4 Things To Normalize ASAP If You're An Introverted Parent Raising An Extrovert
You find large groups exhausting, but your kid is the life of the party. Recipe for disaster, or totally navigable? (Good news: It’s the second one.)
At first blush, it seems like an impossible predicament: someone who vastly prefers solitude to big, boisterous events pairs up with a social butterfly. If this were a dating scenario, you'd be well within your rights to break up in the face of irreconcilable differences. But when it's your kid who lives for the limelight and you're someone for whom regaling a dinner party with an anecdote takes gargantuan strength, parting ways simply isn't an option.
Luckily, it doesn't have to be. Research shows that introverts tend to be naturally suited to parenting because a stronger orientation toward their interior lives makes them more empathetic and quicker to grasp a child's feelings. And yes, that still applies if the feeling you're identifying is something as foreign as Being around people delights me, and I long for nonstop stimulation. While this doesn't mean that every aspect of parenting will be inherently easy for quiet-loving, solitude-craving, thoughtful introverts, it does provide a strong foundation.
Of course, part of parenting an extroverted kid as an introvert is knowing what they need — which is likely very different from what you needed as a kid. Even so, you can probably guess what some of these requirements might be: lots of interaction with peers, plenty of exposure to new faces and experiences, consistent stimulation, and outlets for their higher inclination toward risk and adventure. What might meeting these needs look like in practice? You could be hitting up that big-kid playground with the crazy-tall slide sooner than you imagined... and your kid might be awfully quick to make new BFFs once they arrive.
Meanwhile, the hard parts of parenting an extrovert as an introvert (like making inane small talk with the parents of those new pals, for example) can be managed with a little patience and practice — and by vigilantly seeing to your own needs. Here's how to pull it off.
1. Make alone time nonnegotiable (and steal it whenever you can).
This is first on the list for a reason. This is the ethos that will save you. Yes, duh, we know that solitude is a parent's most precious — read: scarce — resource. But it's what every introvert needs so they can be functional, and most anyone can carve out a few moments alone. The trick is to steal slivers of time rather than big chunks, because the latter is obviously a lot harder to come by.
Where might you find these tiny timeouts? For starters, wake up before your kids do, even if it means sacrificing a little sleep. It's worth it for the few minutes of silence before your preschooler comes barreling in, asking for a predawn juice box. Does your child still nap? Though it may go against every fiber of your being, don't use that hour-plus on life admin, like tidying up or scheduling a well visit. Instead, do something that helps you feel like a person again. Does your kid no longer nap? Allow us to introduce the concept of "quiet time," a period in which a kid chills in their bed or bedroom so you can do the same in yours.
Spend these periods staring at the ceiling, playing the most mindless game your phone can support, studying Esperanto — it doesn't matter. The point is that this time is yours.
2. Embrace the marvel of parallel activity.
In short, you do one thing, your kid does another, but you remain in proximity to each other. Think of it as separate togetherness or “sittervising.” They're in the stroller reading a book; you're walking them down the street with your headphones in. They're going ham on a sticker activity book; you're digging deep into a stack of home decor magazines. Yes, extroverted kids may be less easily absorbed in a solo activity — but if you deploy this one strategically and don't overuse it, it will reap tremendous dividends.
What's more, once your kid is old enough to reason with, you can just be upfront with them. If you're used to putting your needs last, saying to your kid, "Sometimes I really need a little time to be quiet and just think, so can we take five minutes apart and then hang out again?" may feel like a shocking transgression. But you'll actually be doing them a massive favor. In some future capacity (like, say, going to school or having a job), your kid will need to know how to do stuff alone.
3. Be explicit with your partner.
No, not in a sexy way — in a "This is what I need, and you have to help me get it or I will lose my mind" way. In other words, there is great power in saying aloud that which you think is obvious but might not have gone acknowledged: "Hey, honey? I'm an introvert, our kid is an extrovert, and as a result, there may be times when I must go in the other room and not look at any of you."
It might be worth instituting a code word for when the noise and whining and asking and fussing becomes too much, and you need to bail. It might also be wise to schedule more date nights since introverts do best with intimate forms of socializing (and before you balk at the money involved, said "date" can just be dropping the kids off at your mom's and parking the car around the corner to eat fast food).
The point is that speaking your needs goes a long way toward getting them met — so tell your partner what would help, and let them support you.
4. Make sure you're not overlooking any no-brainer solutions.
So often, we do things as parents because we think we must — even things that make us want to pluck our eyeballs out with kitchen tongs. Here's an exercise: Think of everything on your list of parental obligations, paying special attention to stuff that really makes your teeth itch. A few potential offenders: Your kid's docket of preschool pals' birthday parties. (Must they all take place at some deafening indoor playground?) Your child's affinity for places that attract chaotic crowds—zoos, children's museums, lines for the kiddie train at the park. The hyper-chatty daycare administrator who longs to give you a twenty-minute rundown of your child's day. Are there ways to strategize around these energy vampires, reduce their impact, or eliminate them?
For example, instead of attending every birthday ordeal, can you skip a few and have the kid in question come over for a one-on-one playdate? Can you take the afternoon off to bring your kid to the zoo when it's deserted? Can you put your partner in charge of daycare pickup a few days a week so they can absorb the chitchat? Or you could just show up with earbuds in and scuttle past the administrator with a waved apology. After all, you gotta do what you gotta do, man.
In fact, you may as well make that your new mantra, because you really do have to make space in your parenting life for your introverted tendencies. Yes, you have huge obligations to your extroverted child. Yes, you must help them engage with the world in the way that feels good and right to them. But do you have to do it in a way that makes you nuts? No. There is always a middle ground — and there is always time to pull back, take a break, and recharge. Even if it's only five minutes at a time.