“We’re a family of introverts,” I tell my daughters.
“Of course we are, Mum!” replies Imogen. “Have you only just realised that?”
“Well, I’ve never really thought about it before.”
A family of introverts? I probably suspected this, but I’ve been trying to bury the thought away at the back of my mind, not wanting to face it.
Why is it so bad to be an introvert? Maybe it’s not. But the world seems to love extroverts. They seem to have a smoother pathway through life. And sometimes I feel I’ve failed my children by not encouraging them to be more outwardly focused.
We’ve all heard: “You’re homeschoolers? But what about socialisation?”
Years ago, my husband Andy and I used to make a lot of effort to be very sociable. We’d take our children along to every gathering possible so they could interact with other people. “You have to make an effort for your children’s sake,” we were told. So we did, even though usually we felt more inclined to stay home.
My eldest son could be described as very introverted. When I took him to a medical appointment many years ago when he was about 10 or 11, the doctor looked very concerned and said, “He is painfully shy.”
I was sure my son was reserved rather than shy. But the doctor’s words still made me feel guilty. What was I doing wrong? Should we have sent him to school?
I spoke to someone about this ‘problem’. “Duncan has so many wonderful qualities he wouldn’t have if he were more extroverted,” I said. I went on to describe his creativity, his sensitive nature, his prayerfulness…
“None of those matter at his age. You should make him join in with whatever the other boys of his age are doing. He needs to work on his social skills.”
So I told Duncan it might be a good idea if he put aside his books and inventions and imagination, and focus on being one of the group. Perhaps he could get out there on the soccer field, join in with conversations, hang around with the boys… Duncan was eager to please me and ran off to do exactly what I’d suggested.
But my son’s willingness to try and change almost broke my heart. My resolution to make him more extroverted didn’t last long. I decided to let him be who he is. I pushed the problem to the back of my mind and just hoped everything would turn out well. I also hoped our other children would turn out to be ‘normal’, that I’d have more success with them.
Well, it seems I failed. I have just faced up to the fact our whole family is introverted.
“Is it bad being an introvert?” I ask my girls.
“Oh no!” they assure me. “We love being who we are.” I must admit I love being who I am too.
“Do you remember when we used to join in with all the picnics and camps and other gatherings? We haven’t been anywhere for a long time,” I say.
“We don’t mind. We like staying home,” says Imogen. “We have so much we want to do here.”
“It’s nice seeing people but only in small doses.”
I know what the girls mean. Some people go out to relax and unwind. We stay home to recharge. One social outing lasts us weeks. It satisfies our need for company for a long time.
I think back to that doctor’s words: “Painfully shy…”
My children are certainly not shy. All my singers are quite happy standing up in front of hundreds of people and performing solo. I’m not, but I can’t sing. Instead I enjoy public speaking. Andy and Duncan come alive when they are teaching a classroom of students.
All my children have good social skills. They participate in conversations. They are confident and capable. But they are small group people. They aren’t interested in being one of a crowd, engaging in small talk. I’m not either. In fact, crowds make me panic.
Do you ever arrange a social outing and then when the time arrives to go out, you feel sick in the stomach, not wanting to go? I do that all the time. Or perhaps someone says, “We meet together twice a month. We’d love you to join us.” I agree and then when the time comes, I wish I hadn’t been so quick to accept the invitation. What’s wrong with me? Aren’t we on our way out to see people we like very much? Am I just being lazy? Or perhaps I’m self-centred, preferring my own company to that of other people? Should I make more effort? I have been battling with this for a while.
But could there actually be nothing wrong with me at all. That’s just the way I am. I could accept that, just like I accept my children. Yes, I have given up trying to make my children more extroverted.
“Most writers are introverts, Mum,” says Imogen. “If we were rushing all over the place we wouldn’t have time to think.”
Yes, there are many positive aspects to being introverted.
“We’re content and happy just staying home. We always find lots to do. We don’t need entertaining.”
“We’re more inclined to get involved with our passions.”
“We’re a close family. We spend lots of time with each other. We’re not all racing off in separate directions. We’re quite happy to rely on each other for company.”
“Anyway, when there’s no one else around, we can be silly and have fun without worrying what people think. We can be us.”
So at last I am facing the ‘problem’ we are an introverted family. Problem? I no longer think we have one. We’re just us. We’re not normal. We’re certainly weird. But we’re okay. We don’t all have to be the same, do we? There’s a place for everyone out there. Even us.
Image: Would you rather stay home and read?
This story was inspired by my friend Emmie’s recent post Learning to Honor Myself (the Birthday Post).
Emmie recommended the TED talk, Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts
I have just bought Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
And here’s a quick quiz: Quiet Quiz: Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?