We thought it might be interesting to write about when and how we first knew we were introverts and how this realization shaped our personalities. And how we might parent differently as a result.
After my family went to church (if we went. Sorry God!) we would eat lunch and scatter: my dad napped on the couch or read; my mom disappeared to her sewing cave downstairs; and my younger brother played outside, in his room, or – being the extrovert – at someone’s house. There were no lessons, no sports, no nothing except long afternoons and my own imagination.
I would wander up the street to play with friends only if someone forced me. My preference was to be by myself with my toys, dress up clothes, books and other things not requiring human interaction. Naturally there were times when I was bored but some of my best childhood memories are of those unhurried, solitary afternoons. No additional people required.
By junior high I suspected I was different. By high school, I knew I wasn’t like other kids in my class. My parents knew too and were sensitive enough to give me space on weekends to recharge. During the first weeks of college someone called me an introvert. Mr. Webster provided the definition and the cartoon light bulb switched on over my head.
Anyone reading this blog knows it is currently fashionable to be an introvert. This wasn’t always the case. I tried, so hard, for so many years, to deny and subvert it, because it wasn’t cool to stay home on Saturday night or to not go to happy hour three nights a week. Only recently, really recently, have I become ok with saying “This is who I am.” I think it has something to do with being over 40 and no longer giving a rat’s ass what people think.
Accepting the introvert means acknowledging when my Solitude Tank is running low. It is easier to say “I need to be by myself for a while” rather than morphing into a snappy shrew who’s pissed off at everyone JUST BECAUSE. Small restorative breaks enable me to be a better person which translates into better managing my various roles. I feel guilty, of course, but I feel infinitely worse when I turn into Her Shrewness and treat everyone like shit.
So. How has this affected my parenting? When Princess Slim goes in her room and closes her door, I don’t knock. I try not to arrange Sunday play dates because this time, this having-nothing-to-do time, is critical in a world where everyone is overscheduled. I want her to learn to be alone and to be ok with it. If and when Señor Lunchbox doesn’t require as much supervision (please God, sorry about church again, but please let there be a when) I will do the same. I won’t force them to do stuff they don’t want to do in spite of the incredible pressure to do and join and play.
Will they suffer? I hope not. We can only afford to have one person in therapy at a time and that’s ME, bitches.
I don’t know when I learned the word introvert, but the first time I understood the concept was in ninth grade.
During freshman year I had a group of lively, crazy, silly friends. We passed notes at school, talked for hours on the phone, went to the movies, had sleepovers, and got kicked out of half the stores at the mall for excessive giggling.
In between, I hid out in my room to read, write stories, and memorize all the songs on They Might Be Giants’ Flood album. And I wrote in my journal nearly every day. My favorite topics were how many times That Guy said hi to me in the hall and what everyone was wearing. (I thought I might want to be able to picture how people looked later on. Memo to 9th Grade Me: No. You won’t care. Sorry.) I really do think those spiral notebooks were the key to my sanity, giving me space to sort through the many dramas of fourteen-year-old life.
By the end of the school year, which included back-to-back overnight trips with choir and color guard, I was seriously drained. So I pulled back, but I didn’t have the vocabulary (or, truthfully, the maturity) to say to my friends, “Look, I’m an introvert. Even when it’s super fun, being with people nonstop wears me out. I need some time to recover, but then I will totally be up for going to Boardwalk Fries.”
Instead I kept turning down invitations, which tends to make people think you don’t want to be friends anymore. We never had a huge falling out. But things just weren’t really the same. And after that year, I did protect my downtime more carefully. I kept writing in my journal, too, which continued to be a calm place when things got crazy busy again.
Fast forward to seven years ago when Doodlebug was born. By then I did know the term introvert, but it honestly never crossed my mind that being one would affect my transition into parenting. I had stocked the freezer with six dozen muffins, but I had exactly zero plans for making sure I would get the alone time I needed.
Add in sleep deprivation, nursing issues, and the idea that good moms love spending every minute with their babies, and it was a rough time at first. Some days are still rough. The apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, though. Doodlebug can spend hours drawing and writing her own stories. She has decimated my supply of spiral notebooks, but that’s okay. I’ll just keep buying more. For both of us.