While I was fairly social in my pre-mom life, I have always been an introvert. The constant energy that goes into parenting depletes my battery pretty quickly. Nowadays, given a choice between a night out with my friends or a night in with my husband, some take-out, and the latest episode of Ted Lasso, I will pick cheering on the fictional Greyhounds nine times out of 10. It’s not that I don’t enjoy spending time with my friends, it’s that I know that if I don’t give myself enough time to relax and recharge, it will negatively affect every aspect of my life.
All of the socializing that goes into parenting is enough to make any introvert feel on edge by the end of the day. Between small talk with parents at gymnastics and dance, constant communication from the PTA, and a birthday party seemingly every weekend, it’s a lot. But add an extroverted child (or two or three!) into the mix, and there is a serious imbalance that you have to navigate. Put too much emphasis on your child’s needs, and you’ll burn out quickly; prioritize yourself too much, and your child suffers as a result. It can seem impossible—but it doesn’t have to be.
Cara Goodwin, PhD, a licensed psychologist and founder of Parenting Translator, tells Pregnancy & Newborn, “Although it can be very difficult to be an introverted parent raising an extroverted child, introverted parents should remember that there is an incredible potential that both parent and child will learn and grow from each other’s different perspectives and very different ways of interacting with the world.”
So what can parents do to ensure everyone’s batteries are fully charged so that they can reach this potential? To find out, we also spoke with Lauren Starnes, EdD, PhD, the chief academic officer of The Goddard School and author of Big Conversations with Little Children, and Kiva Schuler, founder and CEO of The Jai Institute for Parenting. These three experts shared some great insights into navigating this complicated divide that affects so many parents.
Introvert vs. Extrovert
First and foremost, it’s important to understand what introversion and extroversion are and how they differ. “Extroverts, in general, have a need for greater stimulation and social interaction,” explains Dr. Goodwin, “Introverts tend to have a greater need for quiet and alone time.”
Schuler is quick to point out that there are often misconceptions about introverts and extroverts. At some point, you may have been told that introverts are more socially awkward or keep to themselves too much, which can be insulting—particularly when you factor in that much of the world is designed for extroverts to thrive, requiring introverts to mask in order to try to fit in (and, thus, draining their battery all the quicker).
“It’s not about social comfort, shyness, communication style, or personality,” she says. “This spectrum is really about how we recharge our social and emotional batteries. So, to put it simply: extroverts fill their proverbial cup by being with other people, and introverts do so with time alone.”
Additionally, according to Dr. Starnes, extroverts commonly seek input and energy from others and enjoy conversations and collaborative problem-solving. Dr. Goodwin adds that extroverts “tend to ‘jump right in’ to new or challenging situations” and are more responsive to rewards, which they often seek out “through activities and social interactions.”
Dr. Goodwin says introverts, on the other hand, “may be more careful and/or hesitant” and mentions that research suggests they “may be more meticulous and measured than extroverts.” Dr. Starnes also notes that introverts tend to “seek calm, prefer to be given time to think carefully and deeply, prefer small groups or one-on-one interaction, and tend to be creative.”
Based on all of this information, you may be able to put your child(ren) into the category of introvert or extrovert, but Schuler recommends refraining from sharing that information and letting them discover it on their own.
“Avoid labeling and telling your children who they are or are not. The words we use to describe our children become their identity,” she explains. “Allowing our children the gift of discovering, for themselves, who they are, with our unconditional love, support, and acceptance is one of the greatest joys we can experience as parents.”
Common Needs of an Extroverted Child
While I will absolutely follow Schuler’s advice and let my 6-year-old learn who she is on her own, I can say with confidence that she leans more toward the extroverted end of the spectrum. In fact, Dr. Starnes’ description of what an extroverted child needs is pretty spot-on when I think about my daughter. She says, “An extroverted child will make their needs known as they will seek conversation, demand an audience, and attract social interaction. The extroverted child likes being around people and makes friends easily. Extroverted children may struggle to play alone or to maintain quiet during play.” (That “struggle to play alone” part is extra difficult when her two introverted parents need time to recharge.)
My daughter loves social interaction, whether in a group or one-on-one setting. If my husband and I ever want a quiet weekend at home, we still need to schedule some kind of social activity for her or she will get very grouchy—which is fair when you consider that by the time Sunday rolls around, her battery is probably depleted as another week of school approaches.
“We must remember that in many school settings, children aren’t given a lot of space for play, so finding creative ways to balance this out for them can be really helpful … like making family dinners more engaging or starting an impromptu dance party in the kitchen,” Schuler notes.
Dr. Goodwin adds that extroverted kiddos may also need “ample opportunities to engage in more exciting or fast-paced activities.” Also, “They may also become bored easily and crave more new experiences than the average child.”
There are also some unique challenges an extroverted child may face, according to Dr. Goodwin. “Although they are very socially interested, they may need help on social skills, in particular, not coming on too strong or paying attention to subtle social cues that they may miss due to excitement.”
Common Needs of an Introverted Parent
Ask any parent, and they are likely to tell you that they could definitely use some peace and quiet to recharge—even if they’re extroverted. For introverted parents, though, quiet time alone isn’t something that’s “nice to have”; it’s necessary.
“Introverted parents may need more time alone than extroverted parents, particularly after social interaction or a new experience,” says Dr. Goodwin, “They may need more quiet time or time to think. They may not be as interested in as many new situations or exciting activities as their [extroverted] child.” She also notes that adjusting to the constant needs of a child can be more difficult for an introvert, which is why some introverted parents may seek communal support from their family and friends more than extroverted parents.
Personally, this rings true. I can’t put into words how worn out I feel after attending a two-hour birthday party for one of my kids’ friends or how much I have to hype myself up before a playdate—even if I genuinely enjoy the other parent. I get exhausted by meaningless small talk, so even though I can walk my daughter to and from her school, now and then, when my battery is particularly low, I will opt to sit in the carpool line just to have a break from chatting with the neighbors. I’m not shy or anti-social—I am just a mom trying to preserve as much energy as possible so that I can keep showing up for my kids, who crave my attention.
Balancing Your Needs With Your Child’s Needs
Given the contrast between the needs of an extroverted child and an introverted parent, it’s fairly obvious that there needs to be some compromise. This can be really challenging, though, because it’s hard to explain these needs to your child and even harder for them to describe how they feel when their social battery is low.
“It is a very important lesson for children to learn that they often have to compromise to accommodate the needs of others,” says Dr. Goodwin. To help your child understand introversion, she recommends saying something like, “Everyone’s brains work a little differently—some people like a lot of excitement and social interaction, and some people need more quiet and alone time.”
From there, tell your child that your brain needs to be alone more often, but go a step further to assure them that it has nothing to do with them. “Parents should make sure to emphasize that [their need for alone time] does not mean that they do not love their child or that they do not enjoy playing with them,” Dr. Goodwin notes, adding, “It can help to explain that [your] brain has always worked like this.”
In addition to helping your child understand your different needs, it’s also your job to find a way to balance both of your needs—and resist the urge to constantly prioritize your child’s needs over your own because that will lead to burnout.
“As adults, we are responsible for meeting our child’s needs and our own needs,” Schuler says, “[and] as an introverted adult, it is our work to carve out time for recharging.” Dr. Goodwin echoes this, saying, “It’s important for introverted parents to remember that their needs are important, too, and to not feel guilty for taking time away from their child if it benefits their own mental health.”
Some suggestions the experts offer include:
- Wake up 30 minutes early to get some time to yourself.
- Ask your partner or a trusted friend to take the bedtime routine for a night so that you can relax alone.
- Seek out activities for your child that don’t directly involve you, such as a “drop-off” playdate or an afternoon with a babysitter or family member.
Additionally, some things that have helped me are:
- Signing up for workout classes for an hour to myself on Saturday mornings.
- Setting Tuesday nights aside for individual alone time after we put the kids to bed (my husband is also an introvert, so this night to ourselves helps us both).
- Alternating which parent takes our kids to birthday parties and playdates (and whoever attends gets an hour alone after the event).
- Setting boundaries and saying no when the balance gets tipped too far in one direction.
Every family is unique, so figuring out how to get everyone’s needs met will take some time, patience, and understanding from all involved. But all three experts agree that this lesson will help set your child up for success as they get older and continue to develop different relationships. Schuler says, “We can teach our children about ourselves and themselves and create a family culture where all feelings and needs matter, are voiced, and collaborative solutions are created together.”