When I was pregnant with my first children, a set of twins, I had playdates scheduled before my third trimester check-up. Friends would talk about the importance of nap schedules and I’d joke that the babes could sleep in the car between adventures. An Extravert since birth, I’m always on the hunt for the next big adventure, and people (all the people please!) that I can adventure with.
So imagine my surprise when I gave birth to a daughter whose introverted personality stood out more than her bright red hair. I get that not all babies are smiley and talkative, but I’m telling you this kid came out of my womb with a scowl on her face and didn’t smile until she was nine months old! She was perfectly content in her comfortable, quiet womb space with just her brother. Her birth into a bright, loud world was a shock. One that took her a while to shake off.
In the three years following my twins’ birth, I brought two more children into the world - both Extraverts. Unlike Maggie, her three siblings were outgoing from the moment they opened their eyes. So, the little tanned redhead (thank you Filipino and Danish genes!) not only had to contend with a brother and sisters that spoke a never-ending language of togetherness, she had to bear the weight of extraverted parents as well.
Thirteen years later and I’ve learned a lot about what it means to parent a child who is so incredibly different than I am. If not for delving head first into the study of personalities and temperaments, I’m certain our family dynamics would not be nearly as healthy as they currently are. Thankfully by learning the specific needs an Introvert has, and how to respect them, my family and I have learned how to mold all of our similarities and differences into a life that’s proving to be an amazing one, for all of us!
My daughter is an Introvert. What now?
It took me a few years to realize that the reason my eldest, Maggie, was so upset at times, was because she was overwhelmed with a family that never met her needs as an Introvert. I didn’t know how to handle this type of person who looked at and dealt with the world so much differently than I did.
At lunch one day with my cousin, who happens to be an Introvert herself, I was expressing frustration in parenting this child that I just could not understand. My cousin listened intently (like good Introverts do), and when I was finished, she wrote down the names of several books about the introverted personality. She told me to read them, to really get inside of the head of this kind of person and to try to understand how they look at and interact with the world.
That lunch changed my life as a mother. I spent that evening and the weeks following reading everything I could about Introverts. I called my own introverted friends and asked for advice. For once I was the one listening while my quieter friends guided me through a visual, tangible forest of information that opened my brain to my daughter in an entirely new way.
My eyes were opened to how my daughter had been struggling in a world where the people she loved and lived with moved at lightning speed, talking miles per minute, and expected her to keep up with their pace. All while what she was craving was a little time alone, behind a closed door, to think, play, and just be Maggie.
It’s easy as a child of a big family to get lost in the school of fish mentality, but for my little Introvert, things needed to change. And as her mother, I began a mission to help my little girl know, understand and love her little (and sometimes big) personality.
An Introvert is not an Extravert and should not be parented as such
It is truly amazing how four children can grow up under one roof, parented by the same people, and turn out so differently. What’s that about nature versus nurture? I guess the verdict is still out on that one! The truth is that each child possesses their own unique personality and temperament and thus unlike the wildly popular Old Navy winter beanies, there is not a one size fits all approach when it comes to parenting.
After realizing that Maggie was an Introvert, and needed to be respected as one, our family learned to set boundaries and make compromises. While my other kids didn’t mind my middle child running in and out of their rooms half clothed, Maggie couldn’t stand it. And while her three siblings could spend an entire Saturday crammed together in the car for outings and still want to be together when we got home, Maggie didn’t.
Some things we put into place to help our family dynamics were:
- The Introvert gets her own room
- No one can go in the Introvert’s room without a knock and confirmation
- The Introvert bathes alone when young and gets her own bathroom space when older
- Compromises about how many outings we pack into a day/weekend
- The Introvert gets headphones while in the car and no one is allowed to touch her
You’ll notice that most of the bullet points revolve around privacy. A detail that is very important to Introverts. Respecting that privacy is crucial! This may seem like common sense to all you Introverts out there reading this, but when you’re an Extravert, having a party in the bathroom while you’re getting ready isn’t considered a bad thing!
Luckily, it really only took a few changes on our part as a family to accommodate my daughter’s need for quiet, alone time, and personal space. And when the changes were made, all of our lives were improved by it. We even noticed a bonus - people began wearing more clothes while running around the house. Imagine that!
If your child is an Introvert, teach them to know, accept and advocate for their personality
One of the most important things I’ve taught Maggie is that she is amazing just the way she is. While I had to guide her through the early years, it was around fourth and fifth grade when she began understanding her personality and how it drives her to express and feel things. Being surrounded by five family members who absorb and process the world in an opposite way, Maggie had to learn for herself how to manage her feelings on a personal level.
While I had the ability to keep her home from school for “mental health days”, she had to learn how to use those days to recover from the outside noise of the world, and nurse her soul back to health. As she grew in her ability to do so, I noticed her days home were less and less, and her ability to communicate about her needs grew.
Maggie struggled through an anxious 5th grade year of elementary school. The demands were high and the pace quick. With my help, and her teacher’s, she learned how to balance school and extracurricular life with her own need for downtime. Working at this early on proved to be essential for her transitional years into middle school and now she’s an active, thriving, and most importantly happy seventh grader!
The Introvert is a gift
In a family of Extraverts, our Introvert has taught us one of life’s most important lessons. Take time to just be. If not for Maggie, my husband, other three children and I would probably never take the time to sit in front of the fire on a chilly night and play cards. Always preoccupied with the next lacrosse tournament, swim meet, or birthday party, it’s our 13 year old that reminds us that all we really need is right here under our roof.
By openly discussing and studying our personalities, our family of six is able to communicate at an incredibly mature level because we understand our innate needs for quiet and space or noise and adventure.
Maggie is able to navigate her friendships better now that she knows she doesn’t have to please friends by being with them every free minute she has. She has the ability to communicate with teachers and coaches better because she emails them about questions or concerns before confronting them face to face. This gives her the chance to lay out her concerns without worrying about their immediate response.
Walking my daughter through this journey has been an incredible experience. And as her mother, I have the privilege of watching my once stone cold faced toddler red head grow into a mature, healthy, capable young teenager whose smile can and does light up a room.