So I started reading this book called Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. It was highly recommended by a friend who found the book very helpful to her in learning to deal with her daughter, and loved how the advice allowed for the fact that kids will react differently to all different scenarios (as opposed to all the other books that tell you that "most" or even ALL kids will behave a certain way no matter what, which let's face it is absolute bull crap). A "spirited" child (love that term, by the way) is defined in the book as one who is much like normal kids- active, energetic, sensitive, loud, intense, etc, just... more so. They go above and beyond what's in the average range of being, and so can be more trying and exhausting to parent. They're the kids usually labeled as difficult, stubborn, even obnoxious. What I'm already loving about the book is how it tries to turn your thinking around to see these traits, which can be so infuriating, in a more positive light (like that many of the things we find so irritating and inconvenient in kids are highly praised in adults). Language is an incredibly powerful tool, especially when you take into account that kids will live up to the labels they are given so you might as well give them positive ones (eg, using "determined" instead of stubborn, "selective" vs picky, etc).
So I started reading it, and although I'm only a couple chapters in it's already been an eye-opening experience. I feel justified to realize that, yes, Donovan IS quite active, stubborn, and pretty erratic/irregular when it comes to his daily eat/sleep "routine", probably more so than the average kid-- that these are real challenges. At the same time, I read about the other characteristics of these kids they're writing about, and counting my blessings at how low-key D is in so many other ways-- he's not very sensitive to changing stimuli and adapts incredibly well to new people, situations, and changes to his routine. I don't think D falls into the category of full-on spirited child, more like borderline spirited, but even if not everything mentioned in the book applies to us there seems to be a good bit of useful info to be gleaned.
In the beginning it goes through a list of different temperament traits and you go through and evaluate your kid based on them (how sensitive, perceptive, adaptable, regular, etc your kid is). Then, and I love this, you also evaluate yourself. Because so much of parenting is the way you and your kid interact and play off each other, what you work well together on and what instead pushes each other's buttons. For example, I felt like a lightbulb going off when I realized the traits D and I are most different on is energy level-- he's always on the go, and I'm quite happy to sit and just be. No wonder I'm exhausted all the time, trying to keep up with him.
But then I read the part on extroverts vs introverts, and felt like I kept having mini-epiphanies the more I mulled over the information on the pages. The book explains how people tend to be either extroverted or introverted, characterized mainly by whether you tend to draw your energy from being around other people (eg, feel energized after spending time with friends) or from time on your own (eg, preferring to sit alone reading a book). I've heard of all that before, so no big surprises... but then they went on to talk about other personality traits that are often associated with extro/introverts, like that extroverts tend to think by talking-- they need to talk about something out loud to someone else to really process it, and to help them solve problems. They also tend to enjoy being close to people and around people, often need lots of feedback and reinforcement from others, and at the end of a long/stressful/busy day they might be bursting to talk about it with others. Introverts are more introspective, need time to think something over on their own before being ready to talk it over, need more personal space, time to work on projects uninterrupted, and at the end of a busy day need time to unwind (usually alone) before feeling ready to talk about it or deal with others.
I guess none of that is too new, either, it all makes sense... but I guess I haven't spent much time really thinking about it before, and suddenly I felt like I was having all these insights into my marriage. Zach is a strong extrovert. He's always been extremely social. This has possibly been one of his bigger challenges as a parent, how much harder it is to make time for other adults, and there have been many friday/saturday nights where he's been practically bouncing off the walls just bursting to call people up to make last-minute dinner plans or SOMETHING, just to get to interact with others. Me? I've got some extrovert tendencies, like that when I hear a funny joke or read an interesting article I immediately want to share it with others (which is why some days I spew links all over Facebook, and why I love Twitter so much), but for the most part I am definitely an introvert (which also explains why I feel so much more comfortable interacting via web-- email, blog, facebook, etc-- than over, say, telephone). The book went over some different conflicts that frewquently arise between intro/extroverts, focusing more on problems between a parent and a child having a hard time relating, and little lightbulbs kept going off thinking of how Zach and I have had these same issues-- I remember us having these serious talks and him getting so frustrated because I'd quiet down (introvert) just as he needed to talk and to hear me talk (extrovert); how frustrated I get when I'm in the middle of something when Zach comes home and wants/expects my attention right away (even if I've been really looking forward to seeing him); or the way I sometimes get annoyed when he needs to rehash any problems going on at work, things that have been long-standing or that I may just be bored of hearing about (things we may have gone over many times before), and now realize that is his way of simply working through and processing the information, and figuring out what to do next.
I also realized that my introvertedness probably played at least some part in why it felt so stifling to breastfeed a baby who refused bottles-- I literally had to be there for him every 2 hours for that whole first year of life, which made it so much harder to get time away, time to myself, time to recharge my own energy stores.
I think he's a bit young to tell quite yet, but I have an inkling that Donovan is more of an extrovert. I'm judging this mainly from the fact that he's always seemed so much more comfortable with new people and large groups of people than babies/toddlers are apparently supposed to be. I don't think we ever really hit that "stranger anxiety" phase (or very mildly if we did). Which is interesting to know (that he may be an extrovert), as that might also be a challenge as he grows up and demands lots of attention and energy from me, and how I may need to plan for him to have frequent interactions with others so I don't end up totally drained.
The lovely Meg over at Sew Liberated recently mentioned how she started keeping a parenting journal to write down her thoughts, ideas, frustrations, etc and help sort through them. My blog serves as that in some ways, but I really love this idea of keeping a separate place for the more random, less concrete thoughts. I'm also realizing that while I'm glad to reduce the amount of paper (and desk clutter) I use to write down little notes, to-do lists, etc, by "electronifying" them (my iPod Touch and Evernote are working out really wonderfully for that), I still have a need to indulge in the physical act of writing things down with pen and paper. So I started a parenting journal of my own, and one thing I'm doing with it is writing down notes from these various books I read, ideas that resonate with me and that I want to remember (rather than loving as I'm reading them, and then forgetting as soon as the book goes back on the shelf or to the library). Looking through the journal, and adding whatever thoughts I might have at the end of the day, will hopefully be a way to keep these ideas fresh in my mind... and also perhaps one good way for me to "recharge" at the end of the day.