Not that kind of mother

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I grew up in a decidedly “the more the merrier” environment.  For starters, at the very heart, my family of four was sort of a family of sixteen.  The other three families were a part of our daily life in the loose, everyday way that I understand now reflects true intimacy.  Each of those six other children is stitched through my childhood memories so tightly as to be a part of the very fabric.  Each of them remains a part of my life today.

Moving outward in concentric circles from this center, there were always lots and lots of people around.  Hilary and I used to joke that it wasn’t Thanksgiving without a foreign student or two whom we’d never met around the table.  My memory of my family (and my continuing experience of it, actually) is of a roving, magnanimous extroversion that manifests itself in a million friends, a phone that’s always ringing, a lot of plans, dinner parties, coffees, and people stopping by just because.  One of my mother’s many gifts is her immediate and expansive warmth, the genuine way she welcomes everyone into her life.  She has always attracted people to her, and, like a sun, is surrounded by more orbiting planets than I can count.

I am not that kind of mother.  It’s no secret that I am an introvert.  I am also very sensitive and also shy (two traits that Susan Cain’s marvelous Quiet helped me understand are separate from, though highly correlated with, introversion)  Perhaps because of this trifecta of qualities, I am much more closed-off with our family time.  I treasure and guard fiercely our time the four of us (or the three of us, as in the case of Legoland or Storyland).  I worry often about what impact this will have on Grace and Whit.  It is vitally important to me that they grow up firm in their knowledge that I view our foursome, our nuclear family, as holy.  I am fairly sure they get this message.

What I can’t stop thinking about lately is the shadow of my instinct, the dark side of this particular aspect of my nature.  What do they lose without the extended net of people coming and going, without the example of constantly welcoming friends new and old? Will they grow up to be exclusive, or clannish, or closed-minded?

We do have “family friends,” about whom I’ve written a lot, and other friends too.  Certainly.  It would be inaccurate to paint a picture of the four of us alone in a dark room, never going out.  But when I took Grace and Whit on an outing to celebrate the end of school, we bumped into legions of their classmates, all there together, herded around by a few parents who had clearly organized this outing.  I had not heard anything about it.  And when there’s a random day off of school, or an open weekend date, I admit that my immediate and powerful instinct is that we do something as a family.  It’s not: hey, let’s bring some friends along.  These are just examples, but that day after school did make me fret.

Am I protecting something that I cherish – time as a nuclear family – to a point that harms Grace and Whit?  I don’t know.  There are so very many ways I wish I was more like my own mother, and this is surely one of them.  I think I was on to something when I noted earlier this year that the fact that most my closest friends are strong, sparkly extroverts must reflect a deep-seated desire to surround myself with models of my mother.  I wish I could take on some of that confidence, that inclusion, that warmth.


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25 Comments

  1. Posted October 2, 2013 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Once again, you voice my own thoughts. As my kids are in high school now, I’ve wondered about things like a graduation party. Realizing that there really isn’t anyone to invite to one has stopped me short. I had the same experiences in elementary school that you describe. It felt like there was some club, and it wasn’t so much that I (and my kids) were unwelcome; it was more that we just weren’t thought of. I didn’t know why or how that was. I still don’t, really. I’d like to change it, but honestly, I don’t see any space in my life to add anyone else in. Like you, I grew up in a tight web of relationships. I view it as a gift, one I know I haven’t given my children. I have very mixed feelings about it.

    admin Reply:

    Mixed feelings: me too. As you can see. I’m sorry you feel that way, but am also glad to have a kindred spirit out there. xox

  2. Posted October 2, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    I get what you’re saying. I think part of it is a change in the times – the whole people don’t know their neighbors like they used to phenomenon.
    I also feel that it does not serve our children well that their mothers should attempt to take on a personality that is not truly their own. I, like you, lean towards introversion and enjoy the core family time. My oldest daughter is very much and extrovert and loves to be surrounded by friends and activity much of the time. She manages to do that and I support her in it (by having a crockpot of food ready for the teenage masses) even though that is not the way she was raised. I wouldn’t want her to be anybody but who she is, and I think she would say the same for me. Does that make any sense?

    admin Reply:

    Makes total sense. And I think you’re right, because the truth is that even if I tried my hardest I probably wouldn’t do a very good job being that sparkly extroverted den mother. I still sort of wish I was, though. xox

  3. Posted October 2, 2013 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I am the same exact way and think about this all the time. My husband is an extrovert so the one who’d be inclined to “get out there!!” and “be with people!!” Problem is, I am the one home more with our daughter and so my natural inclination usually takes center stage–doing stuff or hanging out at home just me and her (or all 3 of us). Her being an only child compounds my worry about whether or not I am doing harm here, particularly where I am not always entirely sure where she falls on the E-I spectrum. I *think* she’s an I (though slightly less so than me), but then again when I see her “out there” and “with people”, she does seem to shine brighter after a long spell of warming up and becoming comfortable with them. Seeing that makes me wonder if I need to, for the time being, try harder to accommodate her personality. But then again it would be almost painful and feel fake for me to do that. I struggle with how much personal sacrifice am I required to make for the sake of my child? I’ve often wondered whether us not being included or asked to be a part of outings has a lot to do with how serious I always come across, or at least this is my gut feeling. My ideas of fun or togetherness involve very different (quieter, reflective) activities than the ones we might be missing out on. So I try to tell myself that that’s OK because it’s also why I usually don’t ask others to intrude, I mean join us, either. 🙂

    admin Reply:

    Giggling at the intrude-I-mean-join-us comment, since I so relate!! I wonder about this all the time. Whit is a strong E and I know he feels lonely sometimes at home. Luckily my husband is too, but when he’s not around, I admit I chafe at Whit’s needs for interaction. xo

  4. Kathie
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    oh wow – my husband and I just had a conversation about this! He is an extrovert and when someone texts or calls to make plans (another family, for instance) for dinner or an afternoon at the park, or a last-minute invite to go apple picking, my immediate instinct is to say no while his is yes! Although for me I think it is sometimes just as much a selfish thing: it’s often about MY time, not always my family’s time together. My husband and I talk about this difference in our personalities a lot. He has many friends but not as many close friendships, whereas I value the handful of extremely close and very meaningful friendships I have. I marvel at the revolving door at my sister’s home, of friends and kids’ friends coming and going, and they are always doing something with some other group of families. I am trying to be a little more like that, for my family’s sake. 🙂

    admin Reply:

    Sam W came up in our house last night! I think of part of why Whit loved camp so much is he could be with people All The Time and let his E-ness shine, unfettered. Whereas at home I am often shushing him, etc. Which isn’t really fair … For lots of reasons I’m actually starting to realize there are a few kindred souls out there that I need to hold closer, and release a bit what I wish the other friends were. You know? xox

  5. Tamara
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    I appreciated this post so much Lindsey, as I do all of your posts. This one described me almost exactly.
    I think you are just the kind of parent you need to be, trying be something else wouldn’t make you any more kind or loving to your children or others.
    Being introverted, sensitive and shy (all of which are traits I own and admire) doesn’t make you any less welcoming, accepting or loving. It just means you do those things in your own way.
    I think your children benefit greatly from you being just the kind of parent you were meant to be. ♥

    admin Reply:

    I hope you are right. The truth is I am not sure if I’d do any kind of good job at trying to be a different kind of mom anyway, right? xox

  6. Edye Newman
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I think that you need to accept yourself for who you are. I am like your mom – always inviting people who need somewhere to eat, rest, enjoy other’s company. My husband is like you – just prefers the company of our immediate family. He has a wonderful heart and doesn’t say anything when he sees an extra person or two at dinner because he knows how I am and he is used to it. But his way is not wrong or my way right – just our traits that make us US! That’s how you should think about it. Your kids know you enjoy them and also have outside friends. Nothing to worry about at all!

    admin Reply:

    I think you’re right. I do still worry, though … probably because my own instincts are so different from my own mother’s, on this dimension. I wonder why that is, and since I have such happy memories of certain aspects of my childhood, I fret I’m depriving my children of those.

  7. Posted October 2, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Oh I so understand this but haven’t been able to articulate it as well as you. I am so awkward socially and I sometimes get so worried before social events that I often avoid them and love time as a family. When we were in Ventura for a year a friend dropped by unexpectedly and I was overjoyed that she felt comfortable enough with me to be able to do that. I haven’t felt that at home in any of the other places we live and I worry this will rub off on our kids. Oliver greatly prefers a best friend but Gus is so social. Both seem to make their way with friends – their OWN way – but I often wonder if they would be happier if I were more social.

    admin Reply:

    I wonder the same thing. I would feel the same sense of delight if someone felt casual enough to just stop by our house. Hasn’t happened :(.

  8. Posted October 2, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I hear what you are saying! I feel that way too at times when I prefer to be with my kids and husband and not part of a group.

    admin Reply:

    Exactly. I’m glad you can relate! xo

  9. Posted October 2, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    It’s funny, but I never imagined I would be a mother like my own… she talked to EVERYONE (like, sooooo embarrassing for my teenage self) and teased my friends mercilessly as a way to show them she cares. And now I find myself talking to everyone and playing with my son’s friends in the same way.
    I love that you recognize your mom’s strengths but also cherish your own; because you are a present, fantastic, thoughtful mother.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you for saying that. I sure hope you are even a small bit right! xoxo

  10. Posted October 2, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    First, your childhood sounds so wonderful. Second, your children’s childhood sounds equally wonderful. Because your mom was being true to herself and building a life that she loved and including you in it. You are doing the same. I often have these thoughts but try to remember that it’s simply too exhausting to be anything other than what I am. Also, as perfect as a childhood may be, every kid wants something different or wishes things were different. Just human nature. I wish we had our closest friends and family close by, I wish every weekend we hosted big get-togethers, I wish I lived by the ocean and had acres of backyard for my kids and dog to cavort in. But that’s not my reality, so we have to go with what works. Personally I find this interesting to consider because while I consider myself an extrovert, I am more like you with my family- I tend to plan things with just us. I like to be around other people, but I don’t like to plan things.

    admin Reply:

    I think you’re right, that it would be too exhausting to try to be what I’m not – and also frankly I’m not even sure I COULD. But I do worry that it’s not “as I wished it” (and even as I write that I remember my firm belief that almost all of our suffering comes from our attachment to that, to how we thought it would be …). I guess I have to learn that one again! xo

  11. Posted October 2, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    I can relate to a lot of what you’ve written about here. My own introversion seeks quiet and the comforts of home. (It was with tremendous glee that I realized we wouldn’t be able to attend a big bash at my younger two’s preschool last week because of a scheduling conflict.) Maybe I’m just comforting myself here, but I have to believe that the love and security with which you surround Grace and Whit will give them both tremendous senses of self and a strong foundation for whichever type of household they end up preferring. Just look at you and your mom. You adore and admire her, but your own home doesn’t reflect on the surface the home in which you were raised. Then again, maybe it does; I have to believe that love, humor, and a passion for learning are at the heart of both places. xoxo

    admin Reply:

    Isn’t it interesting, knowing both HWM and myself as you do, that such a sparkly extrovert raised two fairly introverted daughters? Hmmm…. Thank you for pointing out that love, humor, and passion for learning and the life of the mind are at the core of both the family I grew up in and that I’m raising. I think you are right on that one. xoxo

  12. Posted October 2, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I’m bawling my eyes out because this is just the thing that’s been keeping me up at night and I can’t shake it. Your timing is spooky. I’m afraid I’m screwing up Miss M. with my homebody ways and social awkwardness. She is only in second grade and I have to meet with her teacher and the counselor TODAY because she is having panic attacks during lunch/recess because she feels like she’s alone and can’t reach out to other kids. It’s so bad that she’s throwing up. I was so relieved that Miss D. is nothing like me–a total extrovert and easybreezy at the social thing. And then came poor M., who hates to leave the house. I cursed her. Damn.

    admin Reply:

    You did NOT curse her. I have one very anxious child and I relate to much of what you’re saying about Miss M – familiar stuff from here. Sigh. I don’t know how to help, either. I wish I did. Let me know what you learn …

  13. Posted October 2, 2013 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Me exactly. I hate that I am this way. I desperately want to be the open house, where all of the friends gather, and I make cookies and milk for everyone, and we sip lemonade together on the patio. And then when the kids ask if their friends can come over, I kind of cringe…because everything is a mess and I am just not sure if I want company.

    How do I change this about myself? Not sure that I can. But I want to be sure that the kids’ childhood is remembered as a special, warm and fun time of their lives…whether it’s with just us six, or with their friends and neighbors and extended families, or a mix of the two.

    admin Reply:

    I guess that’s the key, those memories, that love, no matter how many people are a part of it? I guess I Just fear that I can’t create the same kind of magical circus that my mother did …

  14. Posted October 2, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I’m not that kind of a mother either… and while I often question myself about it, I think it’s a beautiful lesson for our kids to understand we need to be true to ourselves and what comforts us, and that in turn gives us the ability to build a strong foundation for them. If we were out of our element, it would be much harder to find our footing and have our children see their parents as who they actually are.

    admin Reply:

    You are so right. Thanks for reminding me of this. (you always know how to turn my face to what really matters xoxoxo).

  15. Alix
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Once again, you speak to my ongoing struggles as an introvert in an extroverted world. I think these struggles have only been heightened by motherhood. Almost since I became a mom, I have felt that introversion and parenting are often at odds. Not only am I now almost never alone (making parenting even more exhausting), but I have to navigate the social world with three small passengers. I feel obligated to try to pass as extroverted for my kids, so that they aren’t left out, but it’s HARD WORK and I’m not always very good at it. The result is that I know a lot of people (I volunteer constantly at my kids’ schools and so meet a lot of other parents) but don’t really have any close friends. I feel constantly at the periphery of every social group, not really connected to anyone. As an introvert who craves a few close connections, it’s not a good place to be. I like to think I’m just pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, but frequently worry that I’m being disingenuous, then give up and become a complete homebody for awhile. I really don’t know where that line is, between . I have never been the sparkly, talks to everyone person, and I’ve always wished I was but it sure doesn’t come naturally. So do I just give into my strong introverted tendencies? Give up trying to be something I’m not? Let people think I’m an unfriendly, reserved b!&%$ (even though I’m not and I just have a hard time starting conversations with new people)? I almost feel like I could do that if it weren’t for my kids. It doesn’t feel right to limit their social opportunities because I’m tired of pretending.

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I worry about this all the time. Where’s the line between healthily pushing ourselves and being actually FAKE? As an aside, I also don’t know the line between being gentle with ourselves and just not trying hard enough. That’s a blog post I’m working on. Anyway. A friend recently heard of a book whose subtitle was “We never knew you were an introvert, we just thought you were a b&^ch” and emailed to say that it might have been about me. Sigh. I hear you on that one. xox

  16. Posted October 2, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I’m so glad you mentioned that shyness/sensitivity/introversion are different (though often related) traits. I have all 3 of them, at different levels, but I think the shyness is the overwhelming one; I’d sometimes like to have more of a social life and sense of community but I haven’t been able to reach out and make many local friends. Your childhood sounds lovely to me, in an ideal world kind of way, yet I know that having multiple people at my house would stress me out! Its quite the internal conflict between what different parts of my personality want.

    admin Reply:

    It sure is. And they wane and wax at various times, in different situations, for reasons I can’t totally parse. Right? xox

  17. Leah
    Posted October 2, 2013 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting, it seems like many of us feel this way. I started out extremely introverted and extremely shy and awkward, (my mother’s the same way), so I deliberately sought out a husband who is, not to put too fine a point on it, the most extroverted person I’ve ever met. My kids seem to take after him, and part of the reason living in NYC feels right for us is that there are always, always people around (now if we can just buy that larger apartment so I have a private room to go hide in …).

    admin Reply:

    My husband is my front man too, which works well except when he goes through a phase of not really wanting to do that. But now I have my son, who’s even more the life of the party than my husband, so he can go into a room ahead of me! 🙂

  18. Posted October 2, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I have been thinking about this post all day and how I’d like to respond. I am the extrovert, everyone’s welcome in our lives sort of mom. I even asked the salesman in for dinner one time. And we had people at our table all the time from all over the world. We knew every neighbor in the States and people had the code to my house to walk thought the door whenever they wanted. A full house, full outings, everyone’s welcome – was my motto. Until we moved to Chile. And It’s been the loneliest season of my life. The four of us. All the time. And consequently, it’s been one of the most unnatural healing seasons I never would have asked for. And I’m comfortable with the four of us in a way I wasn’t before. But it’s been against my better judgement, against my way, against how I would choose it. And yet, it’s met a deep need. To be comfortable with few, with the nucleus. And to find contentment in it just being us and that it’s okay. I think it’s changed the DNA of my family – for the good.

    And I would encourage you to break out of your typical mold and open wide your heart, invite people in. Even when it doesn’t feel right – maybe there’s something there that needs to heal – maybe not. But you’ve eatablished your nucleus and nothing, no storm will break that. It’s safe now. There’s a place for rich and broad community – and one that would benefit your children greatly. You’ll never be your mom. But the you – who loves so beautifully, so intentionally – could invite more people into that gorgeous web of security you’ve so faithfully tended and cultivated. And you might be able to touch the lonely and give other moms a picture of family they’ve never had.

    Those are my thoughts. Thanks for sharing your heart so graciously.

    T xoxo

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much for this. You are so right: there’s probably something in my resistance that I could benefit from confronting. Your own story of growth coming out of an uncomfortable situation is so compelling. I really appreciate this thought-provoking comment. xox

  19. Erin
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Ok, this resonates. The 1st Wednesday of every month is an elementary school early release day. My immediate instinct is, “I wonder what the girls and I can do together?” I am delighted by the extra time the three of us can spend, alone, together. But, inevitably, when I go to pick them up, I see scores of their friends, in tightly knit groups, getting on each others’ buses, obviously heading for play dates. I wonder if I am hurting them by my visceral protectiveness of our (all too fleeting) time together.

    I am also the quintessential what?-you’re-an-introvert?-oh-I-thought-you-were-simply-a-giant-bitch.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. Exactly. The tight-knit groups, the unspoken but obvious plans, and the dawning realization that that didn’t even OCCUR to me. Sigh. xox

  20. Dana
    Posted October 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    You are taking on that confidence, inclusion, and warmth. Just “here” with “us”. Xx

    admin Reply:

    Thank you! I hope you are right … that’s a nice way to think about it 🙂 xox

  21. Posted October 4, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Oh, do I relate to this one. Growing up, my family was very bohemian, always an open door, and it’s like this even still. I’m not sure what happened to me, because I’m not comfortable with that kind of lifestyle at all. I’m a very private person. But I also completely understand your desire to be different, warmer, more open. I feel this way, too, sometimes. I must get my hands on Susan Cain’s book!

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I think you would love QUIET. Let me know what you think! xox

  22. Posted October 5, 2013 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    I can’t reply to your comment – but I tried! To me, this reminds me of Fredrich Buechner’s comments about listening to our lives and we’ll hear God talking there. When I feel myself questioning something that for many years I’ve taken for granted, or I get agitated with something that didn’t used to agitate me – it’s because I’m being nudged, urged, wooed into something more … slowly, carefully, almost like a whisper and if I didn’t pay attention to it, I’d miss it. I try to pay attention to the gentle whispers, the gentle nudges that are mostly hidden and unseen by everyone else. At some point, in the middle of all that I must make a choice, I must take a risk and choose to do something different than I would normally, be it small or large. And right there in that space where my own risk, my own stepping out, intersects with that gentle whisper, is where all the magic is.

    admin Reply:

    What a beautiful comment and image. I so hear you on the whispers, and on trying to listen to them … in many ways this has been the task of the last several years of my life. Starting with realizing there are whispers at ALL! xox

  23. Posted October 5, 2013 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I feel like you just wrote my thoughts out. I’m very much a homebody, an introvert, and I think we’re pretty closed off – my brother, his wife & 6 year old daughter live down the road, 5 minutes from us and we hardly ever see them. My niece’s birthday is next weekends, and my immediate reaction was to think of an excuse not to go. My kids don’t even know their cousin. Yearly gatherings at my parents house 2 hours away, are a cause of anxiety for me. I can’t deal with all my loud relatives and their children. Am I damaging my own kids my not even ‘exposing’ them to their extended family? Am I selfish? Sigh.

    Hugs to you.

    admin Reply:

    I don’t know the answer, but I surely relate to these questions. xoxo

  24. Stacey W.
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    There is such a depth and range of emotions that you not only seem to recognize and observe, but really feel and are able to parse, categorize, and articulate. I know there is room in the world for all sorts of personalities, but I think that you are imparting a rare and treasured gift to your children: an appreciation for the oft overlooked and a keen sense of emotional intelligence and sensitivity. It is a truly admirable and unique quality.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you so much. What an incredibly generous thing to say – I hope you are even a little bit right! xox

  25. Jennie
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    My children, ages 8 and 9, are off for a three day weekend. My first thought was, “what can the four of us do?” My husband and I are taking them on a short day trip. They are very excited. I’m sure the day will come when they articulate that they would rather meet up with friends, but until then I will keep planning our cozy time together, bonding and enjoying each other’s company. Home with my family is where I truly want to be. It is why I married and had children.

    Thank you for your post.

    admin Reply:

    Yes. My kids had today off of school, and just yesterday morning they both asked about possible playdates. The request really made me sad, and while I did try to organize visits with friends, they fell through. It took me a while to realize that’s because of what you say – the sadness of their wanting something else, not just “us.” Of course they ended up really enjoying our morning, just us, so maybe it all worked out. And I will try harder to set up playdates for our day off next week!