Introvert vs. extrovert

During a recent dinner conversation with my teens, I asked the age-old conversation starter: Who did you sit with at lunch today?

I got two very different responses. As I took their answers in, I realized that this one simple question defines how they each approach life and relationships. 

When they were young

My daughter is a 13-year-old eighth-grader. 

I’ve known since she was a babe in my arms that she was an introvert. She wanted to be held by no one but me. She felt safe as long as she could tuck her head in to the curve of my neck. She was calm if she could face inward — even as an older baby in a carrier. 

As a toddler, she would slam down the shade of her stroller when she wasn’t in the mood for the public’s attention. 

My first born was practically the opposite. A long line of drool followed him everywhere during his infancy. His mouth was always in a wide-open smile. All that darn spittle would never stay in his mouth. In the baby carrier, he was like one of those old-fashioned wooden toy soldier ornaments — the kind that, when you pulled its string, would move all four appendages up and down simultaneously. 

When he was a toddler, I was constantly looking for him: He ran too fast — and always in the other direction. During his school-age years, it was the same thing: I can’t remember a time in the grocery store when I wasn’t calling out for him from the checkout. 

Lunch-table dilemma

When my daughter entered the seventh grade, it came as no surprise to me when she started complaining about her lunch table. She had her group of six girls or so that she sat with throughout the year. 

These were her true comrades. They shared selfies, giggles and their baggies of bites. That is until one of her friends, (perhaps an extrovert) thought she’d invite a friend or two. And, in turn, those friends also invited a friend or two. 

It got to where there was no room to sit. Did I mention the cafeteria tables don’t have benches, but instead little circle seats that fit only one person? (I could relate to her frustration!)

This year, now in eighth grade, the girls solved the problem by sharing three tables together. So when I asked her the question — Who did you sit with at lunch? — it sort of opened a can of worms for her. She likes her small group of friends. 

Switching it up

You should’ve seen the look on her face when my son responded. 

He spent his first two years of high school always looking his groups of friends in the lunch room. 

“This year I am going to switch it up," he said. "I’ve been sitting with a different group of kids every day.”

Their different responses made me giggle. I get my middle schooler. Being an introvert doesn’t mean she’s shy. She has a whole group of good friends. But it does mean that smaller groups of people and, sometimes, total alone time is what really revs her up. 

Her small group of confidants is a buoy of support for her — after having to deal with the public at large for the rest of the day.

My son, on the other hand, is energized by all of the busyness. He can’t get enough. 

What’s my role? 

My job, I believe, is to understand their unique needs, but to challenge them, too.

For my extrovert, I have to try to pull him away from activity. Because — as exciting as it is — we all need rest. And he needs time to get his homework done. Did I mention how tiring it is (as an introvert) to parent an extremely active extrovert?! 

I’m exhausted by his activity level.

As for my girl, I know her struggle. I encourage her to warm up to the new soccer player on her team. I push her a bit to communicate verbally when she doesn’t feel like it. I make sure I convince her active brother to stop for a bit. And I try to take time to hug her on the couch, and give her one-on-one time. 

I guess they both need me in a different way. They meet the world in a different way. 

But I’m learning how to see past the chatty and the quiet stereotypes in each of them. 

And do you know what I see, despite their differences? They both know who they are — and what makes them tick. And even though they’re not the same: They’re both happy. 


Jennifer Wizbowski lives in Excelsior with her husband, and daughter and son, ages 13 and 15. Send comments, questions and story ideas to jwizbowski@mnparent.com.