Sometimes it is all just too much.
Life that is. More specifically, people.
This is our 6yo this past Sunday morning. Visiting what will be her new classroom for church school, this little introvert was overwhelmed by all the people and noise so we found a nook and a finger labyrinth for her to center herself until she was ready to explore. I sat just outside the nook (she had invited me in but these hips don’t lie and I didn’t fit) and observed quietly (and fiddled on my phone) while she traced along the maze a few times. Behind me the room was buzzing with other children, some she knew, some she didn’t know. They were exploring the room with their parents, chatting excitedly about the toys, art stations, games, and decorations.
Years ago this would have concerned me. I would have been tempted to push her into the room and to engage with others. It would have stressed me that maybe something was wrong with her and it wouldn’t have taken long for me to begin to think that her father and I had messed her up and she was doomed to social awkwardness and anxiety. Then I would have pushed more, tried to make friends with another child to encourage them to make friends with mine, talked up how wonderful the environment was and how everyone else was having a good time.
And it would have backfired royally.
I only know this because I did all that before with one of our older girls.
My attempts caused her to think there was something wrong with her. My pushing pushed her to feel inept in managing social interactions. My attempts at encouragement only served to undermine her ability to listen to herself and led to her questioning her own feelings. My personal internalization of failure based on social expectations resulted in her feeling I was disappointed in her.
All of it made it harder for her and has required intentional effort to undo.
Eventually I learned to chill. Calmed down and allowed my children to be who they are.
Learning and really understanding how introverts and extroverts navigate the world around them and where they draw their energy from helped me accept my children and grow to be mature enough to take a step back and let them be who they are.
Our family is a mix of extroverts, introverts, and ambiverts. This makes life… interesting. We spend a lot of time working to respect those individual needs.
Our introverts need time alone, that’s where they find their energy and how they feel balanced. They also enjoy social interactions but that will be draining in the long run. Some of our introverts can flit into a setting with many people and acclimate quickly and you may not even guess they’re introverts. They can even be loud and talkative. This is only possible if they’ve had some time alone to have the energy for this. At the end of it all they will be drained and ready to recharge. Some of our introverts, one in particular, will never flit anywhere and never completely acclimate to a crowd. Instead, she will hang back and look for someone else on the fringe or perhaps a pet on the scene to interact with quietly.
Our extroverts need social interactions, that’s where they find their energy and how they feel balanced. They also enjoy time alone but too long and that will be draining in the long run. Some of our extroverts hang back when they enter a setting with many people, assessing the climate and determining how they will interact and you may not even guess they’re extroverts initially. This is particularly true if they’ve had ample social activity and aren’t feeling starved for interactions. At the end of the social setting they will be even more energized and interactive and never ready to leave. One of our extroverts is always the life of the party. Nobody misses her when she arrives and she will leave the social setting with enough energy to run a marathon… or she could if she didn’t despise physical activity.
There are 8 of us in our family a mix of extroverts, introverts, and an ambivert. These dynamics have provided us multiple opportunities to develop our sensitivity and awareness of each other’s unique personalities and needs. We talk often about these differences and celebrate how that makes us stronger as a family. Introverts, extroverts, ambiverts, all bring something unique to the table mixed with their other personality traits. Not one is better than the other or more desirable.
Our introverts help us find quiet and space to reflect and grow. Our introverts think things over carefully and when they’re ready raise questions that are insightful and important to consider. Our introverts remind us that our feelings are important but if we’re not careful we’ll neglect our feelings and inadvertently hurt others. Not that our extroverts don’t do these things, just that our introverts excel in these ways.
Our extroverts help us find and build community connections. Our extroverts draw us into celebrations. Our extroverts remind us that we need people and relationships. Our extroverts propel us forward in adventure and risk taking. Not that our introverts don’t do these things, just that our extroverts excel in these ways.
Each of us is encouraged to respect our boundaries and clearly communicate what we need. Now that we’ve learned better, nobody is pushed, nobody is pressured. We are free to be who we are.
Which is why on Sunday when this little girl wasn’t sure about interacting with people, I let her find her own way. It still takes some effort to silence the cultural conditioning in my head that presenting as extrovert is more desirable and successful in our society. I had to push aside my fear that she wouldn’t be able to make friends and would stay stuck in that corner forever.
In the end, after she did two different labyrinths a couple of times each, she looked up and surveyed the scene before her. We made eye contact and I smiled, asking her how she was feeling. She quipped that she was good and looking for puzzles. Crossing the narrow room she grabbed a puzzle from a basket but before she could make it back to the corner a little boy, I’d guess an extrovert, asked her if she’d like to do the puzzle together with him. I watched my daughter’s face light up with a smile as she said yes and they sat down together to play. From my spot by the corner I couldn’t hear their conversation but I could see they were chatting. She never needed me to rescue her. I relaxed, convinced again that she would be just fine when she threw her head back and laughed loudly at something the boy said, her own voice adding to the din of happy sounds.
In her own time, on her own terms, it wasn’t too much any more. She found in herself exactly what she needed to navigate that space in a way that would build her confidence and allow her to be free to be herself.