There are many stepmoms struggling to fit in and find peace in their families, not because they don’t get along with their stepchildren, but because they’re introverts in a family of extroverts. And introverts and extroverts often have conflicting ways of being in the world.
According to Psychology Today, introversion is a personality trait defined as someone whose energy is drained by social interactions; they give energy away when interacting with others.
Therefore, they need recovery time, which usually means solitude, to recharge and refill their energy tank. Whereas an extrovert gains energy when they spend time with others. Therefore, they feel energized after spending an evening socializing.
Susan Cain, author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking“ addresses the misconception that introverts are shy by noting, “Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”
She also explains that “Introverts may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”
Other common misconceptions about introverts are that they’re:
- stuck up
These make sense when you look at them from an extrovert’s mindset. Extroverts are energized by being around others, so someone who thrives in solitude can seem uninterested or uninteresting. But it’s not so.
Introverts can be social and chatty and thoroughly love going to a party, but those activities will drain their energy leaving them with an empty tank.
Different degrees of introversion
There are plenty of people who fall in the middle of the introversion/extroversion spectrum. Some introverts really thrive in quiet spaces and are very quiet, whereas I’m a pretty chatty introvert. There are no hard and fast rules and introversion can look differently depending on where you are on the spectrum.
But the one constant is that we all have our energy drained when interacting with others and require solitude to recharge.
For those who fall clearly on one end of the spectrum, living with family members on the opposite end of the spectrum can be challenging.
In regards to how introverts spend their time, most prefer:
- small groups to large social events
- reading a book to going to a party
- quiet to loud environments
- meaningful conversation to superficial small talk
- If your stepkids are extroverts or if their mom is an extrovert and that’s what they’re used to seeing, your introvert ways are going to seem foreign to them. They might think you don’t like them or that you’re boring because you prefer reading a book to entertaining the neighborhood kids. Laying this issue out on the table for all to see can be a real eye-opener for everyone involved.
- Most people aren’t educated about introversion and extroversion personality traits, so they usually take offence when an introvert wants her solitude.
How to educate your family about introversion
- And since an empty tank can breed resentment, depression, anger and exhaustion, taking the necessary time to recover and recharge is crucial to an introvert’s wellbeing.
- So you can see how caring for kids can be an activity that is extremely draining to an introvert – with a pretty low rate of return. The introvert stepmom will give and give and give during her caretaking time with the child and if her tank is low, to begin with, it’s sure to be empty by the time she’s done.
- Since an introvert’s energy is such a precious commodity, they prefer to engage in activities with a “high rate of return,” meaning they get something meaningful from the interaction, such as connection. This is why they prefer deep conversations to superficial ones.
- The nature of the parent/stepparent-child relationship is often one way; very give – give because kids are self-centered and require a lot of care. Depending on the age of the child, a large amount of interaction with them is required; chatting, playing, etc… but they have very little to give in return, especially to a stepparent who usually doesn’t receive the love and affections that are afforded to parents.
Parenting/stepparenting is an extrovert activity
Can you see how introversion really isn’t conducive to being around kids most of the time?
- Have the whole family take this online quiz to see where everyone is on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. http://www.quietrev.com/the-introvert-test/ It can give your family a better understanding of how each of you functions differently.
- Have a conversation about introversion. Depending on their age, you can use a battery analogy. They probably have a cell phone or gaming device that they can relate to, so explain that when they use the device the battery gets lower and lower until they need to charge it. And if they don’t charge it, the device will run out of power. Liken their usage of the device to your interacting with others.
- Have a discussion about how each family member’s introversion or extroversion traits show up. For example, you need to go to your alone zone after a school event where you had to interact with other parents. Or maybe your stepson or partner really thrive when the house is loud and full of people. You can even create a light-hearted way of acknowledging each other’s traits, such as saying “your introversion is showing” or “I see your extroversion is in full force.” This can serve to help family members stop taking the behaviors personally, and instead just calling it out for what it actually is: simple differences in personality.
Introverts need a plan
Introverts need to plan for recovery time because our society really isn’t introvert-friendly. It’s assumed if you’re not going, going, going, then there’s something wrong with you. And if you take a time-out, then you’re obviously selfish and/or lack the skills to hack it. By being intentional and planning for solitude, you’re sure not to get caught up in society’s (or even your family’s) unrealistic expectations of you.
Start by making a list of all the daily extrovert activities you engage in. By being aware of your inventory and energy requirements, you’ll be able to plan for recovery time appropriately.
Your list of extrovert activities might include:
- kids’ sleepovers at your house
- after-school activities where you have to interact with the parents
- birthday parties
- family dinners with partner’s family – or your own
- your job
After you have your inventory, think about how much energy you’ll need to get through the activity without feeling like you’ve been run over by a bulldozer. Then schedule time for solitude before that activity.
For example, if the kids are having a sleepover, let them know that the sleepover will be starting a little later in the evening. If your partner doesn’t support that, then make sure you go to your alone zone with headphones on. Once you feel recharged, you can make an appearance.
If you can’t find solitude before the activity, make absolutely sure you plan for some afterwards. This is non-negotiable.
You’re an adult, in control of how you spend your time. Learning to stand up for what you need will serve you greatly in these situations.
When you create your inventory, take into consideration the following:
- The length of time of the event. If the event is longer than you’re comfortable with, can you make an early exit? If not, you may need to plan for extra recharge time before or after.
- Who’s involved? Will you be interacting with people you’re close to where you might experience a high rate of return? Or will it be mostly strangers and acquaintances, providing you with a lower rate of return?
- How much interacting will be required of you? For example, an award banquet will require less social interaction than a party and therefore be less draining.
- When it comes to living comfortably, everyone will have to do some compromising, since extrovert and introverts are in such conflict with what energizes them. Here are some suggestions that will help everyone get their needs met:
How to live comfortably with extroverts
- If you’re finding that’s impossible, then take a few extra minutes in the car on your way home. Be creative and make it happen. No one benefits from you attempting to function on a low or empty tank.
- But then you get home and the kids are there and you’re expected to immediately jump into caretaker role, making dinner, watching the kids etc… Let your partner know that you need some recovery time before you jump into your stepmom role.
- One of the most common areas introverts might not realize they’re extroverting is at work. Does your job require you to have face-to-face meetings throughout the day? Are you on the phone making calls all day long? Giving presentations? Interacting with people throughout the day? Most jobs require extroverting, so you’re going to be exhausted and need recovery time when you get home.
A word about work
- These will help you determine whether the extrovert activity will yield a higher or lower rate of return. The higher the return, the less recovery time you may need.
- Each family member should have a place they can recharge. A quiet space for the introverts and a noisy space for the extroverts.
- Instead of allowing kids to have sleepovers every weekend, try every other. Or they can sleep out.
- If the rest of the family (majority) wants to watch TV or play loud video games, you can go to your quiet zone. Or if a single person wants to play a loud video game, he can use headphones.
- On the days you have the kids, think about limiting your other extroverted activities. For example, can you schedule less face-to-face work meetings on those days?
- Have a set time for extrovert activities that take place in the common areas of the house. “OK kids, you can play video games (noisy) for an hour, then I need you to put the headphones on.” That’s what a compromise looks like.
- Always have an escape route. For example, if I’m going to a social function where I’ll be surrounded by either strangers or acquaintances, I know I’ll be good for 1- 2 hours and then I’ll start to get exhausted and will want to leave. Whereas my husband might want to spend more time there. So I might drive separately or he’ll plan to find another ride home, so I won’t be stuck there after I’ve reached my limit.
Bonding with extroverted kids
When it comes to bonding with your extroverted stepkids, it will help you to engage in activities that don’t completely drain you. It’s more important that you’re able to show up and be present for the kids to the best of your ability for a shorter length of time than it is for you to be “on” for hours but in an exhausted, depressed or resentful state.
Shoulder to shoulder activities can be great because they require less direct, face-to-face interaction. These might include cooking, teaching how to knit, coloring, watching a movie or going for a walk. It’s also okay to let the kids know that you’re happy to play for 30 minutes but then you need an adult time out.
It may seem silly or even ridiculous that you have to plan for recovery time, but you can only benefit from doing so. Most people never think about introversion and extroversion being a reason for conflict or tension, but it often is. Being aware of these differences and having open communication on a regular basis with your family about them can ease some of the tensions and remove the misconceptions about each other.
When we stop taking behaviors personally, we’re free to respect and appreciate each other’s differences. And that makes it so much easier to live in harmony with those who are different than us.
Jenna Korf is a Certified Stepfamily Foundation coach, an RCI Certified Relationship coach and co-author of the book, “Skirts At War: Beyond Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict.” She is also a blogger for The Huffington Post and has been featured as a stepfamily expert on CNN.com, parenting.com and care.com. Jenna is also a Registered Nurse, a stepmom and a stepchild. To read more from Jenna or for one-on-one coaching visit her at StepmomHelp.com.