I am the quintessential extrovert. I thrive off the energy of other people and will talk to anyone who makes eye contact. Just ask the 15-year-old who bags my groceries. Or the lady on the elliptical next to me at the gym. Or my new BFF at the dry cleaners who shares a similar love of v-neck dresses. And you probably don’t want to sit next to me on a plane.
In order for me to process information I need to talk it out, usually at length (or ad nauseam if you asked my husband.) I don’t enjoy being left alone to my own thoughts (unless I’m writing, which is really just like talking to myself), and would rather be socializing than most anything else in the world.
So, imagine what it must be like for my daughter, an introvert.
And it’s not enough that she has Hyper-Mom as a parent. She is also blessed with Chatty Cathy and Talkative Tammy as sisters.
The kid doesn’t have a chance to get a word in even if she wanted to.
But sometimes when I get her alone –usually on the way to pick up her sisters from a team practice — she decides to throw me a bone and share a little bit. I listen intently to her stories about Minecraft or Bad Kitty or some show she just watched. And then because I recognize she opened the door, I change the subject and ask about something I am interested in, like did she have fun at camp or why she didn’t want to stay outside with the other kids, and just like that, I’ve lost her. She’s done talking.
It’s been pretty frustrating, and it’s hard not to take it personally. I used to think she was being crotchety and rude when she asked me to turn the music up when I picked her up from school and peppered her with questions about her day. I used to get hurt when she would turn and walk out of the room immediately after answering a question. I used to be devastated when we would have a group of girls over to play and she would be off, by herself, pretending with her horses or reading a book.
What was wrong with this child? Did I not raise her right? Would she become one of those sad, isolated girls that would end up as the crazy cat lady?
I tried to encourage her to make more friends….at school, at the pool, at camp. And she would, although she didn’t seem to be obsessed with having them over all the time like my other two. Her friends were more for “in the moment” and if there was no one suitable to play with, she was more than happy to find something to do by herself or with her sisters.
And then one day as I complained to my husband — another introvert — about how worried I was because my daughter had come inside when all the neighborhood kids were still playing outside, he said this: “I get it. When I come home from work — after talking to people all day long — I need a break. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love you, but I have hit my capacity for conversation. I just want to decompress before I go back at it again.”
Um, what the what what? It is an effort for my husband to hold a conversation with me? I am like talking to a ray of sunshine, so why was the ten minute car ride home not enough to let the air out of his head?
But he made me pause. Could my husband be right? Could it be that what my daughter was doing was actually okay even though her behavior seemed so odd to me? Did she know what was right for her, even before I did?
So, I started googling and Amazon-ing books and of course talking to some other people and realized my daughter was perfectly fine.
It was me that had the problem. It was me who thought if you weren’t talking you weren’t okay. It was me who thought my daughter needed more friends, more communication, more……of me.
In today’s day and age we put so much pressure on socialization. We start playgroups at birth, have them participate in team sports at age three and expect our kids to have a best friend before they enter kindergarten. And when they don’t want to participate as we think they should, we — meaning me — think something is wrong.
Each year my daughter’s teachers tell me that she gets along well with all the other kids, and can even be chatty once she gets going. She is happy and participates, although sometimes she would rather read a book (gasp!) instead of do something in a big group or she would rather swing by herself than play a game.
At first I found this information startling and shocking. I mean who would rather be by themselves when all her friends are having fun? But I think I’m starting to get it.
Holding long conversations can be difficult for her, so doing something by herself enables her to collect her thoughts, or just not think at all for a few moments. Being “on” in the classroom for an introvert can be exhausting, not stimulating. Reading a book or taking a ride on a swing — where you don’t have to focus on anything or anyone else — is energizing, not boring.
And after a long day of school, the last thing an introvert needs is her over-anxious mom grilling her for ten straight minutes on her day, when all she would rather do is listen to some tunes and clear her head. My daughter needs to do these things to cope with her daily stresses, just as I need to talk to deal with mine.
I’ve learned a lot this year about my daughter, the introvert, and her crazy mom. I’m trying to not push her to be someone she’s not, and I’m trying to have the patience to talk to me on her terms, not mine. And I have found that by giving her some time and space, she’s more likely to talk — at least a little bit — when she’s ready.
Now shutting her sisters up….well that’s an entirely different issue.
Are you raising an introvert in an extrovert’s world? I highly recommend: Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child by Marti Olsen Laney.