How do introverts handle all that togetherness?
First, let’s define the word “introvert.” I’m not a psychologist, so I’ll just stick with what I know–which isn’t much, unfortunately. I do know myself, though, so I’ll start there.
When I say “introvert”, I do not mean shy, cold, detached, alienated, unfriendly, or socially inept. Those traits are really unrelated to the introvert/extrovert discussion, and seem to have more to do with mental development and spiritual health, in my completely unprofessional opinion.
Introversion means that small doses of interaction with other people, with plenty of time to digest said encounters in between, give me a very satisfied feeling of friendship and connection with my fellow man. Conversely, intense interactions with larger numbers of people make me feel more like I’ve been on a roller-coaster a few times too many. Roller coasters are fun! But I can ride only a few in one day, and only the teacup ride, please.
I think of the extrovert’s need for social interaction as more akin to those adventurous, adrenaline-seeking people who can ride as many high-speed coasters as they please, even with their tummies full of theme park chili-dogs, nachos, and pizza. Some people need more social interaction, some need less. Everybody needs some.
As I said before, the idea that homeschooling is the easiest lifestyle for an introverted person is kind of laughable to me. I’m not sure if anybody else noticed this, but when you’re teaching children all day, there’s a lot of social interaction. I love homeschooling, and I love mothering a large(ish) family! Being introverted has nothing whatsoever to do with whether I enjoy serving my family or not. But it does mean there are few hurdles to be cleared.
With all the reading, teaching, singing, playing, and disciplining that goes on around here, by the end of a typical day, I am sick of the sound of my own voice! Thankfully, I have found a few ways to conserve my emotional energy so that I can keep going all day without burning out.:
Have the more extroverted kids read and lead. This one is still purely theoretical for me. My oldest is only eight, and he is as quiet as a mouse. I’m hoping the more extroverted children will be happy to lead us in song and read aloud as they grow older. For now, though, this is just a pipe-dream of mine.
Rely on your more extroverted spouse to do some of the social stuff. Even if your spouse isn’t an extrovert, chances are he can help you in some way. My husband isn’t an extremely outgoing guy, but software development isn’t exactly a sociable job (most days), so he usually has some social energy to spare when he gets home. I often rely on him to take the kids out to the park, scouts, and shopping. He is also a very skilled actor (you should see him do Shakespeare), and uses that talent to entertain the kids beautifully. Eavesdropping on his read-aloud times and impromptu science lessons with the children are among my most treasured moments.
Watch your children for signs of social under/over-stimulation. It’s not just your personality you have to consider. Two of my children are obviously very extroverted, and two of them are introverted. That means I have to find a way to get them all the right amounts of both down-time and interaction. If my quiet ones are getting plenty of time to themselves, but my extroverts are lonely and in need of playmates, we have a problem!
Quiet time is sacred. Around here, quiet time starts at 2 or 2:30, and it’s not over until at least 4. Books, puzzles, day-dreaming, writing, drawing, and sleeping are the only permitted activities, preferably out of my line of sight, and for at least an hour. If a child can’t stay quiet, he must remove himself from the house in fine weather. In bad weather, I just suck it up and accept that our quiet time is going to be kind of noisy, but there will be at least an attempt at peace.
Send those kids out! Send them to tutors or camps or whatever else you can think of that fits your family’s needs. I’m a dedicated homeschooler, but I’m also a firm believer in outsourcing those things that we can’t or don’t want to teach for ourselves. Music lessons, math tutors, and Scouts are fine and healthy ways of providing for your kids’ needs while getting a few moments of quiet time to recuperate from the duties of the day. (I don’t actually send my kids to that many things yet, but as they get older, I expect it to happen more.)
And finally, don’t think about the introvert/extrovert divide too much. Introversion and extroversion seem to me to be somewhat flexible, depending as much on habits and training as anything else. Introversion is not a mental health diagnosis to be overcome. It’s not even a very firm personality trait, as I’ve found out since becoming a mother. It’s just a bent. I’m an introvert, yes, but I’m much, much less introverted than I used to be. Raising kids changes things.
I guess you could say my kids helped socialize me!