Being around them is exhausting me. I am not talking about the old school exhaustion when babies and toddlers keep you awake and running around twenty-four hours a day, sucking all your energy and leaving you a depleted husk of a human. My girls are full sized kids now. This is a brand new kind of energy drain. This is the way I feel after attending a social gathering surrounded by dozens of new people. This is introversion burnout, and I am accustomed to getting it after big public events. The problem is that now I am getting burned by my own children.
One of the few things I understand about myself is that I am an introvert.
I gain emotional and intellectual strength when I spend time alone. This does not mean I am antisocial, but it does mean that for my well-being and mental health I need to be away from other people longer and more often than an extroverted person who builds their energy through social interaction would. It is not social anxiety or shyness, it is simply the way my mind processes information. This is different than “mommy me time”, I don’t need to be doing something special or pampering. It takes a lot of energy for me to interact with people, and afterwards I need time to just – not.
The danger of introversion burnout is that when an introvert is kept in social situations longer than they can handle without the necessary solo respite, the resulting mental and physical fatigue are distressing.
What is the first thing you lose when you become pregnant? Your autonomous self. People start noticing that your body is making another person, and feel welcome to comment on the process, even to touch your belly. It’s harder to spend time alone when someone is kicking the inside of your ribs. Once the baby is born, there is a complete loss of personal space. All your inner resources are redirected to keeping that little person safe and alive. Sure, you will be depleted, but that is what babies demand of everyone, introvert and extrovert alike.
But now, after seven years of being and doing everything I can, I find I need more time to recharge.
The kiddos’ demands are changing. I am not just wiping noses and braiding hair. The children want to have conversations. There is a growing desire for small talk and constant interaction, also known as external processing. They are getting old enough to need to practice their maturing social skills on me. It makes me feel like a terrible mom, but somedays I just don’t have the mental will.
This problem came to a head last month when I was working nights. This meant that I would be tired from the daily social grind of interacting with colleagues, the girls would be clamboring for my undivided attention when I was at home, and there was no time left for me to be by myself. Despite my exhaustion, I would stay up very late at night just to have an hour or two without social demand. Needless to say, I am writing this blog post running on fumes.
So how do I address this problem?
I will give myself permission to kick the children out of my room when I am trying to sit still. I will give myself permission, against my better judgement, to use the lure of screen time to distract them from interacting with me, when I am desperate. I am not convinced these band-aid solutions are going to do it. It’s time to have a serious discussion with my kids about personality and energy. I need to be able to explain why I need to close my door when they clearly need me to be doing other things. Here’s what I am planning to say:
It is not about you or your demands.
I need to have time by myself because that is part of who I am as a person. I get some time alone once you go to bed, however when I am working that limited quiet time is not enough to make me feel better. Being around people is a lot of fun, but it makes me tired. I love spending time with the people who matter to me, especially you kiddos, and if I am too tired I can’t enjoy the time we have together. I need this alone time so I can do and be all the things you need. I am not trying to escape you. I am recharging so we will have a better time later.
When I say I need to be alone for a while, I need you to respect me.
This means when I go to my room or office and close the door, I need to be by myself. I know you want to talk or snuggle, and I want that too – later, when I have regained the energy to give you my best attention. To make it clear, I will set the alarm on my phone, and when the bell rings I will open my door so you can come join me. Please only open my door if there is a true emergency.
I will respect your quiet time too.
When you tell me you want to be by yourself, I will listen to you and believe you. I will not ask you a million questions to see if something is wrong. We can talk after you have the time to recharge yourself. I understand how important it is to sort things out in your own head.
I hope we will be able to draw some boundaries that will be friendly fences, not brick walls. I want to be able to engage with my kids as much as possible. I have just recognized that I need more energy to be able to do that safely.