When John was a three, I took him to a two-hour mini “preschool” run by college students. He had never done any sort of school or daycare before, and I wondered how he would do. I prepped him often. “What do you do if you have to go to the bathroom?” “Who are you supposed to listen to?” “Remember to share!” I was newly, secretly pregnant with Ev, and I was probably a bit too emotional about everything. I needn’t have worried, however. When we arrived, he looked at me and said, “OK mama. You can go now” and walked into the classroom without me.
The first time I took Ev to a toddler storytime, and nearly every time since, he eyes all of the other kids, huddles close to me for a second, and then crawls or walks away from the crowd.
John is a classic extrovert. He comes alive when he is around other people, even if they don’t particularly feel like talking to or playing with him (but they usually do). John has friends everywhere. He loves friends. Anytime we go to a place where friends reside, he says “bye mama!” and I take a seat on the bench while he finds someone more interesting.
Ev is young. He’s almost 18 months, but I can see the introvert in him. He loves to go to bed — not to immediately go to sleep, but to decompress alone in his room. When I lay him down, he smiles. When I leave, I can hear him talking and singing to himself, sometimes for a half hour before succumbing to sleep.
I am an introvert. I love John, but he exhausts me. He is always going, going, going… and if I’m not at his level, he gets frustrated. Now that he reads, I can encourage some quality reading time, which basically means “go find friends in a book and let mama rest for a minute.”
I never have to pry things out of him, though. Even if he answers my “what did you do at school?” question with “I’ll tell you later,” he does tell me later. I don’t know if Ev will. We’ll talk, I’m sure, but I don’t know how free he will be with information.
It shocks me everyday to see how different these two boys are. I have tried to parent Ev the same way, and I realized that the constant play dates and times with friends just aren’t as vital to him. They’re good for him, and I’ll keep taking him to things, but we will approach socialization so differently.
Neither child is better than the other, but they explore the world in such different ways. I don’t have stellar “here’s how you parent every personality type!” bullet points, but I can remind you that your children will show you what they need. Sometimes your child will put up a fight when you leave a park full of friends; it isn’t because he is rude and disrespectful, but that he was energized and engaged and now he won’t be. I try and give John this grace when he fights me after the words “time to go, buddy,” and I hope other moms at the park give it as well.
It doesn’t really matter if you can assign your child a personality type or not. It doesn’t really matter if you can assign yourself a personality type or not. It matters that you observe, adapt, and understand that incredibly different individuals can and likely do live under your roof.
So how can we parent little people who are so different from us? We can be our best selves. Know yourself and be authentic. Make mistakes, and let your children make mistakes. Give and receive grace freely. And when all else fails, read some Shel Silverstein:
Don’t Tell Me
Please don’t tell me I should hug,
Don’t tell me I should care.
Don’t tell me just how grand I’d feel
If I just learned to share.
Don’t say “It’s all right to cry,”
“Be kind,” “Be fair,” “Be true.”
Just let me see YOU do it,
Then I might do it too.