I’m an introvert raising two introverts. They have an extroverted father, but the genes ran strong from my side of the family, with my parents both being introverted as well. Not shy, but introverted. Not socially incapable nor fearful nor hermit-like (well, perhaps in January and February, but it’s just so cold and dark then). Simply introverted.
Those of you who are introverted know what I mean. We find our energy from time alone or in small groups of those close to us. We are drained by crowds, new experiences, and loud, busy places, even when we had a fantastic time while in those situations. We do partake in crowds, new experiences, and loud, busy places, but we return home and slink to our own corners for a few hours of restorative silence. We are sociable people with friends, but we prefer to be with them one-on-one or in a small gathering. We know how to get along with others and work in a group, well, most of us do most of the time. And we all talk incessantly, which is a problem, since we each need a fair amount of silence.
Our collective introversion has led us to a quiet type of homeschooling. School exhausted my older son. With so many people, an emphasis on collaborative learning, and a generally noisy environment, it simply took huge amounts of energy for him to get through each day. Once we came home, I envisioned field trips and play dates sprinkling our schedule. Not because I desired all the action, but because that’s what homeschoolers of elementary children do. They sign up for classes at the nature center, sports at the rec center, story hours at the library, and park days with the homeschooling group.
It sounds exhausting even now, and if it had not been for my younger son, whose tolerance for crowds and noise was even lower than that of my older son’s and mine, we’d have likely gone to far more than made us comfortable. For years, I bypassed most invites to museums and classes, knowing my younger couldn’t manage it. Instead, we’d walk down the street and spend time with homeschooling friends or hit the library as a family. The boys took piano — individual lessons. We attended small morning karate classes, forming friends in a manageable setting. Religious education classes at our Unitarian Universalist church gave some classroom time for each, and science studied with a peer offered experience working in a (small) group.
I have to work not to feel apologetic for our wiring. Reading the daily digest of our local homeschooling group can panic me some days, wondering if I’ve left out a major part of our education all those years, the part where we get over ourselves and jump in the giant pool of people and noise every chance we can get. After all, the real world has lots of people and noise, so shouldn’t we just suck it up and learn to enjoy it? Or at least tolerate it?
Except it doesn’t work that way. Our introversion isn’t something to be fixed. It’s a good part of who we are, and for that, no apologies are needed. By respecting our needs (yet still meeting our commitments), we’re learning important lessons in self-regulation. I’ve often told my kids to recognize that rising feeling of discomfort that can occur when one is overloaded with the sound and fury of an extroverted world. I’ve encouraged them to listen to their bodies and brains and to plan for time for solitude around points that demand being in a crowd.
To be quite clear, we go to parties and regularly have others over. Fridays are especially full of folks, with a friend and parent coming in the morning for physics, and two friends with moms arriving in the afternoon for more physics (middle-school style). By dinner, we’re tired and ready to retreat to our corners. We’re happy, too. These are friends in small groups, the easiest kind of interaction for all of us.
However, once a month, that Friday routine has an ending that challenges my younger son — Friday Fun Night at his fencing salon. Now, he does love Friday Fun Nights, events with friendly (but serious) competition among clubmates and kids from other fencing salons. But it’s a good-sized crowd of people making plenty of noise, which, at the end of a people-filled day, is daunting. So my younger and I have developed some plans for coping with this extroverted day. First, he retreats in the morning. (Yes, it’s also easier for me to teach physics to the older kids if my younger isn’t wandering in to comment every ten minutes, but really, this is all about his comfort as an introvert.) This allows him to bank some time alone, which, at least for us, can be helpful when facing more extroverted situations later in the day. Second, we spend the days before mentally prepping. Those of you who are extroverted may be rolling your eyes by now. Prepping? For being with a group of people?! Laugh away. It works for us. Being aware something may be challenging or uncomfortable helps. It’s a mental nudge that says, “Yes, you may feel like it’s too much, but overall, it’s something you like (or need to do), so you can get through.”
I’ve long accepted my own introversion along with that of my kids, but there are points where I wonder I should schedule more out and about. My older, now in three college classes and two classes with other homeschoolers, would say no. As his time with others in those settings has increased, his drive to meet casually with others has dropped. Initially, I worried, but then I realized that he’s doing what I’ve taught him to do — he’s respecting his limits. And he’s thriving.
Introverts at home are doing more than respecting limits and shoring up energy. We’re reading, thinking, and writing. We’re sinking into projects and diving into our imaginations. We’re nurturing our inner selves. We’re not lonely, and we do have social skills, although likely not the smoothness most extroverts possess. If we’re given room to recharge, we’re likely to function well. If not, we’re likely to become anxious and irritable, or we may just shut down. We’re no fun then, and we know it. So here we are, three introverts at home. We’re happy, healthy, and, quite often at home. And that’s what we like best.