I’m an introvert. My introversion shows in that I get very tired being around people for a long time, although I do need interaction. It also shows in that I don’t like a lot of noise and I don’t enjoy small talk. I enjoy meaningful conversations about real things that actually matter. I love being alone. I feel lonely when I’m in a crowd, particularly of people who don’t get me.
I have two children: one introvert, almost eight years old, and one extrovert, who is five years old. My extroverted husband and I became more attentive to each other’s needs and that of our children after we read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. I tend to fight for our introverted daughter’s needs because my husband might not always be aware of what drains her energy, and what she needs. I also try to make sure things are a little more exciting for our little one. I play music in the car when she’s there, and I do a lot of tickles and playing YouTube videos on my phone to stimulate her.
We have also explained to them that they have different needs, and to be mindful of what the other one needs. We often tell our youngest to give our oldest a little space due to her introversion, and I have explained to our oldest that our youngest gets bored without a lot of stimulation. We try to help them to be aware so that they know when to withdraw to recharge, and how to notice that someone has become overstimulated.
Our oldest daughter’s introversion was painfully obvious, right from the start. Many people mistake introversion for colic but it shows up as babies becoming overstimulated and crying incessantly. As a baby, our oldest would get overstimulated easily and would wake up and cry for hours in the early hours of the morning. She needed me to hold her tight in a room with dim light, patting her and saying ‘shh, shh, shh’ gently as I tried to soothe her. I, too, have felt that I needed to be held and soothed in a dim, quiet room at the end of a busy day but sadly, that doesn’t happen.
Our second child screamed blue murder at eight weeks old when we tried to put her to bed on Christmas day. She knew that there were people around and she was not prepared to miss out. Finally, I put her in a stroller on the patio so that she could see everyone, and eventually she drifted off in the midst of the family meal.
Our introverted child has few friends but she builds strong bonds with them. Our extroverted child has a lot of friends and she values them a great deal. She keeps asking me if we can invite them all around for Christmas day and my answer is ‘No, Christmas is for family.’ She frowns as if I completely misunderstand her.
She is transitioning from preschool to ‘big’ school in the next few months. Her classes will be bigger and she will form some wonderful friendships in the next thirteen years of school. She gets quite upset if she is not included in some event with the current preschool kids, like a play date or a dinner between two families. I don’t see these friendships as really important since she is unlikely to see them after December. I have also tried to explain that we don’t get invited to every event but it’s no use, she’s not convinced.
Behind her expression I imagine her thinking ‘Well, YOU don’t get invited to every event.’ Because I’m quite happy not to be invited to everything. I’m happy to be at home. This time of year is already so busy and I’m quite content missing out on a few dinners and play dates. But she’s not.
I think it’s exacerbated by the fact that I left the mother’s WhatsApp group. I have been recovering from burnout for two years. The relentless jokes about wine which I’m unable to drink, became boring. The sense of rejection became too much when I felt when I could not (and didn’t want to) get drunk at the mom dinners. I’m not in high school anymore and I’m too busy recovering from chronic illness to care.
I haven’t received a deluge of help and support from the group. I’ve felt patronised by the effort to exclude the alcohol from my portion of the bill. I’ve been drunk and reckless, in my early twenties. It does not fit in my life now. I don’t need to conform because I’m quite happy being me.
But in the last while I felt a tug between being authentically me, and trying to make my child happy. I felt guilty for not being the extroverted mom who is the centre of the social circle, telling stories about drunken moms’ exploits. I felt guilty for being the boring introvert who’d rather be at home reading. I wondered about the life lessons that will be learned by my child, and by me, in trying to find a good balance.
The tug didn’t last long because I know that I have to be authentic. I have to make peace with being who I am, and my daughter will have to learn to accept that. I do my best to accept and to love her just as she is, so she will have to return the favour. I hope she doesn’t spend her life resenting me for what I could not offer her. I cannot be false and pretend to be a forty-one-year old party animal. I have to be me. And I’m hoping that she will appreciate that one day, even if it leads to some disappointment in the short term.Follow me: