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3/02/2007
Raising an Introverted Child
Hollis is one of the great loves of my life but sometimes watching him grow and find his place in the world can be painful. It's painful because I see so much of myself in him. I wouldn't change a thing about him, but I know that he will have a harder road ahead of him than many other children simply because he is an introvert.

By the time Hollis was 18 months old we knew he was introverted. He is cautious in new situations and around new people. Don't get me wrong, Hollis loves people. He is an affectionate, energetic, and fun little kid, but he isn't going to immediately warm up to someone who walks up and starts to chat. Yes, he is going to need more down time than many other children, but I have always thought of introversion as a good thing. I'm an introvert and I know first hand the rich internal world of the innie. I know that Hollis will probably have no problem concentrating intensely and shutting out the world. I know that he will probably have a very active imagination. I also know that occasionally he will shock people with his insight and observations. He will be a quiet kid, but there will always be an awful lot going on inside.

I have to admit though, that I hadn't really thought much about the downside of Hollis being an introvert until recently. A few weeks ago, however, I took him to a birthday party for a 3 year old friend of the family. The party was at one of those places with inflatable bouncy toys and slides, called The Jumping Monkey. (Actually, that's where Hollis acquired the "monkey balls" from last week's post.) It was a party of 15 kids Big H has never met (with the exception of the birthday boy), with loud music and pandemonium. Hollis was clearly out of his element. In fact, I couldn't get him to try any of the bounce houses or slides. He spent most of the party glued to my side or in my arms. At one point when he lost sight of me he actually freaked out until I got to him thirty seconds later. I know it is not unusual for an introverted child to react like that to such an overwhelming environment and I wasn't surprised at his reaction. I was, however, surprised at my own response. Seeing Hollis so uncomfortable and scared disturbed me because I remember that feeling. I remember it well.

I've written about being an introvert in an extraverted world before. Seventy five percent of people are extraverts and it can be difficult to be so different from the majority. As a child, I was painfully shy around new people and in new situations. It was a horrible feeling to be standing on the sidelines wanting to join in and just not able to do so. In fact, Hollis's experience at the party brought back a specific memory for me. I must have been 4 or 5, but I was standing by the merry go round on the playground and I desperately wanted to get on. I watched it whizzing by me with kids smiling and laughing. I was afraid to jump on but also afraid to ask anyone to stop it for me. An older child came up beside me and asked if I wanted help getting on. I just stood there, mute, and shook my head. He shrugged and hopped right on.

Over the years, I have overcome my fears. As I grew in age, experience, and confidence, new situations and people weren't quite so overwhelming for me. Now, I'm a litigator and I spend a good part of my career putting myself in what many people, even extraverts, would consider uncomfortable situations - networking, trial work, and client contact. A large part of my job is really internal - developing arguments and case strategy and writing - but I argue publicly for a living. I argue for a living, sometimes in front of large groups, and I'm perfectly comfortable doing so. In fact, most people I know are actually shocked to hear that I consider myself an introvert. What they don't know is that I have had to learn how to talk to people I don't know well and learn how to react to the new situations and arguments that trial work can throw at me. But even now I over prepare for hearings and meetings and I hate to be caught off guard. I don't like to attend networking events where I know only one or two people. And it can be truly exhausting for me to spend a full day with an extraverted friend. I need time alone to regroup and be alone with my thoughts.

I know what to expect with Hollis because of my own experiences. What scares me is knowing that making your way successfully as an introvert in an extraverted world takes a lot of self confidence. Confidence that I know I might not have if I had been raised a different way, by different people, or had different experiences. I worry that Big H will be picked on in school because he's quiet, or we'll do something wrong, and he won't have that confidence. I don't want him to be paralyzed by fear of the unknown or locked in his own head and unable to share his beautiful self with others. I look back on my life and see the path that led from the scared child by the merry go round to the person I am now. I just hope that I can help Hollis find that path as well.

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21 Comments:

I think you are not alone in your fears. While I certainly do not consider myself an introvert, I am a person who needs the affirmation of other people. Unfortunately I have passed that lovely trait to my daughter. I have already witnessed the heartache this has brought her.

On the plus side, maybe Hollis will not need this constant affirmation. Since he is more quiet, he won't be constantly asking "are you my friend?" or "do you like me?". Then he can avoid these leaving him wide open to "I will be your friend if you...."

Really all we can do is try our best and hope we have given them the tools to survive and thrive. You can't fight their battles for them.....I have found that out the hard way! (Picture me wanting to punch another 5 year old girl when Haley was in kindergarten) Just for the record, I didn't do it!
Nothing hurts worse than seeing your baby hurt....or the thought of them being hurt.

I think it is the curse of motherhood!

Blogger bubandpie said...

I had a lot of negative experiences in elementary and high school that reinforced my shyness. But I still grew out of it - it just took a bit longer. Understanding and unconditional love from parents go a long way - it just might take awhile for the results to show.

It's hard to watch your child stay on the sidelines of an activity all the other children are enthusiastically enjoying. Bub has done that a lot, mostly from disinterest rather than shyness, but a friend of mine has a very shy daughter, so when both of us go to playgroups together, our two kids are firmly on the sidelines, clinging to mommy while everybody else jumps in.

Blogger mad muthas said...

such and interesting post! one of my twins is an introvert (daughter) while the other is extravert (son - duh). i sometimes wonder if each of them has become more extreme in their own character as a way of defining themselves as different to the other. they're really polar opposites! in any event, they're going to be 13 (yikes!) in april, and i've finally reached the conclusion that they are who they are and all i can do is to give them space to be who they want to be! (and be there to catch them if they need me to!)

Blogger Me said...

Hi Lawyer Mama,

You commented on my comment on PunditMom's blog. First of all PunditMom did call Hirshman a hypocrite, in a comment on my blog (sneaky!). I don't think there is anything wrong calling Hirshman a hypocrite, if you can defend it. But PunditMom sheepishly backs away from any attack on Hirshamn on her blog, blaming it on "the editors" and "the writing industry," and the blurb on the Cringe List didn't really explain anything. It accused Hirshman of criticizing people who make different choices form herself -- as if she's the only person in the world to have ever done that! *wink wink*

Also, I think it's very simplistic to claim that I simply cannot even argue with you, because i'm "clearly not a mother." It shuts down the debate, and it makes your position look weak because your whole argument is premised not on logical reasoning, but simply on your maternal status and mine. It's not very compelling.

I'm not saying being a laywer is necessarily more important, but the theme on all these mommyblogs seems to be an almost creepy mantra of "mothering is the most important job." Why the need for constant restatement of your position? I don't understand it. In other words, if you (plural) knew in your heart of hearts that mothering is the most important job, or more important than lawyering, why do you (plural) need to state and restate it at every chance you get?

Best wishes.

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Unfortunately, your status as a childless person simply makes you incapable of understanding that motherhood *is* more important than any job. I certainly didn't hold that view before I became a mother and I certainly didn't understand it. In fact, I tended to look down upon people who lost themselves and focused all of their energy on their children. 2 1/2 years after havign my first child, I get it.

I'm sorry if you view stating the truism that you can't understand as shutting down the debate, but it is the end of the debate as far as I'm concerned. I can't have a debate about motherhood and career choices with someone who doesn't have a child. You can't understand and you don't, whether you think it's "logical" or not.

Blogger PunditMom said...

LM, Sorry the Linda Hirshman stuff has found its way over here. Don't know who "Me" is, but I agreed with your comments re: her life inexperience. (FYI -- "Me's" post I commented on was about people SHE thinks are hypocrites).

Now, introverts, I'm sure you can guess mine insecurites came out recently and I remembered all too clearly why I tended to be that was as a kid! But I, too, have worked on overcoming that as an adult and I am seeing similar things in R. -- on many levels she's an outgoing kid, but only once she's used to the situation. I saw it last nite at her school's International Night -- so many children rushed to the stage when they got to the performance part, but R. held back. She's a girl who likes to scope out the entire situation before she sticks her toe in the water!

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Don't apologize, PM! I love a nice spirited discussion occasionally. That being said, I really regret that a couple of posters have chosen to personally attack *you* instead of your views. We can all agree to disagree, but personal attacks just destroy credibility.

Anywho, you really deserve the Thinking Blogger award Gunfighter bestowed upon you. You always make me think and I always looking forward to hearing your thoughts about my posts as well.

Blogger Me said...

Well, ladies, I won't interfere on your self-congratulatory circle of praise much longer.

Perhaps I attacked PunditMom personally, but I really don't know if you can get more personal than putting 10 people on a Cringe List. As I already said to PunditMom, imagine if you found yourself on a top-ten Cringe List, imagine how that would make you feel, whether you would think it's personal.

As for discussing motherhood and career, no one has had the exact experiences you have. But we have all been endowed with powerful imaginations, and there are literally thousands of years worth of literature that tries to communicate others' experiences to those who have not had them. By the same token that you are advocating, ("I will not discuss motherhood and career with you because you don't have a child, and you simply don't understand"), you could say that men cannot discuss women's issues, white people cannot discuss hispanic people's issues, and Jews cannot discuss Christianity. If all these were true, this would sure be a very limited world, where few people would be "allowed" to discuss anything at all.

Yours seems to be a world in which you don't want anyone challenging your opinion.

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Me - Actually, if you were a regular reader of my blog - or of Pundit Mom's, you'd know that both of us have readers who are not in the same work/motherhood situation. In fact, PM and I are not in the same situation. I'm not sure what "opinion" of mine you think you're challenging. I was under the belief that you were challenging my assertion that motherhood is more important than career.

Once again, I'll repeat myself - any discussion with you regarding mixing motherhood and a career would be extremely limited. It would be very limited in the same way any discussion regarding the same topic would be with a mother who has never had a career. It would be very limited in the way discussing personal experiences with race relations would be between two white women. Or here's another analogy for you - a law student lecturing me on how to litigate. You can read all the books you like and pontificate until you're blue in the face, but until you've "passed the bar," so to speak, and been there and done that, you don't have much credibility.

Blogger Heather said...

I'm also raising an introverted child, and as an introvert myself have similar feelings about the subject. I blogged about it a while ago: http://treadmillinginplace.blogspot.com/2006/07/introverted.html

I will say that at 3.5 my son is becoming somewhat more outgoing, when not pressed to be. The key for us is for him to know that he is not doing anything wrong when he doesn't want to jump into new situations. I had to let go of what other people were thinking about his "shyness," and that has helped me just let him be.

Blogger CPA Mom said...

What is it with people these days in "blog land" attacking instead of discussing? Why in the world take over your comment section on an unrelated post? Give it a rest, "me." If you don't like what you are reading, click the little red box and go back to the dark places trolls live.

Lawyer Mom - I was exactly like you. Introverted all my life. Extroverted only in adult hood. I think my son is a true extrovert and my daughter more introverted. It'll be interesting to watch as they grow, through the rose-colored classes of my own youth.

Blogger Me said...

Look, Lawyer Mama, I told you, I don't want to crash your feel-good party. Why do you come over to my blog and post?

I don't know why you're so obsessed with asserting how much more informed you are than other people, on motherhood, on careers, on litigating. Good for you on having all those things -- why use them as a blugeon to end all disagreement with your opinions? Again, if you truly are a really great litigator, nothing that a law student can throw at you should threaten you so much that you would want to shut them up before they even open their mouth. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who never challenge your opinions may be the easier path, but it's not one that necessarily leads to the most well-thought-out beliefs.

Also, as I've said before, people who bother to interact wtih a variety of people and try to put themselves in others' shoes, and read books and inform themselves of others' experience can have some highly insightful things to say about a topic, even if they do not possess the inherent characteristics you think are necessary.

You seem to want to limit people by their various statuses (mother or not, career or not, lawyer or not), whereas I believe that intelligent people can have inshgtful things to say no matter what their gender/race/career/parental status. D.H. Lawrence, for example, writes more insightfully about women than many female writers. You would probably think that's impossible.

Blogger Lawyer Mama said...

Me - You say you don't want to crash the party, yet you continue to post here about something not even related to my blog post. And then you posted something about "When Stay At Home Moms Attack" on your blog, repeating one of my comments here. The problem with your assertion is that I'm not a stay at home mom. I work full time outside of the home.

And once again, what exactly are we arguing about? The *only* thing that I am expressing an opinion about is that my role as a mother is more important than my job.

You seem to be trying to turn this discussion into an argument about motherhood & careers in general without even knowing how I feel about that at all. My views about that are actually quite apparent on my blog, which you have not read or you would know I'm not a stay at home mom. This tells me that you don't really care to hear my opinion either.

(Yes, Lawrence did write women very well. But I still don't think I would have asked him for advice on childbirth, seeing as how he lacked a uterus.)

Blogger Meena said...

I'll try to stay on topic, OK? Although I just can't help but ask are law students the most argumentative people on the planet? :-)

Really, 75% of people are extraverts? I am in introvert. And you're right, some aspects of lawyering are very tailored to introverts. I was drawn to lawyering b/c of the research and writing. I remember reading that introverts sometimes feel most alone in a room full of people. Rang very true to me!

My 3.5 yr old son also seems to be an introvert. I have fears about whether he'll be self-confident, whether he'll get picked on too. I hope, hope, hope that just b/c he may be introverted doesn't necessarily mean he will lack in self-confidence. I don't think those two necessarily correlate. But I'll be doing my best to help facilitate self-confidence.

BTW, did you ever read this article about praising your children? It's not necessarily about introversion, but does have something to do with facilitating self-confidence in our kiddos and why praising repeatedly "you're so smart" might actually backfire: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/index.html

Blogger Amy W said...

Um, seems I am totally missing out on some seriously heated discussion...just thought I would say that I like what you said about introverts being more creative and such. I think you hit the nail on the head.

Blogger ewe are here said...

Hollis has an advantage you didn't have to help him navigate the world of extroverts: You. You not only understand what he's going to face, you won't push him to be someone he's not, and you'll listen to him and work with him to deal with situations that make him uncomfortable. And that's something a lot of parents can't/won't do when they see their children hanging back a bit, for whatever reason, because they don't get it.

Very nice post.

Blogger PunditMom said...

LM, I'm wondering if "Me" is really a law student. I don't know about you, but when I was in law school, I wouldn't have had time to do all this blogging and attacking.

I just hope that in ten or fifteen years, "Me" has an a-ha moment where she gets what we were trying to say. She was so sensitive about Linda Hirshman being on that list, maybe she's Hirshman's daughter ...???

Some people see and hear only what they want to.

Blogger Pecos Blue said...

You will and I am sure you will find the right expereinces to help him out. One thought is working with horses--gives kids lots of confidence to be able to manuver such a large animal.

Blogger Mary G said...

I raised a very introverted and often phobic girl who turned into a confident, accomplished and stainless steel brave adult. Take heart!

Blogger Jill said...

I actually think I am MORE confident because I am introverted. Introverts are self reliant. I don't need constant validation outside myself. That's a good thing.

My biggest issue is negotiating with my extremely extroverted husband on our social life. He feels rejuvenated by contact with other people and I feel rejuvenated by alone time. We try to strike a balance.

No doubt your little guy will be just fine. Even if he's not confident about interacting with others, you'll make sure that he's confident about who he is inside. That's the important kind of confidence and the rest will fall into place.

Blogger mom of nymphs said...

Hi,
Just wanted to post that I happened upon your blog today and I enjoyed your writing. The pictures are wonderful also! Trish

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