The differences between introverts and extroverts have become the stuff of Facebook memes: trite, hyperbolic and exploited for clickbait. And yet, these differences are rooted in some truth. They are rooted in many people’s lived experience.
According to the Myers & Briggs Foundation, extroverts gain their energy from being around other people. Though sometimes impulsive, they are “people persons” who thrive in group activities and large events. Introverts, on the other hand, gain their energy from their internal world: a world of thoughts and ideas. Though sometimes disconnected from the “outer world,” they are reflective people who enjoy working in very small groups or even all by themselves.
I mostly identify as an introvert. And in my experience, being an introvert and parenting young children is a troublesome pair.
It doesn’t matter if you have only one child at home. That one child can embody the presence of 10 people, 20 people, a whole roomful of people. Two or more kids, and you can have the whole circus right there in your kitchen. Each mess, each need, each endless conversation is an interruption to the introverted parent’s precious inner world of ideas.
I know this reality all too well.
At the moment, my 4-year-old son is in the midst of a stage where he never stops talking. (“Never” might be a bit of an exaggeration. He does take a breath every few seconds.) The noise is constant. And he’s not necessarily wild. He’s not all that destructive. He simply talks. All day. Every day.
Every parent needs the space and time to think whole thoughts to themselves. Little kids often don’t understand that need.
All that talking is a challenge for my fragile, solitude-seeking introverted brain.
I can’t rely on the television to give me a break from the talking. In fact, we don’t need the bonus features on our DVDs. My son is more than willing to add an hour or more of commentary each time we watch a movie.
I don’t even get quiet bathroom breaks, which I thought were a once-again permanent fixture in my life since leaving the toddler-parenting years. No, my son pushes his way past the bathroom door and talks to me the whole time I’m doing my business.
Each day brings a steady hum of mostly cute, sometimes nonsensical chatter. And by mid-morning, that hum starts to chip away at my patience.
In all honesty, extroverts would probably struggle with the non-stop chatter too. Our introvert/extrovert labels matter less than our basic human needs. Every parent needs the space and time to think whole thoughts to themselves. Little kids often don’t understand that need.
I’ve realized that if I cannot make my son understand my need for some quiet here and there, I can at least make him respect that need.
Perhaps he was worried that, without his outer monologue, he would no longer exist.
“I’m going to go to the bathroom all by myself,” I told him just the other day. He looked at me as if I’d told him that I was leaving for a year-long trip to China. No matter. I soldiered on. “And then I’m going to set the timer for five minutes. We’re not going to talk. We’re going to be very quiet. And when that timer goes off, we can talk and make noise all we want.”
At first, he looked scared. Perhaps I wasn’t doing a good enough job of hiding my impatience with him. Perhaps he was worried that, without his outer monologue, he would no longer exist. (If you can figure out how to explain what an “inner monologue” is to a 4-year-old, you are a parenting wizard.) Whatever the case, he agreed to my proposition. And so I peed in peace and then set the kitchen timer for my moments of silence.
Five minutes was all it took. Five minutes of sweet, sweet quiet.
And at the end of those five minutes, I was ready to listen and respond to my son’s sweet, sweet voice again.
At least for the next hour or so.