A stay at home extrovert

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.

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4 thoughts on “A stay at home extrovert

  1. I’m a stay at home extrovert too. I think what has saved me, over the last few years, is that our kids are in a school community – we are mixing with the same people kindergarten to end of high-school for the next 20 years or so, so we all make a bit more of an effort to get to know one another than, perhaps, the standard change every two years to a different institution type set-up. I dunno about work for me, but I know I couldn’t home school either. Best wishes, hope it all goes well.

  2. Joe

    Congratulations !

    My wife has been doing the “stay at home thing” and we both recognise our places in this arrangement. She maybe doesn’t have the greatest patience to begin with, but her limits are hard to wear down. I’ve got great patience … for a few hours, but I kinda fall off a cliff at some point. She, too, has a longevity limit to this arrangement and is returning to work at the end of next month. Our son will be almost 18 months old.

    With our daughter, now 4.5 and just started school, we get to see some of the long term fruits of our planning and work. She is socially confident in spite of both her parents being somewhat more reserved (in person anyway :-P ), she is articulate beyond her years in spite of being profoundly deaf, she *can* grab everyone’s attention in a positive way, in spite of being small for her age, she prefers fruit and whole foods to any kind of junk food, in spite of the society she is growing up in, and has the ability to concentrate quite happily in solo play or task for a couple of hours at a time, in spite of her dad’s tendency to being a bit all over the place.

    Perhaps some of this is helped by deliberate preemptive thoughtful parenting on our part? Parents, maybe, just sometimes, *can* claim a *little* credit for *some* contribution to getting their kids over hurdles, hmmm?

    (Don’t get me wrong here, of course nobody’s perfect including us as parents and our daughter too.)

    1. lindamciver

      I think it’s perfectly fair to claim credit, Joe! We can certainly screw up our kids pretty effectively, so I think it must also be fair to say that we can make life easier for them, too, when we get it right.

      It’s interesting the way you regard your daughter’s attributes as at least partly the fruits of your efforts. I think that’s spot on. Some of the carers at the child care centre both our kids went to 2 or 3 days/week, depending on their age, always say “You can tell you spend a lot of time with her” – about both kids. There’s no substitute for lots of one on one, although more social settings of course have their place (especially for extroverts ;). I think our kids have benefited from a careful balance of both child care and one on one time with both parents – but we have been lucky to have access to a particularly wonderful child care centre.

  3. Julia

    It’s great that it’s suiting you so well. I’ve often wondered if extroverted stay-at-home parents are suffering from the isolation.

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