Raising an extroverted kid is so much harder when you're an introvert

Mar 14, 2016 at 2:45 p.m. ET
Image: Igor Emmerich/Getty Images

As soon as my oldest daughter could interact with others, it was clear that she loved people. We would go to the grocery store, and while I would be focused on my list, she would practically be falling out of the grocery cart, trying to catch the attention of someone at the other end of the aisle. Some mornings she sits at the window and stares longingly at the school bus, whispering to herself, “When I’m a bigger girl, I get to go to school with those kids."

As she has grown from a baby to a toddler to a preschooler, this part of her personality has become more pronounced. She thrives when she has time with others and frequently asks when we will be visiting her friends or going to church again so she can see people. It is sweet to see her personality develop, to see her figure out who she is and what fills her with joy.

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At the same time, as an introvert, raising an extroverted kid is a challenge.

I grew up in a family of introverts and married an introvert, so this is really my first experience being pushed out of my comfort zone. When it comes to our social lives, my daughter and I could not be more opposite. I prefer to limit myself to one or two social activities each week, and those are typically one-on-one coffee dates or dinner out with one or two close friends. In comparison, my daughter can’t seem to get enough of spirited groups of kids and would jump at the chance for a playdate any given day.

This creates an interesting dichotomy. If I spend too much time going from activity to activity or surrounded by a lot of people, I find myself drained, and it negatively affects my ability to parent well and maintain an upbeat mood. My daughter, on the other hand, grows crabby and ornery when we spend too much time at home or if she doesn’t have the chance to see kids her own age for several days in a row.

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It hasn’t been easy, but as an introvert raising an extroverted kid, I quickly realized I needed to learn how to balance both of our needs equally. While I know sacrificing my own comfort to make sure she gets the social interaction she craves is just part of being a mom, I am not willing to throw my own comfort out the window entirely. So our weeks really look like a delicate balancing act of saying yes to her just enough to fill her extrovert tank without saying yes so much that I end up completely drained and tired of people at the end of the week.

Really, this pattern of compromise extends to all areas of parenting. It isn’t just my daughter’s social calendar that requires sacrifice on my part; there are other emotional and physical needs that put me out or push me beyond my comfort zone on a regular basis. And that is OK — I love my daughter, and I am willing to make those sacrifices for her. At the same time, learning when to ignore ridiculous mommy guilt and say no when I need to care for myself are crucial to my survival as a mom. This often means declining a playdate invitation or even something as small as insisting I eat my breakfast without sharing or holding a squirmy toddler on my lap.

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When it really comes down to it, as a mom, I am here to make sure my daughters are loved and safe and that they learn how to be kind and decent human beings. I am absolutely not here to cater to their every whim at the expense of my own well-being or mental health. This applies to their social lives, their desire for “just a bite” of Mama’s food and their picky dinnertime preferences.

Does parenting still require a whole heck of a lot of sacrifice and putting my daughters' needs above my own? You bet it does, but I am willing to take it only so far.