Monday, May 30, 2011

Parenting as an Introvert: The Questions

This is the start of a very exciting week on the blog. Introverted Parenting Week. I have several guest posts lined up from thoughtful and honest parents. I want to kick off the week with a post that gets at the struggle, even agony, that can come with being an introverted parent. Implicit in this post are the questions that many introverted parents are asking.

The author, Chad Jones, is a husband and dad in Arizona. He is a self-described "lifelong introvert still learning to function in an extroverted world." You can follow him on his blog or on Twitter.

Being an introverted parent leaves me feeling a lot of guilt. I feel guilty when I take time to be by myself, because it's not always at an opportune time for my wife, or kids. But the fact is, at least during the week, I've been at my job all day, been engaging in "functional extroversion." Though ostensibly my work is with technology, it's really in customer service--thus I must be amiable, friendly, "chatty" throughout the day. I'm exhausted when I get home. I find that I must retreat, must do something to replenish my mental and emotional stores. So it is that, because we have no office in our home, I sequester myself in the bathroom. It's the one place where, mostly, I won't be bothered. This however does not keep my heart from feeling pangs of guilt when my children knock at the door, begging for my attention. It hurts me, it hurts them, but right then I literally have nothing to give. Not a thing.

Sometimes I wonder why God made me an introvert, and a parent. It seems like a cosmic joke. This may sound like I'm blaming God, but I'm not--I'm merely wresting, grappling Jacob-like with my Maker, asking him to change me. Make me something I'm not. But He never accedes to those demands, and I remain me: an introverted parent. Married to an extremely introverted wife (which has challenges of its own).

When my son was born almost thirteen years ago, I had no idea how to be a dad, but I had no problem being an introvert, being into my own things. It stings me to this day that I was not the one to teach him how to ride a bike--my father-in-law did. If reflectiveness is a strength of introversion, then the innate ability to disengage can be an introvert's kryptonite. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but I was playing to my weaknesses rather than my strengths. Now certainly my introversion doesn't shoulder all of the blame, but it played right into the hands of my selfishness. Thus my son was shortchanged, and I am so sorry.

When our daughter came along nearly eight years after our son, I tried to be more engaged, involved with her. Have tried to play to her interests. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I fail. And sometimes the only time I spend with her on a given day is when I'm putting her to bed.

Nighttimes are hard--especially so, because my introverted wife is exhausted by the time I get home, and after dinner, it's my job to take over. Which, again, sometimes I do with skill, and most times not so much.

It's mainly our daughter who leaves my wife feeling so wiped. She's proof that God has a sense of humor--else why would He have given such an extremely extroverted little girl to such introverted parents? Our little girl often stretches us in often uncomfortable ways. So much so that I suppose this is indeed one of God's reasons for bringing her into our lives: to grow us. Sure, we've learned much about ourselves in raising our son, but as he often played happily by himself as a toddler and child, raising him gave us many false expectations about what raising our daughter would be like. Boy, were we wrong! She, at age of four, is so social, so precocious, that it eludes my introvert's mind to describe it.

At this point I have few solutions, few steps for anyone to take in raising their kids. I only know what parenting is like for me, and I pray everyday for grace sufficient to make it through each day.