I can pinpoint the exact moment when I first felt like a horrible mother. It was early on—like upon being discharged from the hospital with my newborn baby early on. The nurse handed me a stack of papers that rivaled War and Peace in length, excitedly pointing out one in particular advertising a new-mom meet-and-greet at the hospital in a few weeks’ time.
If you’re reading this and thinking, How fun! then odds are you aren’t an introvert. I am, which means that the prospect of interacting with total strangers was less appealing than going through another 26 hours of labor.
Up until then, I hadn’t really stressed about parenting. I wasn’t worried about breastfeeding or sleep deprivation or decoding my baby’s myriad cries. (I should have been, but I wasn’t.) But this, this organized public meet-up, struck fear deep in my introverted, reclusive soul. I knew I wouldn’t go.
But my baby needs friends, I fretted. There I was, a mother to a living, breathing creature for not even 48 hours, and I was already letting her down. She’d be socially inept! Her development would be stunted! She’d never be successful at life! All because I couldn’t force my hermit self to venture back to the hospital and make small talk with other new parents.
The months that followed made me feel worse about my new role as a mom. The very things that define introverts—losing energy from social interactions, requiring time to ourselves to refuel and recharge—are just not conducive to modern parenting. I’ve heard it takes a village to raise a child, but with my mild agoraphobia, I’d really prefer merely my household, thanks.
Being surrounded by extroverted friends made it even harder. How do I explain to someone who thrives on social interaction that I can’t meet them at the zoo again this week because after last week I couldn’t drag myself off the couch for the rest of the day? (But I swear: It’s not you, it’s me!)
As moms, we’re programmed to feel guilty for all the things we’re not doing. And there I was not doing the things that it seemed like every other new mom on the planet was not only doing, but was also enjoying every minute of doing. I was not going to mommy-and-me playgroups, not striking up conversations with other parents at the park, and most definitely not filling all our waking hours with anxiety-inducing playdates.
Then there’s the alone time, or lack thereof. We introverts are wired to need time to ourselves, but parenting makes that difficult. Everyone knows that taking care of a baby is physically exhausting—the sleep deprivation during the newborn period is no joke. But when you lose energy by being around other humans, and then you’re thrown into a situation in which you’re in constant contact with a very demanding, tiny human? Well, it’s an energy suck like you’ve never experienced.
That’s not to say that parenting as an introvert isn’t incredibly fun and rewarding. It is! It’s just that it’s also incredibly draining. Without that alone time in which to refuel, I’m running on empty. All. The. Time. Combine that with the guilt of all the things I think I should be doing but am not, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m letting my daughter down.
My cure for deeming myself the worst mother who ever lived came from the unlikeliest of sources: my mother-in-law. Driving past the local middle school one night, she read a sign promoting a PTA meeting.
“That will be you some day,” she said, “leading the PTA meetings!”
I should have let it go. I should have smiled and nodded.
Instead I said, “No, I’m not really the PTA type.”
“Well, maybe someday when you’re more mature,” she replied. Yep, that’s my mother-in-law.
I let her comment slide, but my inner workings went into self-protection mode. In that moment, I may not have defended myself to her, but I defended myself to an even more important person: me. And I was convincing!
I told myself that my lack of interest in overtly social situations did not indicate a lack of maturity. (Because it doesn’t.) That my natural preference for time alone doesn’t mean that I love my child any less than the next mom. (Because that’s preposterous.) And that, at least for right now, every- thing I’m doing to care for my child is enough. (Because it is.)
I thought of all the things I had been doing, instead of all the things I hadn’t. I persevered through painful breastfeeding. I put those annoying plastic covers over all our electrical outlets, even though getting them off is next to impossible and can, on occasion, cause an emotional breakdown. I kept my baby sickness-free thanks to my penchant for not leaving the house. For the love of god, I did tummy time every day! I was the best damn mom who ever lived!
No matter where you fall on the introversion/extroversion spectrum, we all have our own individual horrible mom moments. (Or our own way-too-hard- on-ourselves perceptions of our horrible mom moments.) But from where I stand now, I can assure you that skipping the hospital’s new-mom meet-and-greet is definitely not one of them.