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Recharge, reset: How introverted moms cope with family chaos

Jan. 16, 2014 at 2:06 PM ET

The demands of a temperamental toddler, the chattering 4-year-old obsessed with princesses, the tattling siblings who need Mom to solve their latest disagreement; it's all part of the noise and chaos created by kids in most households. For some moms, however, the constant clatter creates a problem bigger than simple noise pollution. 

For the introverted mom — those who identify themselves as quiet, inwardly focused, and even reclusive at times — a challenging part of parenting comes from the need to find balance between spending quality time with their kids and seeking alone time to recharge.

Kendra Tierney
Picasa / Tierney family
Kendra Tierney, with her youngest of seven kids.

And introverted moms are more plentiful than one may think, says Susan Cain, author of "Quiet." According to Cain, between one-third and one-half of the population are introverts, making the chances high that more than one mom at your playgroup is dying for downtime.

As a mom of seven kids ages 11 to newborn, Kendra Tierney of Los Angeles, Calif., is always in the midst of kid-created chaos.  A parenting blogger who identifies herself as an introvert, Tierney says that gaining an understanding of her own personality type has helped her to become aware of the way she interacts with her kids and husband, and of when she needs a break from the daily routine to recharge. 

“I realized that I need to not plan too much and to make sure I find some quiet time during the day, otherwise I can’t be an effective wife and mother,” said Tierney of her introversion. “All day, I was putting myself out there and I just didn’t have anything left to give in the evening.”

Cain agrees that the daily ins and outs of dealing with kids can be exhausting for introverted moms, and suggests taking an intentional “time out” daily to re-energize and regroup.

“I’d offer the same advice to an introverted mom that I would give to an introvert in a chaotic office environment: Make sure to schedule recharge time every day,” said Cain. “For me, that’s taking a solo walk. For someone else, it might be a manicure or a cup of tea. The key is to feel entitled to this time and stick to it as you would any other obligation.”

Tierney adds that, as children age, it is important to restructure what these daily breaks look like. For example, when a child is an infant and takes naps, it is simple to plan a time of rest along with them. However, when children become school-aged, rest periods may need to be re-vamped into times where kids read alone in their rooms or do their homework while Mom takes a break.

The Tierney family
Kendra Tierney
The Tierney family

“Nap time was when I could get away from my kids and work on my projects and accomplish things,” said Tierney. “Now, I still plan for a break and know it’s coming. Without that afternoon recharge time, I’m not rested up for my evening routine and for time with my husband when the kids go to bed.”

Heidi Jeter, a Milwaukee, Wisc., mom of a 6-year-old daughter, says realizing her introversion was a huge eye-opener about her parenting style.

“It wasn’t until my daughter was about four and I was exhausted all the time that I realized the problem was that I now had absolutely no time to myself,” Jeter said.

In addition to daily downtimes, Jeter advises other introverted moms to take stock of which social situations cause them to feel exhausted and make plans to scale back on such activities. For Jeter, this means bringing a book with her to her daughter’s ballet class to signal to other parents that she’s not interested in making small talk, and being intentional about which families she and her daughter accept play date invitations from.

Heidi Jeter and her daughter
Jeter family
Heidi Jeter and her daughter

“It is somewhat selfish of me, but for the most part, my daughter only has play dates with kids whose moms I also connect with,” said Jeter. “For me, it’s not socializing that’s the problem, it’s small talk. Once I can get past that and connect with a person, I am rejuvenated by talking to people.”

Cain adds that although insisting upon daily alone time or passing on a birthday party due to the social strain makes most introverted moms feel guilty, it is important to remember that mothers are not required to feel infinitely happy about fulfilling every aspect of the motherhood role. Like any other role in life, Cain says, there are parts that are trying and difficult, and acknowledging those parts doesn’t mean we love our kids any less.

“We have to realize that, in order to be good mothers, we need time to also be who we are outside of motherhood,” said Jeter. “It’s that concept of putting on your own oxygen mask first. I’ve realized that by taking time for myself, I recharge and am a better mother, and my daughter gets the opportunity to see me in other roles besides being a mom.”


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