Each morning, warmth and light flood our house, stirring us to start the day. Most often, it’s still dark outside, but my son is bustling around, the alarm clock made redundant by his voice echoing through the rooms as he thinks out loud.
An extrovert, he starts his day in a hurry, maintaining this pace until his body becomes too weary and forces his mind to succumb to sleep in the evening. There are places to be, interactions to be enjoyed, life to be lived with merriment. As his introverted mother, I’m jogging alongside as best I can — often breathlessly — while he navigates his place in the world that, to him, appears in a kaleidoscope of color.
I’ve always felt off-balance in the company of extroverts. Group situations are particularly trying. While other people look to be having a wonderful time, after a while, I’m looking at my watch, wondering when it’ll be polite for me to go home. With age has come more self-acceptance of my introversion, but the vibrant, social lifestyle that many extroverts revel in still fascinates me. I want to be a part of it while embracing my need for quiet to sustain my energy.
My son, a prism of light in my life, is my greatest teacher by inviting more color in every day.
Here are four important lessons I’m learning from him.
What I’ve Learned From My Extroverted Son
1. It’s okay to take up space.
In my son’s early years, I frequently asked him to turn himself “down” to fit within my comfort zone. Sit down. Calm down. Slow down. I hadn’t meant to dampen his spirits. These days, similar requests are a reminder about the importance of having manners, and to urge him to be considerate of others. I otherwise try to remember to bite my tongue, and we have a more peaceful relationship as a result.
Though he is still physically small in size, he has a big energetic presence. He loves to dance and sing, taking the music into his body and letting it flow out again through his movements. Watching his joyful abandon encourages me to discard the burden of caring about what other people might think of me. I’m no longer content to only hum along to a favorite song, missing out on a lot of the fun that music offers. Now, I sing the lyrics that I love and smile back at the person alongside me at the traffic light who can see we are tuned in to the same radio station. If I get the chance to enjoy a night out with friends, I now happily take to the dance floor rather than looking on, clutching my drink, as I have done before.
Our house increasingly bears the marks of the animated boy growing within its walls. The spring in the middle of the couch pokes crudely up into the fabric after being relentlessly trampolined upon. The legs of the furniture, the walls and the refrigerator door sport an array of dents and scratches. Even though I keep the house clean and as orderly as possible, I used to be startled when I had unexpected visitors and the place wasn’t immaculate.
These days, if a friend or family member rings our doorbell and there are remnants of a previous activity still over the floor or the table, so be it. I’m happier to have their company than I am to be constantly tidying up. Mess and a curious little boy go hand-in-hand, so I look at the marks with fondness for the memories that we have created while he explored and learned. I presume our guests will do the same.
2. A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.
My son reminds me that all friendships start with hello. I marvel at how easily he makes friends with people of all ages. It takes me a while to feel like I can be myself around a new friend. It’s not that I’m shy. I love talking to people and getting to know them. But engaging in small talk makes me worry that I might say something wrong or silly.
I admire how readily my son strikes up a conversation with other children wherever we go. If there’s a chance to join in their game, he’ll confidently do so.
The calendar on our wall is a catalogue of his social engagements and birthday party invitations. Chaperoning him to friends’ parties for a number of years has given me opportunities to form connections with other parents — connections I might not have made on my own. Although stepping out of my comfort zone was scary at first, I drew inspiration from my son’s extroverted confidence and found enjoyment in being part of a gathering of other families.
The shared experience of parenting is a wonderful common ground to start conversations with other people. I haven’t always needed to do the talking, though. In the absence of a village in modern times, I’ve found that simply being a listening ear and offering a sincere “me too” has often been the seed that has sprouted a friendship.
Over time, I’ve created strong bonds with several mothers who have become some of my most treasured friends. These women have opened up to me and allowed me to get to know them on a deeply personal level. As an introvert, it’s a joy in itself to go beyond pleasantries to understand another person’s challenges and their values and aspirations, and to share mine with them in return.
3. You either win or you learn.
While I tend to hold on to disappointments and let them cloud my experiences, my son shakes them off and moves on to the next challenge. He expects to succeed in everything he does in life and, if he falls short of his own standards, he’ll try again.
I saw his face fall when he opened his most recent school report. He’s a sound student, and the grades were excellent, but not quite at the level he expected of himself in relation to the effort he felt he’d given. He didn’t take the teachers’ constructive remarks as a criticism of his capabilities, as I did with my school reports. Instead, he identified where he needed more knowledge and resolved to apply himself again.
He’s been a hands-on learner since he was a baby, quite unconcerned about my cautiousness. Umpteen warnings about potential hazards go unheeded until he discovers them for himself — thankfully with only minor consequences to date! There’s no doubt his approaching teenage years will be a test of patience for me, but his resilience continues to inspire me.
The only way I can help him to experience the richness of life is for me to live with passion, too. So, I’ve made a commitment to explore new interests and opportunities accepting that it might not work out as I’d intended, but allowing that to be okay. Who knows? It might work out better than I’d planned.
4. Balance is something you create.
To be completely honest, the hours that my son spends at school are a blessing for us both. His mind is nourished by education and he takes great pleasure in joining his classmates in group activities. If I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed, I have the time to sneak back into my comfort zone in his absence; to write, to sink into a book or podcast, to cook, or to enjoy a one-on-one catch up with a friend. By the afternoon, my energy is replenished. I’m ready to be present for him as he chats about his day, talking to me as much as he is outwardly processing his experiences, thoughts, and ideas.
Our contrasting temperaments are coming into better balance as I make room for our differences. He’s learning to be a leader among his peers, rather than a boss. He’s gaining an understanding that to lead well is to be compassionate, rather than condescending.
I, too, am learning to take a leading role. I used to think that introversion was something to be ashamed of, something that I needed to fix about myself. I’ve realized that I have qualities that I can use to help other people, and that they appreciate my support. I might not feel comfortable being the loudest voice in the room, but I have an innate empathy for those around me and endeavor to make people feel better for having spent time with me.
My son’s lessons have given me the best of both sides of the personality coin. I delight in the company of other people, knowing that I can just be there as I am. I also take comfort in being at home, without any self-judgment.
There’s a colorful life ahead for me and my son. We’ll both be stepping up, saying hello, and joining in the game — in our own way.