Oh, she’s my friend.
He’s my friend too.
Some parents talk about shy children and how to help them emerge from their shells.
But what about the extroverted child in a family of introverts?
When parents and the other sibling like it quiet, along comes this chatterbox of a child who is everybody’s best friend.
As with the shy child, the extroverted one needs to be managed with patience. As they get older, they clue in to the family dynamics, and adapt. But the process is slow, their maturity cannot be rushed.
Years ago, I picked up Shobe from prep school and was surprised by a number of things.
The taho vendor approached me to ask for money. Shobe “bought” taho from him twice that week and he hadn’t had the chance to ask our driver to pay. Apparently, Shobe called out from inside the gate and said she wanted taho.
The vendor said, “E mam, si Z naman yan. Alam ko naman singilin si Kuya Ken [our driver].” This has apparently been going on for weeks. The driver just gets the car’s parking fund to pay for Shobe’s taho.
Once I had Shobe, it took us awhile to get out of the schoolgrounds because everyone wanted to say goodbye. That’s nice. She has a lot of friends.
Once outside the school, we passed by the school bus whose window opened and a number of kids screamed at us, “Bye Z!” They were so loud, a window from the third floor opened and more kids screamed even louder. “Bye Z!”
I asked Shobe who they were and if she knew them. They all looked like elementary kids.
“They’re my friends,” she said.
As we turned the corner to approach our car, a tall boy passed beside us, patted Shobe’s head.
“Bye Z. Be good,” he told her.
Me: Who’s that?
Z: That’s Kuya Migo. He’s my friend.
Me: What grade is he in?
Z: Grade 5, I think.
Me: You have a friend in 5th grade?
Z: Yes. Everyone’s my friend.
That conversation gave me a glimpse into my life with her for many years, hence, until she graduates from college.
I am always out attending meetings of every sort and conducting trainings. I am very talkative and will not run out of things to say. All my friends say that I’m a people person.
But, contrary to popular belief, I am an introvert. When I turned 40, I became increasingly a hermit. I have always felt anxious making small talk at meetings and conferences. I usually have hidden panic attacks when meeting people, both old and new. I feel very hemmed in in large crowds.
I hate the panto (Chinese lauriat) table the most, because there is no way that I can sit at the very edge of a throng. Auditoriums are easy, I look for the farthest seat to the side or back. It means I only have to contend with a person on one side of me, not four sides.
Like many introverts, I am very good at people skills when my switch is “on.” But I cannot last. I need to recharge.
These are my coping skills. At home, my quiet time is cooking, and surprisingly, washing dishes. Breathing in the smell of sauces and spices and feeling sudsy relaxes me. I stare at the blank wall of my kitchen and think of the day I’ve had. The stress fades away. If it has been an especially stressful and people-filled day, I launder the rags and clean the bathroom.
Sometimes, though, I can’t catch a breather. When the girls arrive home before I do, it means, Shobe is at the door, waiting to hug me (which I look forward to) and give me a blow-by-blow account of her day.
She’s an extrovert who needs constant human attention, conversation, contact. We both have the same needs: to process our day and let the stress slowly seep out of our shoulders. While husband, Achi and myself need to be quiet and alone when we destress, Shobe requires social interaction to recharge.
Most of the time, her chatter does not make sense. They just flow out of her as she tries to process her own turbulent emotions for the day. Many of her stories aren’t connected. Or maybe they are connected in her head.
When she was younger and really needed conversation, I tried to keep a level head to follow what she was saying. I would ask her to pause and then clarify some parts of the story that I didn’t understand.
Doing this is extremely tiring for me. It is very difficult for most introverts to listen to long convoluted stories. We prefer summaries. But she needed to unwind and would not have understood a mother who did not want to listen.
It made me feel extremely guilty then. I would get anxious, grumpy, or impatient with her high energy and often snap at her to please just stay quiet for a few minutes. I have even sent her away to another room just to have a few minutes alone.
But there’s the rub. She can’t stay quiet. She needs to release her own stress and loudness is her way of doing it.
Since then, I’ve learned that when I haven’t had even one quiet minute alone during a busy day to regroup my thoughts and feelings, I can’t be there for her either.
By the time she was 7, we had gotten into a better pattern of conversation. I have partly given up trying to figure out her stories. I learned that if she really has a problem, she will repeat her story and ask for help. That is also the extrovert in her: never shy to ask for help. When I figured out that she just needed to vent her day, my stress levels lowered as well.
I found out because as she got older, she would not let me interrupt her with questions.
It is important to remember that extroverts are not being overly demanding. Not by their standards anyway. They will feel drained and overwhelmed if they are kept from being able to socialize and share.
When she turned 8, she lamented that Achi refused to play with her.
We had a long conversation about introverts and extroverts. I think she had a lightbulb moment then when she realized why I ask her to zip her mouth for 10 minutes when we’re driving somewhere.
She is 10 now, and listening to her is more tolerable. She is totally fine that I zone out for most of her one-sided conversation. I catch a couple of parts here and there and respond appropriately. That’s enough for her. That’s enough for me. Win-win.
Meanwhile, she’s also such an astute and empathetic child. When I’m extremely drained from work, she could see it immediately on my face. After our tight hugs, she would ask if she can talk about her day, and adds that she can wait until dinner if I wanted to be alone first.
On extremely tiring weeks, husband and I found the perfect solution! Send her off to her friends or invite her friends over. When she’s with her friends (ages 12 and 5), the mom gets to recharge as well because she does not have to watch the 5-year-old. Shobe does it for her. They play and make a mess, but Shobe is quite good at making everyone pack away and clean up.
When her friends head over to my house, it’s a win for me. All I have to do is cook enough to feed them, but I’m able to tune them out as well. We are all recharged by the time we finish dinner.
With Shobe the only extrovert in our family, husband and I are conscious of helping her step outside her own experiences and preferences so she can become a fully socialized, interactive being. The introvert-extrovert conversation was a godsend as she now understands that we aren’t angry at her; we’re just zoning out to be still for a moment.
I know that parenting an opposite personality from myself is much easier said than done, but that doesn’t make the love any less intense.