Linford’s family visited us on the weekend of Jenica’s birthday. As everyone was packing up to leave on Sunday evening, I collapsed on the sofa and said, “That was fun, but I’m exhausted.”
My sister-in-law smiled. “All the people.” It was not a question; she knows how it is.
Belatedly, I realized I should have saved my comment for after their departure. “I’m glad you came. It’s been so long since everyone was here, and Jenica won’t forget this birthday for a long time. I wish all the planning and the people wouldn’t wear me out, but it does.”
From across the room, my brother-in-law said, “That’s what I don’t get. The way you portray yourself in your writing—that’s not the Stephanie I know.”
“You mean because I say I’m an introvert, but I’m not shy and quiet?”
Shy and quiet? Far from it. The meek will inherit the earth, but my unconverted self could barely lay claim to a small, well-rounded pebble of it since I’ve spent my life with big, square-shouldered opinions. Redeemed, I have acquired a little meekness, but only a little and it is not my native land.
Am I an introvert or an extrovert? I struggled with this in the years prior to my marriage.
When the occasion called for it, I could be (still am) outspoken and opinionated. I loved teaching fifth grade for three years at our local Christian school. I could hold my own in any conversation I cared about and did far too frequently.
But I would come home, and in my quiet room, alone, I felt like I could finally breathe. During the school year, I would often go to bed on Sunday afternoon and sleep until Monday morning, exhausted by the teaching I loved. My best friends were books.
And my deepest, darkest secret: I hated slumber parties and hated hating them because it felt so abnormal. I just wanted to be light and vivacious and not care so much about whether I looked silly in my pajamas. Instead, I brooded in a sofa corner, conflicted because if just one of these girls would sit down and initiate a deep conversation with me, I would have no trouble finding the words I couldn’t scrape together in the crowd.
I felt like a bone yanked between Introvert and Extrovert. Which one was I?
I settled on introvert because I preferred books, learning, and one good friend over parties, hanging out, and many friends. But sometimes I would get these blank looks from people like the one my brother-in-law was wearing. What do you mean, you’re an introvert? You just got done hotly debating the state of Mennonite publishing.
I said to my brother-in-law, “Not long ago, I read Quiet by Susan Cain, and she had the best definition for introverts and extroverts that I’ve found. Extroverts draw energy from people. Being alone drains them. Introverts draw energy from solitude and quiet. Being with people drains them. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy, and extroverts aren’t necessarily loud. The difference is in how we are energized.”
The look on his face. “You mean I might be an introvert? When I’m in a large crowd, I go home with a tension headache.”
I looked him, outspoken, opinionated, a voracious reader who wasn’t above publicly disappearing into a book. “You might be. If people wear you out.”
Opinionated introverts often appear to be extroverts. This past weekend, I attended a writers’ conference. Although I can’t see myself from another’s perspective, I’m guessing I appeared to be neither shy nor reserved and definitely not unopinionated. But out of what felt like 376 conversations, I initiated maybe 4 of them.
And I came home exhausted.
To be greeted by a small man in red rubber fire-engine boots who hurled himself into my arms and squeezed.
Children are people, too.
I used to think I was a terrible mom because my children wore me out. Surely, if I loved them like I should, I would not crave an hour of solitude even more than my morning cup of coffee. A good mom does not plot seven different ways to escape the house without being seen.
But now, I understand. The constant stimulation of people, large and small, wears me out. I don’t choose to be this way, any more than my husband, the unopinionated extrovert, chose to be stimulated by people, and the more the merrier. Let’s invite the whole church while we’re at it.
I didn’t choose to be this way, but I can choose how I allow it to affect my relationships.
So I’m working on saying “Sure, sounds good” when my husband suggests last-minute company. This one is hard; I prefer at least twenty-four hours to prepare myself.
I’m working at finding five intentional minutes throughout the day and exalting in that wee bit of solitude, before returning to my children, who are ransacking the house for me, with a smile instead of a snap.
I’m learning that if I want enough energy to be a wife and mom, I can’t have a full social schedule. I stay home as much as possible.
I try to meet my children’s eyes and smile when they come to me, so they feel welcome and accepted.
In friendships, I’m learning that quality beats quantity for me every time. It used to be bother me that some people had 279 best friends and I had only one. Now I realize that I have only a few close friends not because I’m weird (well, not only because I’m weird) but because I’m wired that way.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I want to write about a topic that is tied closely to my introversion.
Because if you know me in real life and are as baffled as my brother-in-law, I’d like to you know even introverts can be loud and obnoxious. Introverts just wear out faster, so it’s over sooner.
Because if you see me in a public place somewhere, I want you to come over and introduce yourself. I am not a snob; I just initiate few conversations. I’d be thrilled to talk if you want to. You might regret it; don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Because once I understood the why, I could deal with the how. Being an introverted mom is hard. I can’t escape my people. I’m on call 24/7. Linford drives around all day by himself and comes home ready for Family Time. I’m thinking he looks like a pretty good babysitter, and he says, “What do you mean? We want to spend time with YOU, too.” That has been a recipe for a lot of frustration, but understanding why I feel overwhelmed goes a long way toward dealing with it. If this post helps just one introverted mom blow out a breath of relief, then it was worth writing.
What we really need is an Introverted Moms support group, but who am I kidding?
No one would attend the meetings.