Saturday, December 9, 2023
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Walk in their little shoes

Meghan Leahy

THE WASHINGTON POST – Q: I’m sure you’ve gotten this question 100 times over, so apologies in advance. We’re trying to figure out the best way to handle major personality differences between our daughter and both of us parents. To wit, our daughter is a huge extrovert; we’re introverts. Over the past seven years, I’ve pretty much concluded that there’s no happy medium here. Someone is usually going to be miserable with this type of difference, and it’s usually me.

She’s now at the age where she’s playing regularly with some of the neighbourhood kids, which does help, but supervision of said activities still requires frequent interpersonal interaction (which, as an introvert, I’d love to avoid).

Don’t get me wrong: We love our daughter, and we spend whatever quality time we can with her. But we still need our privacy to recharge, and, frankly, it’s something we rarely get with an extroverted child. At the end of every day, we feel bled dry by our daughter’s need for near-constant interaction.

Any tips you can give would be a great help. Thanks!

A: I haven’t gotten this question 100 times over, but I have received many questions about temperament issues over the years.

In fact, it’s so common for people’s temperaments to differ from their children’s that I would find it a bit weird if everyone did match perfectly!

And, yes, I won’t deny that it is especially hard when there is a chasm between the one child and two parents, but we need to take a different perspective regarding your relationship with your daughter.

The first bit we need to grapple with is “no happy medium” when it comes to expectations with your daughter. If we are looking at the middle ground as being “all parties being completely content and getting everything they want”, then there will be only misery. But, as with everything in life, we aren’t going for perfection (or the middle); we’re going for the best we can.

First, if she’s seven years old and everything is on track developmentally, then she’s old enough to have discussions about people’s differences and how others gain and use their energy. You aren’t doing her (or yourself) any favours by kowtowing to her every extroverted need; that’s not how people live. Trust me: She already knows that she’s not like her parents, so just put it out there. Say: “Whitney, some people love to be with lots of other people. It leaves them feeling energised and full. Some people love people. They just may need to be with fewer of them or be around them for less time. They like to be alone. Every human is a little different, and one of our family values is that everyone gets to be fully themselves.”

You really want to drive home the point that you love your daughter’s temperament and that, although you’re different, it’s all okay.

Second, planning how she can get her energy out in ways that suit you all is important. Can she join clubs or teams where you are not expected to interact (much)? Can she participate in after-school programmes or activities that burn up her energy and desire to be with others? Can you find a way to have her friends over where they are in the house, but you don’t have to be “babysitting” them too much? Can you have a mother’s helper or young teen come by to play games, walk around the neighbourhood or hang out with your daughter? Is there family nearby? There’s no shame in hiring help or relying on family.

At the end of day, your daughter isn’t responsible for pleasing you or taking care of your mental health, so talk to your partner, and plan how to divide and conquer.

Take turns going away for weekends or bringing your daughter to see family while the other stays home to recharge.

There are numerous ways to come at this, so try to abandon the more negative approach and instead find a slightly more balanced, nuanced and compassionate perspective (for everyone in the family).

I would also check with a good friend or a therapist to be sure that the stories you’re telling yourself are true. How much supervision is needed? How much do you have to talk to parents? Either way, your family can grow in appreciation and ease; you just need to do it in a way that works for you. Good luck.


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