Staying at home should have been an introvert’s dream: peace, quiet, and limited social interaction with anyone other than receptionists at the pediatrician’s office and grocery store clerks! On a daily basis I only had to talk to my husband, and two small people who had a combined vocabulary of 100 words.
However, like much of parenthood, things did not turn out as I’d expected.
A few months into the birth of my second son, there was a church social – just a simple coffee and donuts gathering. My husband wanted to skip it; the kids were melting down, it was almost nap-time, and I’m guessing there was probably a football game on he wanted to catch. Plus we hardly even knew anyone at our church.
“You don’t get it!” I angry-whispered during the closing hymn. “I’m showered! I’m wearing clothes and make up! There are people here! Adult people! I haven’t talked to anyone in a week!”
I forget whether we stayed or went home, but the argument made me realize that something I typically would have dreaded – making small talk with strangers – was becoming something I craved.
A few months later, a friend of mine started a hiking group for parents and children in her hometown. That’s exactly what we need, I thought. It would be a way for my oldest to burn off energy, and a chance for me to make some friends. So I decided to start a branch as well. In November. In Montana.
The morning of our inaugural hike, it was 12 degrees out with six inches of snow on the ground. Needless to say, the weather did not entice a large crowd. But week after week that winter, I kept returning to the same park for a walk around the lake. About half the time, nobody else showed up and my boys and I were left with another quiet and lonely morning.
But every so often, another mom would see my posts on the town’s community Facebook page and show up. As we walked, I would talk her ear off, oversharing everything from birth details to parenting struggles. The mom would never come back.
Eventually, however, the weather turned warm and a group of regulars developed. As much as I was happy to see my kids outside and being active, I was the one reaping most of the benefits. I was a happier parent when I had a chance to interact with other moms.
Unfortunately, on the outside I was still the same awkward introvert I’d always been. I struggled to come up with conversation topics and got nervous meeting new people. I had trouble listening due to a loud and constant inner monologue going, “Don’t say anything awkward. Don’t say anything awkward.”
Had I really changed? Or are we always the same person we’ve always been? This question had been at the forefront of my mind since my husband and I were trying to make weekend plans one day. He wanted to stay at home and hang out with the kids. I wanted to attend every event that popped up in my Facebook newsfeed.
The question of whether introverts can really become extroverts is up for debate. Famous psychologists have argued that personality is immutable. We simply are who we are. However, seeing as how experienced researchers and PhDs only know so much, I decided to turn to the real experts – online personality quizzes.
After taking one that appeared semi-reputable, I got my answer. Despite years of being an INFJ, I was suddenly an ENFJ. Apparently that put me in the same category of the likes of Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. Seeing as how I was still the shy, awkward person I had always been, a change that drastic seemed unlikely. I wasn’t suddenly a “charismatic leader.” I had simply realized how much I needed to connect with others, especially now that I was a parent.
Motherhood has changed plenty about me. My career has gone in a different direction. My breasts have done the same. How I spend my time day-to-day looks nothing like what it did before I had children, but I didn’t expect it to change my personality.
The quiet days at home I’d looked forward to when I first became a stay-at-home parent left me with too much time to wonder if I was doing everything right. There was too much time to get annoyed, tired, and snippy with my kids. On my walks around the lake with other parents, I had a chance to engage and connect. It helped to hear that I wasn’t the only person who struggled with breastfeeding or ate candy in the bathroom when their kid wasn’t looking.
I’m still the shy, socially awkward, phone call-avoiding person I’ve always been, but introversion and extroversion aren’t based on how socially competent we are. It’s determined by what energizes us: time alone or time with others. My needs as a mother are different than my needs when I wasn’t. Now, more than ever, I need to know I’m not alone.