After many years of infertility, my husband and I finally brought home a daughter.
She was eight years old, adorable, precious, and…extroverted.
A few months went by without any issues because, hello! I had a daughter. Of course she can talk to me nonstop, of course she can be attached to my side 24-7, of course she can be touching me and needing me constantly.
It was my husband who started saying things first. I wanted to shrug off the fact that I was in a constant state of over stimulation, but he knew this was a ticking time bomb. I was so quick to deny it because I was so ridiculously happy to be a mother, what kind of person would I be to want time away from my baby? But he just kept shaking his head.
“You need a break,” he told me. And he was right.
Every introvert needs space.
The first rule we put in place was, “Mornings are time for Daddy-snuggles.” Our bouncing little girl could give me a quick hug when she got up, but then she had to go find Daddy on the couch and snuggle with him while I had my coffee and made breakfast.
I’m pretty sure that rule saved my life.
Instead of me cringing when she tried to snuggle, I could give her big hugs and kisses and know that I’d still have a few minutes to quiet space to start my day. And it also created a special Daddy/Daughter bonding time.
Since we homeschooled, there wasn’t any time without my daughter around, but we decided to put a 30 minute silent reading time on the schedule. At the beginning, she hated it. She was an excellent reader and loved to read books—but she preferred to read them aloud to someone because, hey, life is more fun with people! But I held firm. A half hour. Every school day.
And while she read, I hid in a quiet room and took deep cleansing breaths.
It was my mid-day break before the busyness of evening and family and rushing here and there.
Understanding is a game changer.
Those things worked for a couple years, but as she grew older it felt like something was missing. I knew how to get the time I needed, since we had our days set up to give me a morning and afternoon break, but I was constantly trying to dance around my daughter’s needs versus mine. She’d push for time and touch and conversation until I was ready to snap (and sometimes did!) and my poor husband was playing referee—trying to call the game before someone lost it.
One day we figured out the problem. For years I had been the one balancing both of our needs. I would take the minimum that my sanity required, and try to meet the maximum that she needed to be recharged and loved.
This was fine when she was little, but as she grew older—I couldn’t do it anymore. Once we added in another adopted child? I was running on empty, trying to keep everyone filled.
I needed my daughter to take responsibility for her own self.
And I needed her to understand some of my needs too.
In fact, as my husband pointed out, good parenting isn’t just filling a child’s needs—it’s also teaching that child how to interact in a healthy way with those around them.
So we started talking about being introverted versus extroverted. I explained the difference between being drained by people, or energized by them. We talked about how it had nothing to do with loving people—it was just a part of someone’s personality.
We made an agreement. I could tell her when I needed some space, and she could tell me when she needed people, and we would try to help meet the other’s needs, not just our own.
This agreement has transformed my interactions with my daughter. Now, instead of getting hurt or angry when I withdraw, she laughs. “You need your quiet time, Mom?” she’ll say. “How about you let me have a snack and I’ll go play outside for a while?”
Later, I’ll be the one laughing because she’ll be bouncing beside me. “Don’t you want to take pictures? Or go for a walk? Or tell me stories? Or go to town?” Anything and everything that includes people will bring a smile to her face that lights up the room.
It doesn’t work perfectly. I still get overwhelmed and cry and beg for her to just leave me be for thirty seconds! And she pouts and believes for a while that I don’t really love her.
She still gets exhausted playing alone and begs for me to just let her get out of the house or have someone over or ANYTHING THAT INVOLVES MORE PEOPLE. And I feel exasperated and frustrated that she can’t just be content in the quiet.
But we’re learning.
And despite the struggle and the frustration and the miscommunication—I can tell you right now, I wouldn’t trade this extroverted, brilliant, life-filled little girl for anyone in the world.
Are you an introvert with extroverted family members? (Or the opposite!) What do you do to make relationship work in your differences?
Photography: JenniMarie Photography