My son likes to talk. A lot. As a little boy he would talk to us for hours about his Legos and his Matchbox cars. As he grew older his interests changed, but his loquaciousness never diminished. I have been lectured on the specs of the newest iPhone, instructed on how to create viral YouTube videos, regaled with the latest antics of Casey Neistat, and updated on the most recent features introduced to Fortnite.
For so many years the house was never quiet if my son was around. And I think I took for granted that the melodic hum of chatter would always be the soothing white noise of my home and my family.
When our son left for college this past summer, my husband and I experienced the requisite range of emotions: no small amount of sadness, a great deal of pride, and a dizzying sense of dislocation. We found some comfort, however, in the notion that his leaving would provide the perfect opportunity for our teenage daughter to truly shine, to find her voice which for so many years had been muted by my son’s welcome racket.
So it was with great anticipation that our newly compact family took our seats at the dinner table that first night after our son left home, and waited anxiously for our daughter to entertain us with amusing and captivating tales from her teenage life.
Well, we waited in silence.
And every night for the many weeks that followed, our daughter never did share with us the narrative of her days. We questioned, we cajoled, and in return we were begrudgingly granted snippets of information, tiny glimpses into her existence.
And honestly I struggled. I found it exhausting to eke out the tiniest bits of information, and absolutely draining to engage in stunted conversation with my beloved daughter. I needed more from her, yet I had no idea how to get to a place of mutual understanding. I sensed also that my daughter required so much more than this awkward silence and my simmering frustration. It was hard enough missing my son, but now I was missing my daughter who was mere feet away.
So one night after yet another strained meal together, I went to my daughter’s room. I sat down next to her and through my tears I asked her why she finds it so difficult to share her life with us, to tell us about her day, her friends, her interests, and her dreams. She replied simply, “Mom, how come you never just tell me about YOUR day?” And her words pierced me with their jagged truth. It was my aha moment.
I realized that I do find it difficult to engage in conversation, talking about myself does indeed sap me of my energy, and regrettably, part of me was comfortable retreating into that silence that had come between us. And I also realized the reason this is my parenting realty is because I am an introvert. More importantly, I am an introvert parenting a fellow introvert.
As Maya Angelou wisely said, “When you know better, do better.” My daughter and I have no intention of changing who we are at our core; we are both too steadfast in our ways for that kind of transformation. I’m not even sure such a personality change is possible, and I’m certain it’s not desirable. But over time we have been able to identify four strategies that help us accommodate our introversion, while we simultaneously nurture authentic and meaningful relationships with the people closest to us.
Forget The Small Talk
My daughter and I have been attempting to forego the small talk. “How was your day?” or “Anything new going on?” are not conversation starters for us. We need to dig deeper and go straight to what’s important. I’ll ask my daughter about her favorite character in the book she’s reading in English class, or about something she learned in her Chemistry lab. She’ll ask me about what I wrote today, or who I met at an event I attended.
I have begun sharing more about my life and about my own childhood. I know when I’ve captured her interest because her eyes light up, and her words tumble out. Truly trying to engage one another in more meaningful ways is allowing us to build a deeper, stronger, and more trustful relationship. Keeping things more interesting is keeping us more interested.
Sometimes Just Forget Talking At All
I used to feel offended by my daughter’s one-word responses, her willful withholding of information. Trying to fill those awkward silences between us with idle chit chat was soul-sucking and entirely depleting. Now we have come to appreciate those empty spaces. We reenergize in the quiet moments. We have also found that quiet time can still be shared time. Rather than isolating ourselves in separate rooms, my daughter and I will sit together and just read or watch a favorite TV show. Sometimes we are just in our own heads. And that’s okay. We are quiet people content with occasionally sharing that quiet.
Other Times We Just Need To Be Alone
My daughter and I have learned to accept the fact that sometimes we just need to be completely alone, and we no longer regard that need as a reflection of something wrong in our relationship. Our love for one another, and for our family, is in no way diminished by our occasional need to be separate. In that alone time we reflect, recharge, and become better equipped to resume our role in the family. Our need to be alone is not rude, nor is it selfish. It is an important component of our self-care, and is necessary for our well being.
Take It Slow
We are making a concerted effort to practice patience. And to just slow down and breathe. By altering our expectations, my daughter and I are getting to know one another better all the time, and we are also learning so much more about ourselves in the process. It hasn’t always been easy, but change rarely is. We know for sure we are works in progress, but we are trying together.
And that has made all the difference.
Cheryl Gottlieb Boxer resides in New Jersey, where she micromanages a husband, her teenage children, and a confounding cockapoo. Her writing has appeared in The Mighty, Grown & Flown, Kveller, Her View From Home, Parent Co. and Sammiches & Psych Meds. You can also find her on Facebook at nosickdaysformom.