I am slowly becoming aware of a few home truths regarding the matter of parenting – particularly parenting from the perspective of an extreme extrovert. (And I do mean extreme – every personality test I have ever done provides a scale and points out that most people wind up somewhere in between. And then there’s me. Right out on a limb… on the edge… possibly over it. You get the drift.).
The thing about extroverts is that we get our energy, our enthusiasm, and frequently our sanity, from interacting with others. I realise that makes me sound like a rather disturbing form of parasite, but when I get energy from interacting with someone it’s not in a creepy “I vant to suck your life force” kind of way. It’s just that positive social interaction gives me a real jolt – better than coffee or any hyped up energy drink. It’s definitely my drug of choice.
Years ago, when I was ill enough to be mostly housebound for months on end, my week revolved around lemon chicken wednesdays. This was nothing fancy – just a group of friends who brought lunch and much needed affection and perspective to my house once a week. Those friends were my anchor to the world in a very challenging time.
What we often fail to notice, or pay proper attention to, is that parenting can be rather like being ill – at least for an extroverted stay-at-home parent. It is very easy to become isolated. Most of us don’t live particularly close to friends and family any more. Few communities have that golden gift of friends living close enough to drop in and out of each others’ houses, and chat over the back fence. There are good neighbours here and there, but not many good communities.
All of which means that we can easily wind up having very lonely lives. Between ferrying kids to school, kinder and playgroup, and taking care of the cooking, cleaning and shopping, we sometimes neglect our own need for support and companionship. For an extrovert, this can quickly become an energy and sanity depleting lifestyle that is not sustainable. Building a good enough social support structure to keep a stay-at-home extrovert parent sane is a pretty serious challenge – not impossible, but it takes a lot of work, and very clever planning.
The other problem I have with being a stay-at-home parent is one of measurable success. It’s hard to tick things off your todo list that won’t be right back on it tomorrow. You may feel satisfied at cleaning the living room, but it’ll probably be chaos again within the hour. You might have a fantastic, creative morning with the kids, but you’ll have to come up with another winning idea in the afternoon, and something different for the next day.
Sometimes it feels as though every single thing I get done at home is only a finger in the endlessly leaking dyke of parenthood. Even as I am writing it, I realise that this is a very negative view, and not entirely fair. I have a wonderful time with my kids. I adore them. But I can’t be at home with them all day every day. I could never manage home schooling, although I recognise its many benefits, because I would go mad within the week – and most likely take my kids with me.
It’s important to recognise your limitations, and this is one of mine. I can’t be a stay at home parent any more. I need a workplace. I need colleagues. I need to go to bed at night being able to look back on tangible successes. I need to be able to do the things I excel at, and to be recognised for them. To be the best mum I can be requires me to meet my own needs, as well as those of my kids.
In recognition of all this, I have finally gone back to work. I work part time, and I have the greatest workplace imaginable. It is open plan (extrovert heaven), and my colleagues are supportive, encouraging, and awesome. When I get home, I play more with my kids than I have in ages, because I now have energy to burn – even though my job is intensely challenging and exhausting.
Working part time has a whole host of built in challenges – therein lies a whole other blog – but for the moment it is perfect for us. I am in awe of stay-at-home parents, but I am no longer one of them.