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.

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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.