Everywhere I look these days there seems to be some article, discussion, or debate about the differences between introverts and extroverts. Not one to put too much stock in labels, truthfully, I’m a little weary of it all. That said, the realization that, in many ways, I am a classic introvert was both eye-opening and comforting to me as a parent.
The fact that I loved naptime didn’t mean I disliked my kids; it simply meant that I needed that time alone to recharge. I wasn’t a tyrant because I sometimes cringed at the sound of my children’s voices; I simply craved silence. And I wasn’t antisocial because I didn’t want to go chat with other moms at the playground; I just felt more comfortable with close relationships than small talk.
Parenting as an introvert can present unique challenges since children seem programmed to derail every one of our attempts to seek out silence, focused attention, and time alone. But it presents even more challenges when an introvert is parenting an extroverted child.
My oldest son is an extrovert in nearly every sense of the word. He enjoys being around people. He craves attention. He is outgoing, friendly, and talkative.
And he is completely opposite from me. In fact, there are times when his behavior seems so foreign to me that I will look at him with both awe and confusion, thinking, Who is this child?
After nearly 10 years of parenting this highly extroverted child, I’m still learning how to deal with our different personalities, but here are a few strategies I have learned over the years that help me not just survive but also thrive as an introverted parent to an extroverted child:
1. The bathroom can be the best room in the house.
You can hide in the bathroom. You can escape from the constant trill of Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy that you hear all day. You can sneak-eat your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups without your kids asking for a bite. (Those greedy little bastards.) You can escape the madness—even if it’s just a few minutes.
2. Texting works best.
My mother-in-law once told me that when her kids were young, the first thing she did when she put them down for a nap was jump on the phone with her girlfriends, chatting away for hours while their babies slept. At the time, I remember thinking, That sounds AWFUL. I can’t think of a worse way to spend precious naptime or any kind of down time than by talking on the phone. In fact, for an introvert, talking in general is the opposite of downtime. Even now that my kids are older and naptime is a thing of the past, I still hate talking on the phone. Which is why texting is such a lifesaver. I can stay connected to friends and family, but I don’t need to make any noise to do so.
3. Kids are never too old for quiet time.
Or at least alone time. Even though my kids are in school now, we still have a family “quiet time” many weekends. Everyone goes to their respective bedroom and gives each other some much-needed space. I lock the door to my room and ignore the squeals coming from my son’s bedroom and chill the eff out for a while.
4. Playdates can balance things out.
While this might seem counterintuitive (more kids in the house means more noise and less quiet), keeping my extroverted son busy, active, and surrounded by friends helps to satisfy his needs so that he doesn’t place so many demands on me for attention. By giving my son what he needs to recharge (busyness and socializing opportunities), I am able to get what I need as well (a calmer and more satisfied child who might actually be ready for some quiet time when the friend goes home).
5. Tell them to shut the eff up (in your head).
I remember waiting and waiting and waiting for my kids to say “Mama,” and then once they did, it was mamamamamamamama all damn day. Now it isn’t just the constant mom-mommy-mum-mama, but the bickering and the whining and the constant requests for more of this or that that fill the house and my brain with noise. After a while, the sound of my kids’ voices starts to sound a little like nails on a chalkboard. Chanting “shut the eff up” in my head helps drown out the noise. It’s the perfect Zen mantra—for foul-mouthed, over-stretched, introverted parents, that is.
6. Cut yourself some slack.
I spent several years thinking that something was wrong with me because I didn’t watch my kids sleep nor did I eagerly await the end of naptime. I thought I was an outlier because I didn’t want to be around people—or even talk to them for that matter—when my kids were sleeping or at school. What kind of non-maternal, antisocial people-hater was I? Turns out, I’m quite maternal, I enjoy socializing, and I love people (well, most people). It’s just that I respond to the demands of motherhood differently and socialize and connect with people differently. But there is nothing wrong with me, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you either.