter slept or sucked on her pacifier, content in the humming of her stroller wheels. They were tenuous moments, always in danger of being plucked out from under me.
(The moment I’m snatching now — not at a café, but in my basement, on a snowy day in Portland, Oregon — is also a tenuous one. The children are temporarily engaged upstairs, but I know it’s only a matter of time before someone screams, or something breaks, or they merely get bored and wander downstairs.)
Photo: Antoni Shkraba/Pexels
I’m an internal processor, which may or may not be correlated to my introversion. Scientists seem to disagree on the degree of correlation, if any, but I very much correlate the two. Without the alone time I crave so much to recharge, I also have a difficult time making sense of the stimuli that the world floods me with daily.
That’s why the tenuous moments of solitude I snatched as a young mother, while helpful, were not enough. One moment I’d be pushing a stroller on a fragrant spring day under a canopy of freshly green trees, and the next moment, I’d find myself with a bellowing baby in my arms, a thin sheen of sweat gleaming off my forehead, my heart racing in my chest.
Parenthood is 18+ years of constant interruptions. I’ve learned to adapt by necessity, but even 11 years in, the emotional yo-yo-ing is hard on me. The most heartwarming scenes of peaceful domesticity can still devolve, in a matter of minutes, into scenes of terror and bloodshed.
As a case in point, remember when I told you my children were temporarily engaged upstairs? Moments ago, it was true. They were cuddled under a blanket on the couch with our neighbor’s child, watching a rare afternoon movie on a rare snow day. My children have seen the movie, and my daughter thought it was funny to threaten to give parts of it away to our neighbor’s child, who has not. My son did not find this funny and told her so.
Shoving ensued, followed by a fist to the shoulder, followed by a fist to the nose, delivered quite a bit harder than intended, and in a matter of 57 seconds, my son was shrieking while blood spewed from his nostrils and my daughter was screaming that she didn’t do anything and her brother gets away with everything, and the neighbor’s child, who does not have siblings and did not understand why everyone was screaming, ran home in tears.
Sigh. I guess that’s all the writing I’ll get done today.
There’s no doubt that parenting can be exhausting for us introverts.
There’s no doubt that parenting is exhausting, period, but for those of us who require quality alone time to cling to even a modicum of sanity, it’s exhaustion we might feel even more acutely.
But, there is a but. Parenting also offers a built-in social network, for which I’m often grateful. I’m introverted, yes, and like all human beings, I’m also an innately social creature. Unlike extroverts, who may feel more energized by the prospect of organizing or spearheading social gatherings, I’m someone who just likes to show up. Send me the invite, please, and for the love of all that is holy, don’t include me on any text threads to work out the details. Just let me know when to show up, where to go, and what to bring. I’ll be there.
I’m innately social, but I’m also innately socially lazy. School was great because it forced me to see my friends every day without any planning required. Throughout my adult life, I’ve made some friends at work, but it’s never been quite the same. I’ve spent most of my adulthood lamenting that society has not yet found a version of church that doesn’t involve religion. The closest thing seems to be AA, which is still uncomfortably enamored with the notion of God, and which doesn’t help me anyway because I’m not an alcoholic.
Yes, I know, there are book clubs and the like, but my experience has been that these sorts of things are hard to find, and like virtually every Meetup group I’ve ever signed up for, they tend to fizzle out. Shared interests just don’t seem to motivate us as much as Jesus and sobriety.
With nap schedules to adhere to and dozens of extracurricular activities to coordinate and babysitters to find, being social in any capacity beyond your immediate family becomes that much more difficult as a parent — and I’m betting it’s the extroverts who mourn the loss of social spontaneity the most.
As much as parenting drains me, I take comfort in knowing that if I never make another friend as long as I live (which is entirely possible), and even if I stop communicating altogether with the few friends I have (which I sometimes do for weeks at a time), there are still three people who have to hang out with me for the foreseeable future, whether they like it or not.
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And the best part is, I don’t have to send a single text to organize dinner with them. They just show up. Night after night after night. Sure, they don’t always eat dinner, they never bring me wine, and they sometimes stalk away from the table in a huff. But, for better or for worse, they’re almost always there.
Like so many things in life, the answer to the question posed in the title — Is parenting harder for introverts? — is yes and no.
But my longitudinal study of one has yielded one very conclusive result, which is this:
Parenting is harder on us introverted mothers IF we attempt to abide by the “mother as martyr” expectation that society beats into us from the day we name our first doll.
It’s not that extroverts make better martyrs. It’s that the particular type of martyrdom we demand from mothers is an introvert’s worst nightmare. Mothers are expected to effortlessly manage the social calendars of all their family members (partners included), to be emotionally available at all times, to chat up other parents on the sidelines of birthday parties and soccer fields, and to constantly position themselves in the center of the family fray.
Meanwhile, society has gifted fathers “man caves,” which many enjoy whether or not they have access to a proper cave. A Pew time use survey found that “fathers spend 2.8 hours more each week than mothers watching TV or using other media” and “on average spend about three hours [per week] more leisure time than mothers.”
In short, society permits fathers to retreat. And because this is a given, it never occurs to them to ask our permission. I’m sure I’m not the only mother who has watched my male partner wordlessly wander off — my mouth agape, my arms full of children — wondering how on God’s green earth he could simply walk away.
Meanwhile, society is always calling the mothers, asking them to drop whatever they’re doing (which can’t be all that important, right?) to focus their attention elsewhere. Even when I list my partner’s name before mine on all the school, medical, and extracurricular forms, I’m still the one who gets called first. The coordinator of an after-school group for my daughter sends email updates to all parents but only includes the moms on the dreaded text chains.
I, for one, have had it. We all need permission to retreat, no matter our gender, and no matter where we land on the Introvert-Extrovert spectrum.
And here’s where the answer to this story’s central question gets fuzzy again. On the one hand, during those early, intensive years of parenting, when I was trying so diligently to be a Good Mom and a Good Wife, my introversion most definitely made everything that much harder. On the other hand, it ultimately compelled me to demand my own space and time.
It wasn’t so much a deliberate demand as it was a desperate cry for help. But would I have made the same demand if I hadn’t been so exhausted? Is it possible that my staunch introversion saved me from another decade of doomed attempts at saintly sacrifice?
Photo: Ketut Subiyanto/Pexels
For me, alone time, unlike a massage or a facial, isn’t a “nice to have.” It’s as essential as breathing, and when I go too long without it, I start reeling. I’m a worse parent, a worse partner, a worse person.
It’s only relatively recently, thanks to Quiet author Susan Cain, that I’ve learned to embrace my introversion, and only more recently that I’ve learned how to lean into it as a parent. There are still challenges, yes. Fitting in time for myself is a constant puzzle, and even when I am successful in claiming alone time, it can still feel tenuous and prone to interruption.
But hey, I finished writing this story, didn’t I?
Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.