I remember so well the moment it registered that I was raising an extrovert. Those around me, both near and far, looked at me like I had three heads.
“You are only just now realizing this?” they asked.
Apparently, the fact that there is an extrovert in my brood was infinitely obvious to everyone but me. My daughter’s appetite for all things is insatiable; I call her my little whirlwind. She’s bursting with creativity, always ready to start the next project, to see the next person, to market and sell her next endeavor to the neighborhood. She’s ever in pursuit of more—more talking, more interaction, more activity, more creating, more of my time.
For quite a while, I chalked the ever-growing gap between her desires and what I could provide to my exhaustion and deficiencies in my parenting. I seemed to be failing her constantly; she was never satisfied with the plans I made for her. She was largely independent yet, even in the tasks she could easily complete alone, she wanted my company, seemingly just for the fun of it. This baffled me and, quite honestly, even annoyed me at times. It never crossed my mind that we could have an integral personality difference.
She would return home from a marathon four-hour playdate and look at me expectantly, “Now who is going to come over, Mom?” Rather than recognizing this expectation for the insanity that it was, there were several years where I beat myself up that I just wasn’t doing enough for her as her parent. Maybe all the “good” moms planned constant activity for their children? I was the lame one, the perpetual let down.
I recall instances when I would send my kids to my sister’s house. My little extrovert would return to me, beaming with pride and gushing with excitement, as she showed me the baking soda clay handprint art project they had made together, a keepsake to look back upon in the years to come. On other days, she would bring home a plate full of warm cinnamon rolls, fresh out of the oven and made from scratch. Then there were the work shifts when my parents would come down to watch the kids. They would arrive with bags overflowing with games and activities to keep the kids engaged all day. They created crafts coinciding with whatever holiday was upcoming, or they would piece together colorful mosaics using tiny little square stickers. My eldest ate up every bit of this special attention.
Rather than accepting these interactions for the gift that they were, I let them add to my feelings of inadequacy. Instead of celebrating the fact that someone else had filled my extrovert’s emotional bucket, I kicked myself for not thinking to come up with these activities on my own.
It wasn’t until I read Jen Hatmaker’s book, For the Love, that I realized what was operating between my daughter and I: I was an introvert and she, an extrovert. Prior to this revelation, I was absolutely convinced on more days than not, that my child had been born to the wrong mother. Honestly, I still catch myself asking this question on a semi-regular basis. I love that kid to death but man are we ever different!
I love being alone. I like quiet. I enjoy doing my thing, totally uninterrupted. My idea of a perfect vacation is simple – sun, coffee and a good book and I am a happy girl. I need silence to process and recharge. Of course, I love being with people too; I crave deep connection just like everyone else. But I really come alive when my human interactions take place sandwiched between healthy chunks of alone time. It’s who I am and how I’m wired.
In For the Love, Hatmaker writes: “…but sometimes I struggle parenting my extroverts, because their constant interaction and movement is so encompassing. We recharge differently—they need more of everything and I need less of everything. This personality gap can be so defeating, because I feel like not enough and make my kids feel like too much.”*
Reading these words for the first time was incredibly freeing. They provided the “aha moment” I didn’t know I was seeking. Hatmaker goes on to say that “No mother should cater to an extroverted kid 24/7, but no child should feel like a burden.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
So, what is an introvert to do when raising extroverts? I have found it helpful to:
1. Call upon the village. Let others engage your extrovert. Allow family and friends to facilitate activities with your child that you simply do not have the energy for. Plan playdates. You need a break and your child needs to be around others. You will both be better people for it.
2. Talk about the personality difference with your child. Sometimes as parents, we shy away from telling the whole truth because we think, somehow in doing so, we protect our children. But the reality is that differences in personality are a fact of life and what better way to start teaching your child to work with them than in the safety of one’s own home? Tell your child you are an introvert. Discuss your needs and share with them the things that give you energy and the things that drain you. Ask them what energizes them and what wears them out. Emphasize that your differences and occasional need for space is by no means personal.
3. Plan special one-on-one time with your extrovert. Rally for the occasion. Their energy and incessant talking may feel overwhelming at first but as soon as you see how you can feed their little souls through the simple act of spending special time with them, it will all be worth it. And in turn, you will be filled to overflowing too. I promise.
4. Extend loads of grace, grace, and more grace. For your extrovert and for you. You are not a failure. You are not a terrible person to want a break from your kid (even if it’s on Mother’s Day, the day you are supposed to post happy, smiling pictures of you with your kids). There is no judgement. We are all wired differently and God made us this way with good reason.
Whether it’s major personality difference between you and your child or a subtler variation in the way you view and approach the world, embrace it. Praise God for His creativity!
*Jen Hatmaker, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015), 128.