One of the reasons I am so passionate about my job is that I want to help other parents not make all the mistakes I made. Unfortunately, one of my greatest blunders is that I did not embrace and appreciate the differences between my oldest child and me.
I am an extreme extrovert. I love being around people, listening to people, and watching people. I enjoy humans so much that I built a career around them. I have been genuinely interested in others for as long as I can remember. I have never been afraid of strangers. My parents never had to pay for Girl Scout Camp because I always sold more than enough cookies to go for free.
My oldest child is an extreme introvert. People and social gatherings have always exhausted him. When he was a toddler, he played for hours on his own. He never wastes time on small talk. He is now 21 and has had the same best friend since he was 8 (even though we moved 15 hours away when he was 11).
Because I value people and relationships so much, I viewed his introversion and quietness as a problem. I feared he would never be successful because he would not be able to connect with others. I started to make expectations on the number of people he spoke with at church and school. I required him to schedule social outings with friends. I have no regrets about pushing him in areas that were uncomfortable for him, and he is very thankful that I did. What I do regret is not appreciating our differences and respecting him more.
As he matured into an adult, he recognized that he needed to learn to be comfortable around others. He became a barista, a tutor, and a leader in clubs at his college, and he forced himself into situations that helped him grow in areas that he began to recognize as shortcomings. My oldest was the first person to teach me that we grow and learn when we feel supported, not when we are forced to do so. He also taught me that we all develop in our own time. What do I know now that I wish I had known then?
1. Move at their pace. My husband made our children shake hands with and thank every service member or police officer we saw in public. He modeled this for them, practiced this with them at home, and then always did it first to break the ice. It was very uncomfortable for our children, but they always followed his lead because he moved at their speed and skill level. Over their time in our home, they learned how to do this confidently, and by the time they were teenagers, they could shake hands with and talk to anyone.
2. Recognize the difference between a lack of skill and a personality preference. We all need to know how to talk to people, but we do not all need to talk to everyone everywhere.
Your number one goal as a parent should be to meet your children where they are and encourage necessary growth. All of us have unique gifts, talents, and purposes. When you are blind to those in your own children because of your biases, you limit their potential and harm your relationship.