The Mistakes I Made Parenting an Extroverted Child (And What I Learned as an Introvert)

An introverted parent playing chess with his extroverted son

I learned that you have to be proactive. It’s not enough to sit back and wait for your extroverted child to come to you.

When my wife and I got married nearly 10 years ago, I took on the additional responsibility of helping to raise two boys, ages seven and eight, that she had from a previous marriage. Since I hadn’t been around children much as an adult, I had to get a quick, on-the-job crash course of how to be a parent. And anyone who has step kids knows that raising children that aren’t biologically yours can present additional challenges.

The two boys that became a part of my family could not have been any more different…

One Child Is an Introvert… 

The younger one, Levi, now 17, is on the autism spectrum, which has presented its own challenges for me (or any parent) in my efforts to bond with him. In short, someone with autism has a developmental condition that presents through behaviors such as restricted interests, repetitive behavior, and certain challenges with social communication. While I have made efforts to form a relationship with him, I have found that his personality is pretty low-maintenance, as he is pretty introverted and likes to spend a lot of his free time by himself.

I feel like the two of us have a good understanding: I’m willing to listen to him when he wants to talk, but he’s a lot like me in that he values his alone time more than the average person does. Being a fellow introvert, I feel like I have a good understanding of how, and when, to try to bond with him, and when to leave him alone. I see a lot of my own personality in him.

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The Other Child Is an Extrovert…

On the other hand, Noah, now 18, is much different. He played sports and has a lot of friends from school. In fact, I would consider him to be an extrovert in that he gains his energy from being around other people. I think that’s great; the world needs those kinds of people along with introverts. However, since I’m an introvert, this has presented an enormous challenge for me.

I’ve seen a lot of articles about how to raise an introverted child, as these children have unique needs that a lot of parents need help understanding — especially if they’re extroverts. However, I’ve seen few articles addressing the opposite situation: an introvert raising an extrovert. And I feel like this is a situation that needs to be addressed, as for me, it can sometimes be overwhelming.

Not only was I an introvert growing up, but so were both my parents. They provided all my basic needs and a lot of love, but they also were pretty hands-off in raising me, and I think that’s because they understood my personality and desire to spend a lot of time by myself. I did not feel the need to constantly be talking, and they respected this. My biggest mistake with Noah has been that I assumed this approach would work with him, as well.

I was wrong.

Instead, Noah has frequently complained that I don’t talk to him enough and that he doesn’t feel a real bond with me. He’s actually gotten very angry about it on multiple occasions. While I have made efforts to talk to him and do activities with him, I now realize, as he’s becoming an adult, that he needed more from me. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that he needed “more;” rather, that he needed something different.

Learning From My Parenting Mistakes

As Noah is just several months away from going off to college, I wish that I had been able to build more of a relationship with him as he was growing up. I was fairly hands-off with him, as I was describing above, because I thought that was the “right” thing to do. 

However, he has interpreted it as me not caring or trying enough. I thought that by providing a stable home for him, and by making an effort to talk with him as much as I was with Levi, that would be what he needed. But this was incorrect.

So, perhaps I’m not an expert on the subject, as I’ve made quite a few mistakes parenting an extrovert. However, I’m hoping that I can share what I have learned so that some of my fellow introverted parents out there can have a successful relationship with their extroverted child.

3 Ways an Introverted Parent Can Have a Successful Relationship With Their Extroverted Child

1. Be proactive — it’s not enough to sit back and wait for your extroverted child to come to you.

The biggest lesson I have learned for parents in this situation is that you have to be proactive. It’s not enough to sit back and wait for your extroverted child to come to you with things they want to talk about, even if you regularly tell them that they can come to you anytime (which I have done). 

You have to approach them, initiating conversations and asking questions about things that are important to them. Even though you’re the introvert in the relationship, you’re also the adult and they are the child, so this is your responsibility.

You can do this without losing your sense of who you are. If you’re not by nature a talkative person, I have good news: Just a little bit of effort goes a long way! Simple things like saying hi to them when they enter a room, or telling them that they did a good job after their football game, actually means a lot. I used to think that just going to Noah’s football games by itself would be meaningful for him, but that verbal communication is also critical. It might require you stepping out of your comfort zone a bit, but it can be quite rewarding.

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2. Identify common interests the two of you have and can do together.

Seeing what you two have in common is also important. It is for any parent-child relationship, but especially if you have opposite personalities. To be honest, I don’t have much in common with my stepsons, but I do have an interest in football like Noah does. I’ve tried quite a few times to use that to my advantage, initiating conversations about the Detroit Lions or University of Michigan Wolverines (his favorite teams). Those conversations have been successful; I wish I had done more of that over the years.

So brainstorm and think of all the things you two have in common. Then try to really bond over those things.

3. Share things about yourself with your extroverted child, too.

One other thing I’ve learned is that Noah really does have a desire to learn more about me! A lot of introverts don’t like to talk about themselves because they don’t want to be the center of attention. For years, I avoided doing this with Noah because I didn’t think he would care and that he would find me to be boring. Instead, after a while, he complained that he didn’t know much about me. 

In recent years, I’ve been more willing to share things about myself, which again takes me out of my comfort zone. Yet it makes me feel good that my stepson does care enough about me that he wants to learn more about me.

Being Successful at Parenting an Extrovert as an Introvert

As I’m sure you all know, introverts have many positive traits. Use them to your advantage! A critical one here is your ability to be a good listener. Ask your extroverted child a question about something that’s important to them, and then let them speak to you as you show interest in what they have to say. Prove to them that you care by actively listening (which comes naturally to introverts anyway). Over time, they’ll notice. Trust me.

In short, don’t let having an extroverted child overwhelm you. I let that happen to me, but I shouldn’t have. I often found Noah’s personality a lot for me to handle. But if I had understood the differences between us earlier, perhaps I would have been able to handle it better. It’s not that his personality is “better” than mine, or vice versa. We’re just different. And “different” is okay.

If you’re an introvert parenting an extrovert, have confidence in yourself! Make an effort to understand your child’s needs while, at the same time, using your introverted superpowers to your advantage. I know it’s not easy, but then again, parenting isn’t supposed to be.

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