When I was 4 years old, my grandmother took me on vacation. She needed something to preoccupy her after my grandfather passed away, so she decided to go away and take me along. I was a perfect distraction. I was born an extrovert, reveled in any spotlight, and was easily the most gregarious child since birth. I can't say the same about my introvert child, though, and the struggles of being an extrovert mom raising an introvert kid are so damn real.
I was the kid who would dance and sing as people gathered around me in a circle, amazing at this small child performer. I would stand on tabletops and recite the poetry of Alexander Pushkin when my parents' friends would come by. I would create intricate theater productions for our guests, involving my brother and any other willing participant. I was the lead in my choir, sang at my elementary school graduation, and wrote and recited a poem for my middle school graduation. I participated in talent shows and auditioned for school plays. I basked in the spotlight. I lived in the world that revolved around me.
Then, I met my husband, who happens to be a quiet, pensive, ridiculously intelligent man. A man who speaks only when necessary. A man who has very little photographic evidence of his teenage years because, according to him, "Why would anyone spend their days taking pictures of each other?" A man who is often amazed at what I am willing to do and say in public. That man and I created two incredible and completely different children: an introvert and an extrovert. The introvert came first and I had no idea how much of a struggle it could be to raise an introvert as an extrovert.
To be completely honest, I didn't realize my daughter was an introvert for years. Instead, I thought she was just shy. Because I am me, I couldn't understand how she wasn't like me. I know, I know. You don't have to tell me how crappy of a parent I am, as I can assure you I've criticized myself enough to last a lifetime already. One day it just hit me, though, and as soon as I changed my parenting my little introvert flourished and thrived.
When You Want To Do All The Things
I signed my daughter up for all the things. Last spring she was doing jiu jitsu, art, aerospace engineering, dance, and piano, all while going to school. I thought I was exposing her to a well-rounded world and making up for the lack of arts and humanities and physical activity in her standard education. What I did not realize was that introverted children are easily exhausted by activities. So while all of those activities may seem like already a lot for a child to do, they are that much more draining for a child who tends to be more introverted.
It was a struggle to let her choose only one activity, because we were so invested in most of them. Now I have to tread lightly about which and how many activities we sign her up for.
When You Want Your Kid To Be Polite & Speak
Introverts sometimes have difficulty with everyday interactions, and small talk is draining for them. The pressure of being courteous is sometimes too much for their psyche. I didn't understand this and, honestly, still have a difficult time with it. I don't want others to think my child is rude, but at the same time I don't want my child to feel uncomfortable and forced to speak and make eye contact when she feels uneasy doing so.
I still encourage her to say "hello" and "thank you," but I don't berate her for not doing it like I used to. Our conversations come from a much more understanding place now than they did before. I've also started to talk to her before we get somewhere, reminding her that being polite is something she should feel comfortable with.
When You Want Your Kid To Make Friends
"Be nice, tell them your name, and ask them if they'd like to play a game," was my mantra to my daughter for the longest time. You see, I never needed a push to go play with other kids. No one ever taught me how to make friends, because it just came naturally.
When I thought my daughter was simply being shy, I used to encourage her to play with other kids wherever we were. As soon as I stepped back and let her do so at her own pace, she has become so much more social. Still, if she is comfortable with a friend and someone new joins them, she retracts to her shell and begins to play on her own. It's hard for me to watch, sure, but I have to constantly remind myself it's her choice to do so.
When You Want Your Kid To Participate
My daughter's dance school has a recital at the end of each season and I have always been impressed that my daughter was a willing participant. Because it's a group effort, I think she feels more comfortable being on stage. The recital consists of a bunch of numbers performed by each dance group, and a finale, which includes of all of the groups at once.
While my daughter was completely fine with going on stage for her number, she broke down before the finale. My initial response was to make her go on stage and have her perform, regardless. "You've made a commitment," I told her. "You have to do it." Then, I took a step back and realized I was pushing her to do something that was completely unnecessary and causing her unneeded distress, so I apologized and told her she didn't have to do it if she didn't want to. I told her it was completely her choice and if she wanted to, she could just come hang out with me for the rest of the recital. She chose to perform, and it was her choice to participate.
When You Want Your Kid To Be Outgoing
Forcing my daughter into social situations just so she can be more outgoing is something I struggle with on a daily basis. We have so many birthday parties and family events to attend, and I'm always nervous as to how my daughter will behave around others. "Will she offend them with her unwillingness to play?" I ponder. "Will no one want to play with her because they'll think she's rude?"
I used to push her to be more outgoing and to be more friendly and open. It's still something I have a hard time with, to be sure, but I've learned to not force her and to take deep breaths while she navigates her own social life.
When You Want To Make Excuses For Your Kid
"Sorry, she's shy," I would say when my daughter wouldn't say "hello" to a stranger in the Target checkout line.
"She's a very serious baby," I would joke when my daughter refused to smile and cried when a friend would try to bond with her.
"She's just skeptical of her surroundings," I would explain, when my daughter did not want to run around and play with other kids on the playground.
Now I've stopped making excuses for her, because all that did was show my daughter that her absolutely normal behavior is something to apologize for. We all make mistakes, especially as parents, and making excuses for my daughter was one of my biggest thus far.
When You Want Your Kid To Be Like You
Without realizing it, I was raising my daughter as I would raise someone like me. I thought all she needed was a little push, a nudge in the right direction, and she would be a star. I thought if I sang along with her, she would sing in front of our family (she has a beautiful voice and I wanted her to show it off). I thought if I forced her, she would be an extrovert.
But I can't do (and shouldn't have done) any of those things. My struggle of raising an introverted kid is my struggle. It's not on her. She is who she is and I do my best every day to make sure I help her be her best self and no someone else. Even if it sometimes makes me cringe and breaks my heart, I have to let her navigate her life in a way that is comfortable for her and not anyone else.