Being an introvert parent with a large family

When published five years ago, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking opened the floodgates of articles, blogs, and more books on the topics of introversion and extraversion. For me, this discussion has been eye-opening and life-changing. I understand things about myself I never did before. It turns out I am profoundly introverted, so much so that I’ve earned perfect scores on “How introverted are you tests?” and ranked 90% introverted or higher on personality type surveys.

I read a lot about my fellow introverts and our challenges and victories, and I’ve found one common theme in particular that bears mentioning. This is purely unscientific, but in my experience, I’ve found that when it comes to parenting, introverts tend to favor small families. I feel like the ideal number of children for many introverts is zero to two. And I’ve definitely gotten the impression that anything considered a “large” family is nerve-wracking or downright horrifying for a lot of introverts.

Me and all six of my kiddos with a family friend.

So all that being said — hi, I’m the world’s most introverted introvert, and I am the father of six children. Being the highly introverted father of a large family carries with it lots of challenges, but even more rewards.

Noisy people everywhere, everywhen
The number one challenge: you’re always with a large group.

One of the primary differences between extroverts and introverts is the effect of social interaction upon us. It’s energizing to extroverts and draining to introverts. Some introverts unwind after a day of work in a chaotic, loud, open concept office by going home and spending a quiet evening with their partner and children, or with a small group of friends, or — the introvert cliche — alone. This downtime is necessary. It’s how we recharge, so we’re able to return to our busy, busy, busy job the next day. But for me, there is no such thing as retreating home to myself or to a small group. I live with seven other people. Some days, I’m with smaller groups during the work day than in the evening.

My situation is perhaps compounded by the fact that all six of my children are nine years old or younger, and they’re perfectly normal for those ages — which is to say, they demand a lot of attention. They need interactions with me, guidance from me, fun time with me, discipline from me. They each need this every day, and not just for a few minutes per day. And did I mention there are six of them?

The lack of solitude or even small group time can be overwhelming. The demands put on my attention can be overstimulating. And then there’s the noise. My three-year-old and one-year-old are loud. They can’t help it. They don’t understand “inside voice” and “outside voice.” When they are angered or wronged, their reaction is always an 11; they don’t know how to respond at a lower, more subdued level. And as for the older children, sometimes they fight and yell loudly, as kids do, but most of the time they get along and play together with so much excitement they… still yell loudly. They shout when they’re excited, they all talk at the same time, and their raucous belly-splitting laughter is the best sound in the world… but it’s still loud. Regular, normal familial contact — conversation, a family meal — can be tiring at best and overwhelming at worst due to volume level and the number of overlapping voices.

Most meaningful relationships
If my unscientific guess is right, and most introverts prefer zero-to-two children, I’ve just outlined a scenario that is highly unappealing to most introverts. If so, let me tell you, my fellow innies: you’re missing out.

Despite the challenges, I wouldn’t trade my situation for any other, and the primary reason why has to do with another defining trait of introverts: we crave meaningful relationships. We hate phoniness, we hate superficiality. Instead of idle chit-chat about the weather, we’d rather have a deep conversation about our innermost thoughts or dreams or those of others. By our choice, we may have far fewer friends than many others, but after we’ve decided on a friend, we go all-in.

Our spousal relationship is probably the deepest, most meaningful one we’ll ever have, but we all have at most just one spouse. (Well, except for polygamists, I guess.) Having a large family means having more of the most meaningful non-spousal relationships you’ll ever have: parental ones. Your relationship with your child is one in which the child is entirely dependent on you for physical care, affection, spiritual guidance, and education. Your children are young and innocent, and they want to hear and grok everything you have to say. It’s an introvert’s ideal relationship!

It is an honor and a privilege — and a great responsibility — that I get to provide an example to six little ones. Many introverts feel we’re misunderstood by society, possibly even marginalized. The thesis of Susan Cain’s Quiet is that the world has an extrovert ideal and doesn’t place enough value on introverts. As a parent, you get to change that… at least for your children. I try to show my children that a leader doesn’t have to be a tyrant and that words spoken softly can still have a loud impact. If we want the world to look at introversion and extraversion as two separate but equal ideals, we have to start teaching it somewhere.

How to focus outward when we want to focus inward?
There’s so much more I could say on this topic, and I will. This is the first in a planned series of articles about being an introverted parent. This series is not intended to lecture anyone, or to tell anyone how many children they should have. I hope that it speaks to introverted parents with any number of children. This also isn’t meant to brag about how great introverts are, or about how great I am. Quite the opposite, it’s part of my self-discovery journey, because — confession time — I often don’t know what the heck I’m doing.

My favorite dictionary defines introversion as “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.” I know the definition of introversion can be a controversial topic, and the first time I read this, I thought, That’s a terrible definition! It makes me sound so self-centered and selfish.

But here’s a hard truth that no amount of self-deception can change. While I might not like to admit it, left unchecked, selfish and self-centered is precisely what I can become thanks to my introversion. And being selfish doesn’t jive very well with parenthood, a rather permanent state of life that demands near-constant sacrifice for the well-being of your children, especially in their first couple of decades. So how can I balance the sacrifices I must make (and want to make) for my family, while at the same time reminding myself that self-care isn’t selfish and is necessary to keep me in a state of being a responsible, loving, unselfish parent?

If you’re an introverted parent, I’d love for us to figure out the answer to that question together. What are your biggest challenges? What brings you the most joy? Leave a comment here, send me a message on Twitter, or use the Contact page to send me a direct message.

12 thoughts on “Being an introvert parent with a large family

  1. Wow, that’s a really great point about the meaningful relationships you have with your kids. I’m an introvert too, and while I’m not really planning on having kids, I’ve considered it and I’ve asked myself the very question you brought up: “How would I possibly survive parenthood when I’m such an introvert who desperately needs peace and quiet?” But the depth of closeness that kids offer, when other relationships in the introvert’s life might be surface-level only, is a perspective I hadn’t thought about. 🙂

  2. I don’t have any answers, I’m just here to say that I’m the introverted mom of 4 kids and a husband who just had surgery. I haven’t had any alone time in a week, minus staying up too late last night, and it wasn’t enough.

    I feel like I’m losing my mind.

  3. Hi Michael,
    I am in introverted mother of six ages, 20 – 2 years, and its overwhelming most days. I do what I can to take kids alone, or in twos for the much needed bonding time, as much for them as for me. (Did I mention I’m at this very moment I’ve locked myself in my closet? Haha)
    I married into an excessively extroverted family and I often get frustrated with my husband and his family because they are highly judgemental of introverts and call them anti-social, which is, of course, ridiculous. So my main focus is always trying to develop the one on one with my kids, so they respect and value me in ways that the outside world, as you have mentioned, tends to glorify the extrovert. This is especially important for the adult/young adult children who feel social pressure to stand out, and a couple of my children are introverts.
    Anyway, just some thoughts. Thanks, and great article.

    • Hi, Tiffany! Sorry for my delayed reply, but thanks so much for your comments. Just hearing that there’s another parent of six out there who also gets overwhelmed makes me feel better. Thanks so much for sharing.

      Lately I’ve been thinking about the quote from Avengers: Endgame, “Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be. The measure of a person is how well they succeed at being who they are.” I feel this applies to my parenting. I’ll never be the outgoing, boisterous SuperDad of a typical sitcom. But I’ll be the best parent that I can be, and that’s enough. 🙂

  4. Just found your article. I’ve always wanted a large family, but as we add members I find I have great challenges. My particular challenge is in not biting everyone’s head of when they all need a piece of me at the same time. I have a 6 and a 4 year old, and another on the way. And I’ve noticed that within the family unit even other introverted members need each other’s attention a lot of the time. Especially since the adults work at home as much as possible and the kids are homeschooled. Sigh Being a parent stretches one in ways they didn’t know they needed to stretch, I’ve found. Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your articles. It’s nice to know I’m not abnormally neurotic all by myself.

  5. Thank you for your article. I appreciate people who share their thoughts with so much vulnerability. I searched, “coping with a big family as an introverted parent” and hit a gold mine finding your insights. I am a mother of 7 kids ages 2-14. I loved growing up in a big family and wanted to create that for my kids. I think as a child I had more opportunity to hide away when I needed alone time, than I do as a mom.Lately I have been discouraged by my need for alone time and quiet and have felt guilty for not engaging with my kids as often as I feel like I’m “supposed to”. I’ve been looking for quick fixes. But I spoke to a friend who encouraged me to plan in my schedule to take the time I need and then make the most of the time I spend with my children, which is most of my day. So I have 30 minutes in the early morning, an hour in the afternoon (sometimes with my door closed and a box fan on for white noise) and a set bedtime for myself in the evening that help me to get the time I need. If anybody needs me for anything they know to ask me before my bedtime. And regular meditation practice is helpful at keeping me mindful and present when I am with people (something I struggle with as I tend to get lost in my own thoughts 🙂
    I also grew up with wonderful relationships with my parents and siblings which continue to be an anchor for me today. I LOVE my big family and can’t imagine which child I could possibly give back 🙂 I loved your insight on the value of deep parent-child relationships for introverts. That inspired much needed gratitude in me.
    One other tip is to plan one-on-one time with your kids. Whether it’s a parent child “date night” once a month or so, or just being aware of the one-on-one time you have with each child and making the most of it. For me it’s helping with Geometry homework with my 14 year old, reading a chapter to my 9 year old before bed, cuddling with my 4 year old while she watches a TV show, googling science questions with my 13 year old, time in the car chatting with whoever is with me (I’m trying to stay off my podcasts when someone else is in the car 🙂 and pulling them into activities I am doing like cooking, workouts, gardening, etc unless I need to do those activities solo on a particular day.
    Sorry for the lost post, I guess it was therapeutic to write all these thoughts down. Thank you again.

    • Hi, Liz! Thank you so much for your very kind words, and especially your tips. When I first wrote this article, I imagined it being part of a whole series, and I never really did that because I felt like I’m the one looking for the answers, not the person with them. So it is really heartening to me to hear from others who are navigating the same struggles. Thanks so much for sharing.

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