Introvert Parents, Extrovert Kids – Help!

This is a safe space, so I’m going to tell you something I don’t dare speak aloud at home in my living room: If I have to provide voices for the creatures of My Little Pony for one more minute, it will likely be a string of expletives that would melt Pinkie Pie’s little plastic ears.

I’m glad I got that off my chest.

There are four kids in the Howerton family. Three of them are extroverts, and I’m a classic introvert. I used to think making small talk with loud strangers at large social gatherings was my own private circle of hell, but now I know better: it’s pretend-playing with my daughter.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore her. She’s the sweetest little extroverted chatterbox in Southern California. I would gladly cuddle with her for hours. But there’s something inside me that despairs when she asks me to improvise conversations between Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle. (Yes. I know their names.) The whole scenario exhausts me…but it’s also teaching me a few things about being an introverted parent with extroverted kids. Here’s what I’m learning:

I have to be comfortable with who I am

I used to beat myself up, thinking the innate playing-with-children part inside me was broken. But once I figured out how certain parenting activities clashed with my personality, I’ve become more accepting of myself. As an introvert, I’m a good listener. I’m great with specific questions and having a focused conversation. Those are my strengths. Pony voices are my weakness. I have to be okay with that.

I have to be comfortable with who she is

The two of us are not the same, and that’s okay too. In this case, accepting my child for her extroverted personality means not making her feel ashamed for wanting to play with me. She craves human interaction, and most days, I’m the closest human around. The last thing I need to do is make her feel bad for wanting to play with me. Instead, I’ve learned to praise and affirm her personality to make sure she knows how much I love her. I try to be specific about it too, telling her how much I admire her friendliness and approachability.

I have to educate my family

I didn’t learn much about my personality until this decade, but my kids are having a very different experience. We talk about our personalities and preferences all the time. My four kids know that my oldest daughter is an introvert, just like Mom. That’s why she’s always reading in her room. They understand that sometimes I need time alone to recharge and that sometimes it’s hard for me to just strike up conversations with other parents. My husband Mark and I are both therapists, so we’ve made the language of introversion and extroversion part of our daily dialogue. So far, it’s working.

We have to divide and conquer

Mark is an extrovert, which means we are learning to divide jobs according to our strengths. If one of our kids gets invited to a birthday party where all the parents stick around and make small talk, guess which of us gets to go? Mark thrives in those situations. After dinner, he often attends to the kids while I do the dishes and clean up the kitchen alone. It’s a task that gives me time to refuel, which means it’s perfect for me.

I look for bonding activities that fuel my tank

Visits to My Little Pony land exhaust me, but I can sit and work on a craft with my youngest daughter all day long—so crafts are something I often find myself suggesting. I love to go for occasional runs with my older extroverted son. With my younger, I’ve built things out of Legos, focused and quiet. These are all activities that allow us to spend time together that actually recharge me. The trick is to find something that’s mutually enjoyable for Mom and kid without tapping me out.

I try to push our conversations deeper

The classic introversion paradox is that we are awful with small talk but feel energized by deep and meaningful conversation—so I try to have that with my kids. I may opt out of playing Barbies, but I might invite my daughter for a cuddle that allows us to talk about feelings and friendships. My kids know that I am interested and invested in their inner emotional lives.

I’m learning. Understanding and embracing who I am—and who my kids are—helps keep us connected, without making me feel like I’m failing at this parenting thing.

I’m wondering if there are any other parents out there whose personalities clash with their kids’ personalities. How have you learned to navigate these differences?

Share your thoughts.

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  • Ama

    Dear Stephanie, so much of what you say resonates with me. I especially agree that wanting to free yourself from this world or transform into someone else must be an exhausting state of mind to constantly be in and therefore, your decision to accept yourself and work from there is the best one you can make! And yes, banish all that (unwarranted) guilt and shame; embrace who you are. You are the right mom for your kids (I also have to tell myself that often!) and I hope you find a way to make it work for all of you. All the best!

  • My introvert is a boy, so I had to replace all the shes to hes 😉

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for writing this.

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  • bellejarre

    Wow, this is the story of my life! Oh those infernal voices, I have to do them all day given that I work from home. I do comply often even as something in my wilts, but sometimes I find myself hissing QUIET. Thank you for writing this post.

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  • Introverted Mom

    Thank you for sharing. My oldest son is an introvert (like me), but his brother is an extrovert. My oldest and I get along wonderfully…we take walks or have quiet time together. His brother, on the other-hand, continually talks and wants my undivided attention. Many days I’m exhausted and feel drained; I’m still learning how to navigate our relationship. Relieved to learn that I’m not alone!

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  • Kristine Zydel

    Kristen,

    I feel the same way about Rainbow Dash and Pinky Pie. I am a single mother with a wonderfully extroverted daughter. We are currently living over seas and i have needed to hire a part time nanny to take her to the park multiple times a week so I can recharge quietly after working in a large international school with 500 kindergarten students. I am so happy to have found this forum to read about parents who are experiencing the same difficulties as I am. Part of me does feel so guilty about not be able to engaged with her in the way she wants me to but I think I have found a manageable way to meet both our needs.

  • Christi Hartwell

    I went through so much guilt when my kids were younger, thinking I was a bad mother because I didn’t want to throw big birthday parties, volunteer for field trips, even attend story time at the library because all the parents sat together and chatted (and I didn’t know any of them). I’d force myself to do them as much as I could, but bowed out whenever possible. And yes, my husband the extrovert took up duties as much as possible.
    Now that my kids are older, I realize they weren’t harmed in the slightest by my “antisocial” tendencies. Even so, it sure would have helped me knowing why I felt the way I did, as I’m sure it would have helped ease the guilt a little.

  • Brandy Carlson

    This hits the nail on the head. My youngest daughter used to love to play with her dolls and would always get frustrated with me and start to tell me what I (the doll) should be saying. Now as they get older and are in multiple competitions (marching band, dance, etc.) they would worry about me because I didn’t sit with the other parents. I really, truly enjoyed watching the events and reading between breaks in the back. They thought I felt left out and would always try to push me to sit and hang out with the other parents. I hated even the notion. I often explain how I work full time and how much I enjoy just watching on my own, being by myself, and just recharging, that I really was not bored or feeling excluded, they started to understand. Once in a while they may still worry about their introverted, old mom but when they hear me talk about how awesome they did or how much I liked a certain movement, they are seeing that I am okay and actually happy. And am able to devote all of my attention to them and not necessarily trying to create bonds with other individuals or make small talk (ugh).

  • John

    Hello Kristen,
    I know exactly how you feel. Unfortunately for me (I am 63) I didn’t know anything about an Extrovert or Introvert so When my Daughter (very much an Extrovert) was born and throughout her life I sucked it up and did all the things a Husband and Father are supposed to do as far as social gatherings, after school events and Family and Friend gatherings plus the everyday things she wanted my Wife and me to do. Sometimes I was lucky enough to get out of Family gatherings due to work but for the most part I participated in them with the help of my wife! Now that my Daughter is older and has Children of her own she wants us to be in her family’s life which I really do appreciate but I have stuck with all the get toghethers of family on my Son-In-Law’s and my Wife’s and my side. And every time we visit my Daughter’s family my Granddaughter always wants me to be by her side from the time she goes to bed and again when she awakens. Plus my Daughter wants me to be involved with her and the other Children not to exclude my Son-In-Law! She lives about one hundred and seventy five miles from us so we usually stay for the weekend when we visit! By the time the weekends over both my Wife and I are exhausted! I finally though have been explaining to all of our families that I am an Introvert! Because of all the things I did with all of the families in the past none of them has taken me seriously! Oh some will say they understand but then in the next breath want to get toghethers for some fun! I wish I could have known more about my Introversion back when my Daughter was born so that I could have done exactly how you are doing it now! Thank you for your story!

  • Susan

    I am a single parent introvert with an extroverted only child daughter. I spend quality time with her having meaningful conversations (I’m serious here) driving her to her extroverted activities. I’m the mom in the corner with a book, looking up and cheering her on, but not engaging with the parental chit-chat. When she was littler it was hard. So hard. And there were blizzards. So many blizzards. And voices for dolls…..She’s 9 now and she gets me, just as I get her. When we’re getting stir crazy on a weekend, I know that I need to bring her to the ice rink or the pool or someplace where she can chatter with others, not to a museum or movie, as would be my personality druthers. It works. It takes time. But oh, the voices….Argh.

  • Nora Batty

    My olderest son is on the autism spectrum and requires structure and routine to feel he can relax and not have to be in control. As a relaxed improvisor i have had to learn which structures are essential for him for harmony and which we can help him learn to let go of. Finding a balance has been hit and miss and requires constant talking about how we all feel. Throw in a super vague and relaxed youngest child and sometimes there are fireworks.

  • My husband, our youngest son, and I are all introverts. Big brother is an extrovert. I know that can get lonely, so we try to go to park days with other families, participate in field trips, and allow him to have a friend over now and then. I’m thankful we have neighbor kids on either side of us and that they all like to come here to play. 🙂

  • David Talbot

    Spot on! I’m a single parent and the kids live me part time, 3 daughters, 1 (aged 20) now flown the nest and currently sat at Heathrow on her first big solo trip overseas, off to Arizona for a couple of weeks. She is borderline intro/extro and usually gets the way INTJ me is, likewise I know how to deal with her personality. Middle daughter another INTJ so we know the way each other works, give each other space and have long esoteric and interesting chats. Youngest (11) total extrovert and runs the two of intros ragged, past the My Little Pony stage but a total attention seeker. The one plus side of the living alone (well with the equally introvert cat) some of the time is the chance to recover from the full on 11 yo!

  • Tony Vargas

    Feeling blessed! I am an introvert father of twin girls. They’ve had each other to play with but here’s the thing: they are 7-years old and I still don’t know which is the introvert and which is the extrovert! They change personalities from time-to-time. They always have. When they were infants, it would be weekly. One would require all the attention and the other was content being a quiet bundle of joy. Over time, that weekly change extended into one month at a time and eventually several months.

    They are in the 2nd grade now and at a recent parent-teacher conference, the teacher gave me her assessment and she identified their personalities differently than I would have (don’t worry – they’re not identical twins so confusing them is rarely an issue). Both show tendencies of introversion and extroversion but neither has really locked in to a personality type that I can identify. I suppose I get by because I subscribe to the the notion that even us introverts come out of our comfort zone for those things we are passionate about and I am passionate about being a dad. For the record…I have been a guest at their “spa,” I’ve coordinated activities and games at their parties and yes, I have had tea parties with play-doh sandwiches but I’ve never had to do a voice for My Little Pony (or MLP if you’re cool) or Shopkins – the two of them take care of that just fine, thank you.

  • abitjaded

    Yes! I’ve requested this topic in the past. My son is also a consummate chatterbox, getting time alone requires pulling teeth. I’m often exhausted just by the process of trying to get a break. I’ve learned to ask for a break sooner so that I don’t get snippy when my dear son tells me that I don’t need one!