Before kids, K-Hubs and I would stay up late watching reruns of The Virginian on The Hallmark Channel or I Love the 80s on VH1. Because we were down like that. Then we had kids, and our world was forever changed. In the same breath I’d find myself saying, “Parenting is so hard” and “I love being a parent.” I couldn’t figure out how something like parenting and a little someone I loved so much could leave me so happy and empty at the same time. I thought to myself, I need to be more laid back. I need to enjoy this more. I need to love EVERY FREAKING MINUTE OF THIS BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT GOOD, HAPPY PARENTS DO.
I am who I am. Become more laid back? Oh, bless my heart, that’s a good one. I can no more become laid back and easy-going than K-Hubs can become the extroverted party animal of the evening. It ain’t happening, people. Except, I didn’t know that at the time. And I thought I was maladjusted, which, considering my affection for Murder, She Wrote and cheese, one might have a solid argument. But let us stay on point.
Enter Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Raising Your Spirited Child. I love her. I don’t actually know her. But I do love her. My own mother was a wonderful woman. However, if Sheedy Kurcinka ever wants to adopt her fans and their children, I’m signing us up. Sheedy Kurcinka’s book saved my faith in myself as a parent. While reading her book, I realized I DO love being a mom. And parenting IS hard…on the energy bank. Both statements are true. And they don’t have to be at odds with one another. I’m free to admit I love my children with a fervor reserved only for them. And I’m free to admit that parenting often leaves my energy bank dry. Flat. Out. Dry.
Admitting both statements doesn’t make me a hypocrite or ungrateful or unloving. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When the energy runs out, the answer isn’t more love or more gratefulness for the children. Those are already there. The answer lies in refueling the energy bank, something completely separate from the love and gratefulness.
According to Sheedy Kurcinka and Anne Kangas (whose newsletter highlighting Kurcinka’s work is here), much of the dynamics we experience as parents (and in any relationship, for that matter) is derived from temperament. It is born in each of us. Both kids and parents have their own, and we have it the minute we come into the world. This cannot be changed.
There are a lot of ways to analyze temperament. But two common categories are introversion and extroversion. Again, traits that are assigned naturally. “Why can’t you be more like your sibling?” Because, honestly, genetically, she can’t. Temperament influences how we derive our energy throughout the day as well as how and when we refuel. It also influences how we respond to our environment. This might also explain why and how parents can be so different from one another. Those feelings of comparison are unnecessary. The self pressure undue. We each have our own temperament, our own individuality. That is beautiful. It’s something worth celebrating.
Being a parent isn’t 9 to 5. Kids need us ALL THE TIME FOR ALL THE THINGS. What happens to the energy bank? It depletes and needs to be refueled, often more than once inside of 24 hours. That is totally me, for the record. Lots of daily refueling. There is no guilt in this. It’s natural. It’s human. According to Sheedy Kurcinka, extroverts, like Toodle and me, fill their energy banks and express themselves through outward interactions with other people. They crave feedback, not because they are insecure, but because the feedback is a source of energy to keep going with whatever physical project they are working on or train of thought they have. They may walk around a lot or talk out loud to themselves. That chatterbox in class? Yep, he may legitimately be processing information. Helping him do so appropriately is a whole different blog post. But Sheedy Kurcinka has you covered. Her book covers all of that and more. Isolation, lack of conversation or feedback, and quiet can drain extroverts of their energy. Being still can be torture.
Introverts, on the other hand, like K-Hubs, fill their energy banks and express themselves from within. They need time to themselves. They often seek breaks from people, not because they are negative but because their energy is drained. Teaching them how to exit a crowd in an appropriate manner is also another blog post. And, yes, Sheedy Kurcinka’s book has you covered on that topic as well. Crowds are overwhelming. Conversations are exhausting. Introverts take weeks to process information. So, if you ask them about their day, they may not have an honest answer yet. Give them two to three weeks, and by then you should know.
The sticky part and why we often think we suck as parents is because our energy banks and those of our children are constantly tapped and in need of refueling. I got it into my head that being tapped was a mothering fail. Having a zapped, drained child was also a fail. I’m ready to do a craft with Toodle, and she wants to hang in her room by herself. She wants to make cookies, and I want to sit in a dark closet with some Coke in a wine glass. She needs help zipping her coat, and I just want to get her to school on time. Our energy banks aren’t always in sync. How can they be? We’re two entirely different people.
It was easy for me to think a good parent just matches his or her energy levels and styles to that of the child. But it is unnatural. Well meant, but unnatural. This post doesn’t do Sheedy Kurcinka’s work any justice. But I can tell you she’s got your back, whether you officially have a spirited child or not. I learned while reading her book that who I am is enough. I can learn new temperament skills and introduce those to my child. But I don’t need to become a new person. I’m not failing. And neither are you. Being drained isn’t failing. It’s being human. It’s also human to refuel even if our way of refueling is different from those around us. You’re entitled to go out with friends or hang out on your own to watch a movie. No guilt. No shame. It’s needed. It’s healthy.
According to Kangas, when we ask children to be someone other than who they are, we encourage them to create a false sense of self, which creates a host of long-term problems. I will add that the same can be said for parents. If we try to be someone other than who we are, we also run the risk of becoming a false self. And there is no need to be someone other than who we really are. What better way to encourage kids to be themselves than by being ourselves, too? As a point of reference, my mom was not much of a housekeeper. The Gram, in the context of her generation, infamously told my mom she should have been the boy because she didn’t keep house, cook, sew, or do “girly” things. Mom liked sports, being outdoors, loud clothes, and takeout. As a single mother she caved to the Pinterest of the day, magazines and their amazing spreads. She decided when I was in elementary school that she was going to be a “good” mother to me and cook meals that required HER to add the ingredients. By golly, we were eating those amazing casseroles on pages 63 and 75, and she was finally going to be a good mother like everyone else around her.
You guys, her cooking sucked. There was one recipe that called for freezing or some such thing. But Mom didn’t know how to defrost it properly. So it burned around the edge and remained frozen solid in the center. We begrudgingly ate edge pieces. Then there was the taco pizza casserole debacle. I have erased most of that memory, except for when I finally looked at her and said, “Mom, you are a wonderful mother [she was]. You are the best listener. You are so empathetic. You have expectations without judgment. But, for the love of my need to eat, can we please have dinner from a box tonight?” All of a sudden, she stood erect and came into the moment. Our energy banks were drained (and we were starved). She opened a box of Mac ’n Cheese and never looked back.
The moral of the story is stay away from magazine recipes and you’ll be fine. No, actually, just remember you are special. You don’t need to be a better parent. You don’t need to be like other parents. Your kids don’t need to be better. Feeling energy zaps throughout the day isn’t failing. It’s being human. And you are worth a refuel or 5,000. Chin up because you do not suck as a parent. You are enough just as you are.