I’m an introvert.
Don’t get me wrong, I like people … just in small doses. I prefer my own company to anyone else’s and that’s a challenge I face daily: as a mom, I am constantly in someone else’s company.
It’s taken me years to get to the place where I can comfortably admit to being introverted — appreciate it, even. But as an introvert, parenting is sometimes extra challenging, especially when our kids are polar opposites.
You know the old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”? That doesn’t apply to my family. I have three children, and while two of them could easily be labeled outgoing, my youngest is a card-carrying extrovert. Well, extroverts don’t really carry calling cards to announce themselves, do they? They don’t need to.
I appreciate my children for who they are, and like any mom, I love watching their personalities take shape and see who they are becoming. And as an introverted mom, I find parenting the extroverted child to be fascinating, frustrating, and exhausting — sometimes, all at once.
Here are four things I’ve learned from mothering these children that are so very different from me.
1. Friendship happens in unlikely places.
My youngest sees everywhere we go as an opportunity to socialize. For me, the purpose of going to the grocery store is to buy food. The purpose of going to the post office is to mail stuff. And so on.
But my son has a different perspective on things. Every outing is an exciting array of friends he just hasn’t met yet. I can’t simply weigh produce or buy stamps because my 5-year-old constantly strikes up conversations with the people we see when we’re out and about.
His need to connect with other humans has given me the opportunity (okay, maybe forced me) to talk with people I’d have probably never even made eye contact with otherwise. Even though I’m comfortable in my introverted skin, there have been more than a few times that I’ve been touched, enlightened, or entertained by an exchange I’ve been drawn into with the people standing behind me in line at the grocery store … all because my son decided to introduce himself.
2. I need extra downtime … and that’s okay.
I’m always “on” and hyper-aware of what’s going on around me when I’m out and about with my extroverted child. I’m either talking to him or monitoring his conversations with whomever he’s deemed to be his next new best friend: the skateboarding teen we see out on our walk, the guy who corrals the stray shopping carts in the Target parking lot.
There’s no such thing as quiet time with my kids (or maybe with any kids), so I need to make the extra effort to carve it out for myself. I have recognized that my downtime is as necessary to me as social interaction is to my child, so I’ve quit feeling guilty about needing it … and taking it.
3. The “stranger danger” talk needs to happen often.
My son’s sheer love of people warms my heart … and scares the hell out of me. He is trusting and open and sees everyone as a friend. Despite our many talks about safety, I have zero doubts he’d walk off with absolutely anyone if the opportunity popped up.
I hope he’ll be more discerning as he gets older and that the stranger danger litany I’ve drilled into him will stick. But reality is this: there are bad people out there. My boy fears no one and interprets any eye contact as an invitation … and that is frightening.
4. I’ve learned to talk more …
… because my little extrovert needs to have a conversation about every fricken’ thing. Yes, he chit chats with everyone he meets, but when we’re not out and about, his stream of chatter is directed at me. While this is often tiring, I’ve recognize that this level of socializing is something that my child needs to thrive. So we talk. About trains and teacups and Star Wars and everything under the sun that pops into his head.
I am constantly learning about life from my extroverted child. “Everyone is my friend, mommy,” is something I’ve heard him say a hundred times. I love who he is. I love his confidence, and I hope that explosive love for other humans is something that stays with him as he gets older. He’s taught me that it’s okay to open up and put yourself out there beyond your comfort zone. Maybe my extroverted child is making me a little less of an introvert.
But I’m not gonna lie, sometimes the introvert in me envies that mom with the shy child clinging to her leg that refuses to make eye contact with anyone … sometimes.