By Annie Gebel
Recently I witnessed my nine-year-old daughter, Gracie, run into gymnastics and hug an entire group of girls, sharing stories about what had gone on the last week with lots of giggles and OMGs! She then excused herself to conduct a little business. Yes, really. She had to go chat up the receptionist to see if she sold any bracelets in the business she started with a friend. While she was at the counter she showed off the new styles she learned how to make, which she wears on her wrist to advertise. After all the oohing, aahing, and collection of 75 cents, she skipped off to an hour of cartwheeling fun.
It tired me out just to watch her. I gave a few half smiles and a quick hello to other parents and then sat down with my nose in a book.
She’s an extrovert. I’m an introvert. I strive for balance, although it can be difficult to balance the scales with such an active socialite. But try I do.
A mentor once told me that whether one is intro- or extroverted is told by where we recharge, where we go to reenergize when our fuel tank is low. Being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m shy, necessarily. It means that at the end of the day, when I’m tired, I like a peaceful bath or to sit at the keyboard and type a few words. Gracie, on the other hand, recharges with friends – new and old. She gets a little testy (kind of like I do if I don’t get a little alone time) if she doesn’t have people around her.
So, what’s a mama to do? This mama tries to take care of both of our spirits.
For me, I depend on my husband to give me time alone. When he’s not available, I lean on friends or pay a sitter – it’s that important. I use this time to grocery shop in peace, read a book at the park, or see a movie. I’m also honest with all three of my kids about mama needing time for mama. I let them know that I need time to myself to regroup, refresh, and be a better parent to them. They’ve all seen me at my wit’s end…harried and scolding for little to no reason. So, they mostly let me go off on my own without too much frustration. But watch out when I come back through that door! It doesn’t matter if I’m alone for 20 minutes or four hours – the kids practically tackle me and smother me with hugs and kisses like they haven’t seen me for days! That’s ok. My tank is refilled with that alone time.
I also utilize the time after the kids go to bed to refuel. That’s often when I write letters and articles or take baths by candlelight. I enjoy some time in my own head, with my own thoughts, before heading to bed myself. It’s good for processing the chaos of the day, putting my dreams and goals into perspective, and planning for life – whether for the next day or year. Taking this time really helps me feel centered and stable.
I do enjoy gathering with friends, too. Our family has been part of monthly game nights, weekly play dates, and other social getting together. And we like it. But I also need weekends that we don’t leave the yard or if we do it’s for a hike in the outdoors, just our family and nature.
So, that’s how I take care of me. How do I tend to my daughter’s gregarious, giving, energetic extroversion? Well, I let her fly. Since she could walk away, she’s been doing just that. She always runs back to shower me with love and share all that she’s discovered in the world outside – new friends, new ideas, more excitement than I can imagine. So, I let her go and watch with wonder. And when she flutters back over with her reports about whatever, I do my best to be excited with her.
I encourage her ventures to have bake sales and collect donations that she then gives to charity – both ways she interacts with others in a positive way. I like these and other volunteer opportunities because she enjoys the human contact and I like that there’s a life lesson involved. Win – win.
I try to be the supporting cast to her starring role. I foster her ability and desire to meet people and make friends by letting her participate in sports, homeschooling groups, and other activities when possible. She recently had the opportunity to write and record a song and music video with a group of pre-teens at a music camp. How cool is that?
As a Navy family, we’ve moved a few times and Gracie has friends in several states – Arizona, New York, Washington, Georgia, and New Mexico. She keeps in touch by writing letters and sending pictures and small presents. We also try to connect regularly with the friends she has locally. I let Gracie spend time at friends’ homes after I’ve gotten to know the parents a bit and occasionally ask her friends to our home. The latter doesn’t happen as often, though, because it really does drain my reserves quickly. I feel like I should put myself out there more for her sake, but I am a work in progress.
We’re different, but I’m learning to enjoy the way she balances me without feeling overwhelmed by her exuberance or clipping her wings with my strong desire to look inward for gratification. One thing that enhances our relationship – not just taking care of my spirit or hers, but our lives together as mother and daughter – is our occasional girls days. We spend a few hours with just each other, doing things that the boys in our lives wouldn’t appreciate. This time together helps our relationship. We get to be with each other in a fun and positive way, which is great for balancing those times when one of us is starting to look at the other like they’re just too much, or too little.
My life as an introvert has changed a lot over the years, but no more so than with raising this incredible, extroverted daughter of ours. I don’t know if I’m doing it right or right enough, but I’m doing what I can. I think that’s all any parent can hope for. And we can always check in with Gracie in a few years to see if she’s still flying, still loving life, and still loving me. That’ll be the true test.