The other day I asked my daughter what her very favourite thing to do is. She’s five so I was expecting something like eating all the ice-cream she can lay her hands on, or doing ‘Uptown Funk’ at her hilariously inept dance class. Her answer?
“I just like it when everyone leaves me to draw, alone and in peace.”
That’s an answer straight from The Little Introverts Big Book of Honesty. Her favourite thing is…being alone? For an extravert like me, that’s deeply strange to hear, and it made me wonder. Am I being the parent that she needs and wants, or am I parenting her the way that suits me?
I realised that I often desperately keep conversation going with her in the manner of a hyperactive children’s TV presenter. All I need is the wacky glasses and madly clashing outfit and I’d be a shoe-in for Cbeebies.
In the car, for example:
Me: How was your day, darling?
Me: Great! And what was the most exciting thing you did?
Her: I don’t know.
Me: Oh I bet you did loads of great things! Like drawing, painting, playing in the park…ooh swings, did you go on the swings? Really high? Wheeeeee! Like that?
Her: I can’t remember.
Me: It was an hour ago, you can remember. Did you play with Suzie? Is Suzie your best friend? She’s so nice. Remember when she came round to play and-
Her: I’m tired (stares out of the window)
She’s desperately trying to tell me that she is happy when we’re just quietly hanging out together, and I haven’t been listening. I’ve let myself be swayed by the uber-perfect mummy bloggers and the media’s reports of neglected children being damaged by high levels of cortisol. I’ve become an active, engaged, 21st century parent who needs to be constantly interacting with her children, lest they (gasp!) have to amuse themselves for a while. And that’s doing my daughter a massive disservice.
She is that rare and mythical thing – a child who is happy in her own company, who will take herself off for an hour to draw, lost in her own little world of rainbows and glitter. She’ll spend hours making birthday cards for her friends, all by herself, and she doesn’t need my input, or particularly welcome it.
So I wonder who all of this effort is for? I guess it’s partly for me, so I can end the day congratulating myself for all of the excellent involved parenting I’ve done. But I have to admit, it’s also partly for The World – the world is watching and I don’t want it to see a parent who is uninterested, not listening, dragging their child behind them as they do the weekly supermarket dash.
Parenting isn’t one size fits all and I’ve forgotten that in my effort to be judged A Good Parent by society. Being the parent of an introvert and an extravert, I need to adjust my approach for each of them. It’s only by doing so that I’ll truly be giving them what they need, rather than what I want.
So I’m going to stop all of this desperate interacting and watch for her cues. I love to talk to her, but I need to learn to wait until she instigates conversations. And if sometimes we hang out at the dining table, drawing in contented silence, well then, that’s good enough for me.