Being a better mother can sometimes mean taking care of your own needs first.
Would you rather be described as bold, active, sociable,and dynamic? Or, rather, as sensitive, quiet, and serious? Outgoing, engaging, and a leader? Or contemplative, reserved, and uncertain?
And do you associate either of these temperamental extremes with either powerful males or females?
In our culture, we value the extroverted personality type: talkative, dominating risk-takers who are comfortable in the spotlight and prefer working and spending most of their time with others. We, as a society, perceive extroversion as the ideal personality type, the real “go-getters,” as Susan Cain describes beautifully in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Over the past few years, and especially since I’ve become a mother, I’ve come to recognize and appreciate my own temperament. I am an introvert and proud of it, and this does not make me meek, submissive, or lacking in leadership qualities.
I’ve always preferred expressing myself better in writing over speaking. I prefer solitude to groups of people. I’d much rather go to a dinner with a couple friends—or even better, one friend—rather than a large party. I do my best work on my own, rather than collaborating with others. When I do spend large amounts of time with other people, especially lots of them, I feel drained, even if I’ve had a great time. I need time to myself to recharge.
And in my heart, I’ve always considered my temperament to be a weakness, a liability, something to try to hide just a little bit, and not a personality trait of a strong, feminist female.
For over a decade, before I returned to graduate school to finish my doctorate in education policy, I was a teacher. All teachers are exhausted after a long day of managing large classes of students, attending to every student’s needs, negotiating conflicts of every type. But at the end of the day, I was not just physically and emotionally tired. More than I needed food or to take an Aspirin for a headache, I needed solitude. I knew that I had to go running or read by myself for a few hours. It was nonnegotiable. I wished that I felt more like going out for coffee or dinner with friends, going to a book group, or joining a running club. But I didn’t. I wanted—and needed—to be by myself for a while.
And now, as a stay-at-home mom to a toddler boy, I do not have the freedom I once did in my childless days to structure my life around my own needs and preferences. My son doesn’t care that I’m an introvert who prefers quiet over noise, calmness over frenzy. He needs my attention and my voice all of the time. And although I’m hesitant to predict temperament at such a young age, I am nearly certain that my son will not be an introvert. And not because he is simply a boy. He is a study of constant motion, energy, risk-taking, and intensity. He prefers to be the center of attention and to charge, run, and scream. He is passionate, intense, and unpredictable.
Reading about the temperamental styles of children in order to understand my son’s behavior has allowed me insights into my own personality and needs. Just as I realize that my son needs to jump and chase, play with other children, expend all of his endless energy, and be loud and expressive, I know that I need to adjust my life to allow me to be a better mother. My son now goes to preschool for a few hours each day, a time that allows him to get all the stimulation and socialization that he craves, and provides me with a window of time to write. My house is quiet, and I am able to recharge my intellectual and psychological energy.
I am a better mother and writer because I’ve recognized and accepted my own personality type, as well as my son’s. And this acceptance has nothing to do with “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls.” I’ve realized that there is nothing wrong with taking the time to pay more attention to your inner self.
In this noisy world, introverts should be proud of who they are, and we should rethink our society’s fixation on the gregarious, loud risk-takers.
Jessica Smock lives in Buffalo, New York, with her husband and toddler son. She is a doctoral candidate and Glenn Fellow in educational policy at Boston University and has a blog called School of Smock. Her research is about the experiences of African American girls at elite boarding schools. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University, where she majored in sociology and wrote her honors thesis about the evolving identity of new mothers, and she received her master’s degree in history and education at Boston University. She was a teacher for more than a decade at private and public schools in the Boston area before becoming a freelance writer and blogger.