This new blog series is from one Boldly Glow mama to another, and is an honest and personal look at motherhood. Catriona kicks off this series with a beautiful, honest and moving blog.
We all know this parenting gig is HARD, right? We all feel mum guilt. We all find some days magical and others excruciatingly boring. We all look at other mums and wonder why they’re finding it so much easier than us (hint: they aren’t). We all love our little ones with a ferocity that is impossible to put into words.
Being a introvert doesn’t make it harder, but it comes with a few specific challenges. I’ve reflected on those challenges a lot over my maternity leave and thought I would share some of my thoughts, in case it helps someone else.
I am an introvert. I’m not shy, I enjoy leading a team at work (hello bossy older sibling!), and I love being around people. But, I feel refreshed and re-energised when I have had time completely by myself.
I flourish in the quiet places.
Clearly this need for space or quiet isn’t tremendously compatible with a baby!
Until R started eating solids reliably at about 8 months, I hadn’t been able to leave his side for more than two hours in a row (I breastfeed and he didn’t take to bottles). Now that he is almost 11 months, I have been able to spend a few full days elsewhere, but this isn’t easy for us to do very often for reasons I won’t bore you with.
Much of the time I haven’t wanted to go far, but there have been occasions when I became convinced that I might never have any space to myself ever again. I have felt unhappy and occasionally pretty angry about it. Like most mums I know, I’ve asked myself whether I am cut out to be a parent and from time to time I’ve concluded that I am not.
I expect many of you are familiar with the phrase ‘touched out’. If not, in a nutshell, this is the feeling of having had too much physical contact with your baby (or child). I certainly experienced this a lot in the early months, and still do on days when R has been clinging to my legs and wiping his nose all over me at every opportunity. I think most mums feel touched out at different times, and it’s not something only introverts have to contend with, but I do wonder if it happens more often with those of us who need to be alone.
I remember reading an article about introverted mothers and the writer said that she couldn’t imagine waking her children early from a nap unless the house was on fire. She would hear her babies waking and think, ‘please not yet, just let me have five more minutes’. This is definitely me. I think this on an almost daily basis.
At this point I feel I ought to add that I love R more deeply than I have ever loved anything in my life. It’s visceral, isn’t it? I spend most moments of my day making sure he’s safe and warm and well fed, and I make endless plans for the immediate and distant future. I think I am at least a ‘good enough mother’, and a lot of the time I think I’m actually a great one. I wanted R before he arrived, and I want him now he is here. But, some days i don’t enjoy being his mum. On one or two very dark and desperate days, I have wished it all away. I will probably always feel guilty about that.
If this is how you feel from time to time, I hope my admission is useful to read.
I have developed a couple of strategies for managing myself, and thought perhaps they might be worth sharing. Most are relevant to any mum/parent, I think, not just introverts.
My tips for surviving as an introvert parent
1 Plan social activities
It probably seems illogical, but making sure I have spent time with other adults several times a week (more, usually) really helps. I think it’s something about solidarity with other mums, and also the chance to have a neighbour or friend hold R for a little bit while I drink a cup of tea, or use the loo without a small person feeling sad that I’ve left the room. Having an activity in mind means I also get out of the house, which means I’ve got dressed and had some fresh air – excellent side benefits!
2 find a way to add solo time into as much of the day as possible.
This sounds hard, and it is, but there are ways! R only sleeps next to me or on the move, so I make it into My Time.
When pushing him in a pushchair or carrying him in the sling, I listen to Spotify albums, or podcasts (current favourites: Infinite Monkey Cage and Living with the Gods). I go to places that are quieter and beautiful like Clayfield Copse, Bugs Bottom or Caversham Court, and I pick routes that have fewer people or cars.
When he sleeps next to me on the bed I catch forty winks in that lovely sleepy bundle, breathing in the smell of his hair, and the cat usually joins us too. Other times, I read, watch something on the iPad, or do some work/learning (I’m typing this as he sleeps right now!).
I resented this when he first stopped sleeping in his bed during the day, but realised pretty quickly that I am happier and a better mum when he’s happy, and that he is happier when he’s had enough sleep, so this is our minimum requirement. The enforced down time every day is actually kind of wonderful, and I’ve come to love it.
When he is around, my husband swaps places with me and he loves the sleepy cuddles as well. It’s only for a little while, right?
3 Make time for something you enjoy and that helps you to feel like yourself
For me this has taken the form of learning: I signed up as a volunteer researcher for Reading Museum’s lottery funded about Reading Abbey. It was useful for my career, and fascinating, and I feel a real sense of achievement for the work I produced. I’ve used online learning programmes like Future Learn and a language app. I’ve also watched about ten million hours of ER and Life in Pieces, and played a lot of PS4 games, so don’t think it’s all been highbrow!
Learning new things is what makes me feel like me, because I get to spend time in my head having a good think. It has helped me to remember I’m still in here underneath the new mum shell.
4 Get up early
I’m a morning person so this one is a no brainer for me, but if you’re a night owl then by all means stay up late as long as you find a way to get enough sleep (remember ‘enough sleep’? No, me neither).
R often wakes up for a quick feed and cuddle at about 4/5am and I’m always wide awake afterwards. I usually sit downstairs in the half-dark with a cuppa and with the cat, and I read, or game, or watch something. Sometimes I even do the washing because I find it oddly therapeutic (don’t worry, I hate all other chores).
This is my most favourite time of the day by a country mile. I relish it.
5 Consider tracking your cycle
I’ve used the fertility awareness method for a while now (google it), and it has taught me so much about my body that I didn’t know. Since having R, I’ve noticed an increase in PMS symptoms and that a few days in each month I feel much more tired and experience bursts of almost uncontrollable rage. If I am prepared for this, I can handle it better, and I can forewarn my husband that I might need a bit more understanding and support than usual.
Before R, this time of the month always meant sequestering myself somewhere and spending time focusing inwards even more than normal – lots of long baths and early nights with a good book. This is harder to do now, and a lot of the time I get it wrong, but I’m still learning about being the mum version of me. With cycle awareness at least I know when it might be approaching and can make sure that I have quiet days planned and plenty of chocolate in the house!
6 Be kind to yourself
This is easier said than done, and might apply best retrospectively.
How many times have I lost my temper and shouted at R or the cat, or done something stupid in the heat of the moment? Too many to count now. A particularly special incident resulted in me chucking dayglo orange nail varnish across the room, only for it to smash against the wall and land in the laundry basket full of whites (of course).
Over Christmas on one awful Sunday where R wouldn’t sleep anywhere, I hurled him into his cot and stormed out of the house (C was home). I sat on a bench feeling sorry for myself before picking up the sorry pieces of me and dragging myself back home to keep going despite the overwhelming urge to be alone.
During these moments I have hated myself and wished that R had a better mum who wanted to be with him at all times, who had limitless patience, and who isn’t selfish. Once the moment has passed though I’m able to understand that no one has a mum like that – she doesn’t exist! I can look back and forgive myself for it because I know why I felt that way, and because I know I wouldn’t actually deliberately harm R. I can also apologise, and recognise that I’m only human. Deborah has said frequently to consider what you would say to yourself if you were a friend giving advice, and I think that’s such a helpful way to think of it.
7 Enjoy the good moments
When you’re out with a baby, people are always stumbling up to you with sappy grins and saying unhelpful things like ‘make sure you enjoy every moment’. It’s clearly impossible to enjoy it all. We do cloth nappies, and neither of us enjoy scraping poo into the toilet!
But, when it’s good it is really, unbelievably good, isn’t it? Good in a way you never thought possible.
I try to focus on enjoying those days, on putting them to memory and on sharing them with my husband, or family or friends with a silly smile on my face. That way I have a stock of lovely moments to look back on and remind myself that I’ve totally got this.
Presumably one day it’ll be our turn to turn to strangers on buses clutching their screaming babies, wondering whether they might ever sleep again, and say, ‘enjoy every moment, it goes so quickly’.
If you’d like me to share a story with other Boldly Glow Mamas email me with your story and a photo.