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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?