For those of you who know me, it will come as no surprise that I’m an extrovert. People fill me up. I love a crowd, a good party, talking to the stranger while waiting in line at Target, friends…..so many friends. I have often thought about how there are just so many people who are worthy to know and spend time with – if only I had endless hours for personal one on one time. Five kids are not overwhelming – they are life-giving to an extrovert. Just last week I had been at home for 4 hours in silence. I called my mom. No answer. Phoned my sister. Same story. Called my husband – whom I never call at work because, well, he’s NOT an extrovert – and told him that I had been in silence for just too long and he was going to have to give me 10 minutes of good conversation. Within two minutes, mom rang on the other line and I clicked over immediately, because let’s be honest, sometimes one extrovert just really needs to talk to another.
Jon and I are a perfect team. He can drag me to a cottage in Michigan for a week where I remember to soak up the silence. Then he can bring me to all of his social work functions where I gladly work the room and introduce him to all of my new-found friends.
Here is where I run into a road block. Two of my children are introverts. I will repeat that one more time so you can understand my dramatic need for emphasis. TWO of my children are INTROVERTS.
Fourteen years later I’m still wondering how this happened (obviously I blame Jon). And fourteen years later I’m still trying to navigate the parenting of introverts. It does not come natural to me. But I would love to share with you what I’ve learned.
1. It’s ok to be shy.
Emily is my first-born and when she was preschool age and wouldn’t talk to someone, I’d do the usual “Say Hi!” Then I would feel stressed when she wouldn’t. So stupid. Or else I would pull this parenting classic out “She’s just really shy.” spoken with the undertones of shame. Utter foolishness. All children have the right to talk when they want to talk, and be quiet when they want as well. There does become an age when I expect my kids to make eye contact and shake the hand of an adult I’m introducing them to. But not when they’re three.
And now when we are at church or a gathering and I’m talking to everyone around while she’s three steps behind me hiding and attempting to just wait it out while this painful moment (for her) passes, I don’t try to bring her in on the conversation. It’s just frustrating for both of us. She joins in when she wants. She’s ok with who she is, so I’m thinking I should be too.
2. Some people actually feel stressed prior to a social event.
This one blows me away. If you are reading this, have never met me, and might just be having a super fantastic party this weekend, invite me. If I’m free, I’ll come. And I will feel no stress.
However, I have learned that others do not enjoy such events. My two little introverts actually have cried before a party. In kindergarten Faye had been invited to a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese. This was all the talk for the entire week before. She was pumped. The day of, we jumped in the car and two blocks before we got there, the booster seat behind me breaks out into tears. I have no idea what is happening. I’m ready to chat it up with the moms at said birthday event- I’m feeling like this actually might have even been a secret parent party – when the invitee is sobbing. I pulled over.
“Why are you crying honey?”
“I don’t know! I think I’m just nervous. I need a minute.”
So we sat. For a minute, maybe more. Finally she pulled it all together and we went to Chuck’s. The party was great. But sometimes I need to just take a step back and think about all the things that cause me stress and what that feels like. Then I need to acknowledge my little introvert’s stress and help them to understand it and deal with it as best possible.
3. What I do feel stressed about isn’t real.
Two nights ago Faye and I were talking about her birthday and what she wanted to do for it as we got ready for bed. We got to talking about friends and she said “Everyone is nice at school, but really only Kayla has conversations with me. She waits for me too. We’re good friends.”
What? You have one good friend I pondered while lying in bed. Guess which word I focused on? Yep, the word one. That night I hyper freaked out until all I could think was God, please rain Xanax down from heaven just like manna so I can sleep.
What Faye said was, “Lots of people like me and I have one GOOD friend.” What I heard was “I only have ONE friend.”
Watching my children lead a non-extroverted life can cause me a great deal of stress. Because that would make ME unhappy. I need people to fill me up. Both of my girls are so peopled out by the end of school they head straight to their rooms to be alone. Sometimes for hours. I stand in the kitchen and worry they are lonely. Nope, just introverts.
The beautiful thing about parenting is that although we tend to think of ourselves as our children’s teacher, they too are educators. There is so much to be learned by the raising of another human being. I actually like to be alone sometimes now. It’s refreshing. I can even do it without speaking my thoughts aloud all day. That was learned, not innate. Instead of raising kids to become whom I want them to be, I’m trying to let them teach me a little bit about who they actually are so that I can become someone new.