How does personality affect parenting? Lindsey Mead is an introvert and relishes quiet family time above all else. Allison Slater Tate is an extrovert, always on the look out for the next adventure. Their children’s lives are quite different as a result.
Parenting as an Introvert
By Lindsey Mead
“Mum?” I glance up from my desk to see Whit standing in the doorway of my office, a forlorn look on his face.
“I’m bored. May I have a playdate tomorrow with George?” His knees are smudged with mud. It’s mid October, and we live in Boston, but Whit is still wearing shorts every day. I had asked our babysitter to stay with him at the playground at school after the day ended.
“Sure. Did you play today on the playground?”
“Yeah. But everybody left and went home, and John went to George’s house. We came back here. I just wish I could have had a friend over.” He frowns.
“Okay, yes. I’ll text George’s mother now.” I look down at my phone and tap out a text. I feel a sinking in my belly. I have let Whit down again. We never have enough social activities planned for his taste. I think some of it is because I work and I’m not there at pickup to make spontaneous after-school plans. But I know a lot of it stems from my innate introversion, too.
My childhood was of a distinctly the-more-the-merrier variety. My mother never met someone she didn’t want to welcome with open arms, and my memory of my childhood home is of a steady stream of friends and visitors. My sister and I used to joke that it wasn’t Thanksgiving without a foreign student or two whom we’d never met at the table. My memory of my family (and my continuing experience of it) is of a roving, magnanimous extroversion that manifests itself in a million friends, a phone that’s always ringing, a lot of plans, dinner parties, coffees, and people stopping by just because. One of my mother’s many gifts is her immediate and expansive warmth. She has always attracted people to her, and, like a sun, is surrounded by more orbiting planets than I can count.
I am not that kind of mother. I fiercely wish I was. My natural orientation is inwards. On the upside, I tell myself that Grace and Whit are growing up certain that our nuclear family is holy to me. I prize time spent the four of us, alone, above almost all else. When we have an empty day, without school or sports games or any commitments, my immediate and powerful instinct is that we do something as a family. Truthfully, it’s not, hey, let’s bring some friends along.
But there is a downside, of course. What are we losing because of my bias towards quiet?
Both of my children have friends I think are terrific and whose company I enjoy. But there is something I find vaguely stressful, in an inchoate, inarticulate way, about having other people in our home. This is true even with my own friends. We don’t have visitors very often. I’m always glad when we do, but it exhausts me to have people here. Maybe it’s our small house. The noise bothers me, absolutely, but is it something else, too? I don’t know, but whatever the reason, I struggle to initiate and organize playdates as often as either child would like.
Birthday parties are also something that I dread thinking about, even though I end up enjoying them. I worry about the chaos and the crowds and, perhaps most of all, that my discomfort will cause me to let Grace and Whit down. When the children were little I used to love planning parties, with themes and stationery and favors. I remember vividly the personalized melamine plates I made for the children who attended Whit’s clown-themed three-year birthday, and the superhero capes with each child’s initial on the back for the attendees of Grace’s six-year party. I loved these tasks, probably because I envisioned and executed them in the quiet of my office.
Now, perhaps because the terrain of friendship has become more complicated, because the stakes seem to have gone up in birthday party land (a clown no longer thrills), or simply because I’m becoming more introverted as I age, I find Grace and Whit’s parties—both the planning and the attendance of—more strenuous than I used to.
I often wish I could replicate the kind of merry, go-with-the-flow warmth that animated my own childhood. We live near school, and I really want to be an open-door mother, with other children running through my kitchen as comfortably as my own kids do. The fact of the matter is, though, I just don’t think I’ll ever be that person.
Grace, whose personality is more like mine, chooses quiet and often prefers to be home, alone, studying or reading. Whit, whose natural extroversion is something I both admire and find baffling, is routinely dismayed by the lack of playmates nearby. My relationship with him is an interesting echo of the dynamic I shared with my own mother. That his orientation towards the world is so different from mine creates opportunities for both learning and, of course, friction.
My introversion and natural shyness surely means many things for my children, good and bad. I worry that the bad outweighs the good, that my lack of outgoingness and my struggle to include other people in our life sacrifices something important for them. All I can do, though, is be the best version of who I know I am. All I can do is swear that I will keep trying to open up—myself, our home, and our family.
Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives near Boston with her daughter, son, and husband. Her work has appeared in a variety of print and online sources, several anthologies, and she blogs regularly at A Design So Vast.
Parenting as an Extrovert
By Allison Slater Tate
On a recent day off from school, I took my kids to a local breakfast diner for pancakes. “Hey, Allison! You have everyone today!” the hostess called to me when we walked through the door. Our waiter told me he read my latest blog post as he put a Diet Coke down in front of me before I could ask for it, and another waitress passing by asked me how my trip to California was last week. I waved and greeted two other tables, one inhabited by my assistant principal from high school, another by a fellow mom from the elementary school.
“Everyone knows you,” grumbled my ten-year-old, slumping down a little in the booth as if to regain some anonymity. “That’s what happens when you live where you grew up,” I remind him.
Of course, it is more than that. I definitely do know a lot of people in my suburb, because I grew up here and I still run into former teachers and classmates and their parents often. But I also know “everyone,” at least in my children’s eyes, because I have spent a lot of time in our communities, both real and virtual, volunteering at my children’s schools and preschools and for local and alumni organizations. I crave connection, and I get it by throwing myself into everything I can. I also have a hard time staying within the four walls of home, which means that, yes, the staff of the local diner knows me and my children well.
I grew up the child of a resolute introvert and an even more resolute extrovert. My mother has never met a stranger, could talk for days on end without stopping, and truly hates to stay home. She was always up for any adventure at any time of day or night, and she encouraged me to have the same mindset. As my children say, “Grammy makes friends with everyone, and everyone likes Grammy.” I seem to have inherited her need for people and activity, to know and to be known, because I feel almost a physical need to be out in the world, meeting and connecting. I believe it’s a reason that I now have four children: I wanted, and thrive on, the chaos and noise of so many bodies in the house with me.
My children are hybrids of my introverted husband and me. My oldest often turns away friends at the door who come knocking to ask him to play, something I cannot fathom. He has a small cadre of very close friends, but he is happy to be alone and does not necessarily crave companionship. My middle two boys are more gregarious. They have best friends, but they are also friends with everyone in their classes and spend their weekends begging for playdates and going to birthday parties. It seems like I never make everyone happy: some combination of my children always wants to stay home and just play in pajamas all day, while another desperately wants to see a friend and get out of our house.
I encourage my children to make and spend time with friends. We don’t host events at our house as much as I would like because of logistics, but we ask friends to come over, we hold big, sprawling birthday parties, and I nudge my children to invite friends with us on adventures to the zipline or a football game. I don’t mind plus-ones; it makes me happy to have a car full of children and chatter. I hope that my children find confidence in my model of extroversion, because I tend to use it to overcome intimidation and fear. I hope they see it as warmth and openness to the world and other people. Because I have been so involved and engaged in various communities throughout my life, my children now have many chances to visit and experience cities and families all over the country through my friendships and connections.
That’s not always what they want, though. “You talk to everyone for soooo loooong,” my 12-year-old complains to me. “We are always sitting and waiting for you to finish talking.” He’s not wrong. And when I told my two middle children I was taking them to Disney’s Halloween party last week, my seven year old immediately asked, “Who are we meeting there?” When I said it would just be the three of us, he looked perplexed. “Oh,” he said finally, obviously confused by the concept.
Sometimes I wonder if my extroversion is a boon or a hindrance to my children. Do I push them out the door (or their comfort zones) too much, or just enough to teach them how to take risks and develop resourcefulness? Is my restlessness keeping us from honoring the quiet family moments – movie nights, board games, lazy days in our pajamas – or are we creating different kinds of family moments? Am I passing my restlessness on to my children, or am I giving them permission to fully engage in the world?
Like my own mother, I find that my extroversion makes me friends with spontaneity. I am up for late-night trips to diners, spur-of-the-moment road trips to cooler weather, impractical Disney jaunts on school nights. I feel like my children will remember me for this attitude of ready-for-anything, and I think it makes their childhood feel rich with possibility. But on the other hand, they might also remember that for me, it was never enough- never enough adventure, never enough friends, never enough time to do everything I wanted and needed to do. I hope that never makes them feel like they are not enough for me.
After a brief career in Hollywood, Allison Slater Tate decided to work somewhere even crazier: her own home, with her own four children, now ages 12 to 2. Her writing has appeared both in print and online, most notably at the Huffington Post, the Washington Post, Scary Mommy, and Brain, Child. She is both a Leo and ENFP and behaves accordingly.
Illustrations by Christine Juneau