Saturday, January 05, 2008

Daddy is an introvert

Rachel took the kids while I napped from 10-12. (I feel very lucky indeed that Matthew cleaned his room during this time.) I had the kids the rest of the day, before and after.

When I have the kids all day or nearly so, I'm usually feeling pretty frayed by the end. I feel like yelling, "Stop talking at me! Stop! I need some quiet!" Sometimes I do yell that. It doesn't make much difference either way. The stream of chatter will die down briefly; then, "Daddy, I need tell you someping." Or they will start fighting with each other which is almost as bad.

Today was a day that included a nap, so really it was a pretty easy day. And I still got to that point. Fortunately we were in the car on the way home when the last of my reserves left me, so I turned on some rock music. Sometimes that works; they seem to abhor silence, but if I fill the void with other, less demanding noise, they'll accept that. Sometimes.

On the one hand I feel like a terrible dad when I unravel like this. I've been thinking about that, trying to figure out how I get to that state. My patience is very binary -- either I'm fine or I'm completely out.

The more I think about it, the more I think it's because the kids simply don't give you time to just be by yourself. I realized years ago that I need time alone to recover from being "on" socially, and being "on" as Daddy takes a similar toll. As Jonathan Rauch explained,
Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially "on," we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.
(If this sounds bizarre to you, you are an extrovert and you should read his whole article.)

Rachel is an introvert too. This is one reason Rachel is usually very glad to turn the kids over to me when I get home. She feels this relentless assault on her patience, too, although perhaps she is not quite as introverted as I. Or maybe she has just had more practice dealing with incessant five- and two-year old demands. Or most likely of all she is just a nicer person than I, which is one reason I married her.

This makes me think. I haven't read much about the just leave me alone for a minute feeling in parenting material. Is this something nobody wants to admit? Or do they all just have extraordinarily undemanding children? Or are they all extroverts and easily take it in stride?

Maybe I just haven't read the right books.

In the meantime, I think it helps to realize conciously why I sometimes suddenly feel so irrationally impatient with the kids. But reason only takes me so far -- it's like if you're hungry, knowing why you're hungry maybe be comforting at some level ("because I skipped lunch to get that fix in before the next build"), but that doesn't actually make you any less physically hungry, dammit.

I think I'll try taking regular "leave me alone" breaks for ten minutes or so, even when I still have patience reserves left.

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