When my wife was pregnant, we talked a lot about the qualities we wanted our unborn daughter to have. We wanted her to be happy, of course. We hoped she would be fearless and wily, affable and talkative. In other words, we hoped she would be an extrovert. My wife and I both life-long introverts and since life is already a kick in the pants without having to deal with the shyness and lack of confidence introversion brings, we just thought, “Hey universe, can you cut our kid a break in that department?”
Well, the universe heard us because at 20 months old, our little girl is a whirling dervish – forever in a state of dancing, laughing, babbling, running, playing, and jumping. It’s as if sitting still for more than a few seconds will cause her to spontaneously combust. Raising my daughter has been a series of lessons in how different introverts and extroverts really are. Here’s what I’ve learned as an introvert parenting an extrovert.
1. Finding Time to Recharge Your Emotional Batteries Is Critical
If you’re an introvert, the idea of going to a party you can never leave probably fills you with existential dread. But that’s exactly what having an extroverted kid is like! Like most introverts, I need alone-time to recharge my emotional batteries. But between work and home, there’s no place for me to do that, which means I have to get creative. Maybe it’s finding a darkened conference room to rest my eyes. Maybe it’s taking a long walk during my lunch break. Maybe it’s flinging paperclips at my coworker until he threatens to smother me. No matter what, I have to find those spaces to recharge and make the most of them when I do.
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2. Prioritizing Health And Fitness Is Essential
Raising kids is hard! We both knew that going in, but I was hopelessly unprepared for how much work she would be. Dealing with the constant hubbub leaves me a hot exhausted mess by the end of the day. I’m not a fit man, but even if I was, it wouldn’t be enough. Just this week, my kid decided her favorite activity was jumping up and down on my stomach. Now my spine is ruined for all eternity. If this kid is going to raise hell (and she is), I want to be right beside her taking the blame for all the stuff she wrecks. I can’t do that from the couch buried under five layers of ice-packs.
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3. It’s Important to Plan For Public Meltdowns
Fact: people in public spaces hate parents and their unruly children. And if your kid is, like mine, preternaturally unable to sit quietly for any amount of time, you begin to feel like an ant under a really big magnifying glass.
As an introvert, I’m already uncomfortable with attention – even if it’s positive – so hostile attention is enough to make me instantly shrivel into a shiny ball of fiery hot shame. That’s why, the moment she starts melting down, my wife and I implement a complex series of distractions we developed to keep her happy, such as taking corner booths at restaurants far from other diners, giving her access to toys she can only play with when we’re out. And if they don’t have the desired effect, it’s not uncommon to go right to DEFCON 1 and just take her out of the store/restaurant/ wherever. “Whatever kiddo. We didn’t want to have a nice family dinner outing anyway!”
4. Be Sure to Enjoy the Affection When You Get It
I love my kid, but there are days I can’t verify that she feels the same about me. Even in her clingy phases, my daughter never held on to me or her mom for more than a second or two. This is troubling when she’s wrenching her hand out of mine so she can run like a maniac into the street, and it’s hard not to take it personally when her mommy says “hug daddy” and she instead runs away from me and goes to her blocks.
But on those rare occasions when she climbs into my lap so I can read to her, or she nuzzles into my wife’s neck for more than 3 seconds, the affection feels special because you can sense she knows how much we need the cuddling. Those are the moments I treasure.
5. Accept That Your Old Life Is Irrevocably Changed. But That’s Okay!
Look, this is the case with every child, but it’s especially true of extroverted ones. Before our daughter arrived, my wife and I dumbly believed that we could assimilate her into our lifestyle. But it quickly became clear that she expected us to adapt to hers. If she doesn’t want to sit in the high chair, she won’t. If she doesn’t want to eat spaghetti, she’ll throw it off the table. If she wants to walk untethered around a bustling Home Depot, good luck stopping her. Dealing with a tiny person with a giant personality means I’ve had to relinquish far more control than I’m comfortable with. But what I’ve lost in control, I’ve gained in peace of mind: Buddy, you never had control to begin with.
This little girl tests my patience and resolve like nothing else, but I don’t regret a single day of being her dad. She’s challenged us to confront some of our less admirable qualities and change for the better. The transition has been brutally difficult and old habits die hard, but when we wished for an extroverted child, I think we both knew we needed the change it would bring to our lives. It’s been a fascinating and terrifying two years. I can’t wait to see what the next few bring.
Greg Kanaan is a New England-based arts and entertainment attorney.