Parenting is an extroverted activity

Before I had kids, I never really knew that parenting is an extroverted activity. I was woefully misinformed in general about what parenting is really like and how much my parenting experience would be affected by my personality. But INTPs have a limited amount of talking and listening we can do every day before getting cranky, and I get pushed past that limit every day. I use up at least 50% of my daily word allotment just repeating the phrases “wash your hands,” “you’re being too loud,” “brush your teeth,” “stop that,” and “do you want to go to time out?” I use up 50% of my daily listening allotment just listening to screaming. 

Even when everything is going well, having kids requires a lot of talking and listening. Young kids need a lot of things explained to them, they need you to repeat everything five times before they will acknowledge it, they need to be read to, they want you to sing songs with them. Even babies need a ton of talking from their parents because that’s how they learn. (You’re supposed to say 2100 words per hour to your baby for maximum IQ benefits, according to Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina. I did so with my first child, but she used up all of my words so my second child thinks I’m mute.) And that’s just at home. When you take your kids to the pediatrician, school, daycare, extracurricular activities, and birthday parties, there’s a plethora of other people who you need to make small talk with, discuss your child’s progress with, and listen to politely while they spew meaningless words into your ears. Meanwhile, when you are at any of these places, your kids will be trying to have a conversation with you, because they don’t understand that you can’t have two different conversations with two different people at the same time.

The extroverted demands of parenting have many far-reaching effects. For one thing, the amount of talking and listening I have to do with my kids takes away from my capacity to talk to and listen to anyone else, like my husband. I usually use up my entire talking and listening quota before he gets home from work, and when he walks in the door I often greet him with, “Don’t talk to me about anything. I’m at my word limit.” When he says “I love you,” I grunt and grudgingly think, “I love you too, but please shut up and don’t make me say it right now.” Fortunately he is understanding, because he reaches his word limit daily, too. Every evening after our hours-long marathon of wrangling the children through dinner and bedtime, we collapse on the couch in mutual silence for an hour or so before we can have an actual conversation with each other.

A lot of important conversations get put off because I just don’t have the energy to push any more words out of my mouth or process any more words coming in my ears. If my husband tries to talk to me about something important, my frustration at reaching my word limit often manifests as impatience and anger towards him. And I have to use more words to explain that I’m not actually mad at him, I just need silence. We never have enough energy to talk about everything that we need to talk about as well as things we want to talk about. We have to pick and choose. I have a mental list of four different things I need to discuss with my husband right now, and we probably won’t get to all of them in the next 24 hours. 

One unforeseen consequence of my limited capacity for listening is that I can no longer listen to anything with words for recreation. Ever since becoming a family of four greatly increased the noise in my life, I can’t listen to the radio, podcasts, audiobooks or even music with words. Whenever I am within earshot of any of these things, my brain feels torn in two and I become mentally fatigued. It makes me very overwhelmed and flustered. Which is really a shame, because listening to podcasts and audiobooks is a stay-at-home parent’s last opportunity for hands-free intellectual stimulation.

Since listening is already difficult, I have no patience at all for strained listening. I can’t stand it when my daughter talks to me in mumbles, nonsense words, or whispers. Or when my husband shouts something from the other side of the house. I refuse to listen to anyone unless they are standing in front of me and speaking clearly. It even stresses me out when the volume on the radio is just a little bit too quiet, and my ears must impart an extra half-second lag before it reaches my brain. God forbid if anyone should try to talk to me while there’s music playing.

My daily word requirement is actually not as bad as it could be, given that I spend most of the day with only 10-month-old Buddy, who is an introvert. AJ, my extreme extrovert, is in preschool most of the time; staying home with only me to talk to all day is as much torture for her as it is for me.

I had always planned on going back to work as a teacher when my children are older. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, and it’s one of the few professions compatible with the geographic limits of my husband’s career. That is, I used to enjoy teaching other people’s children, before I had my own– when I could go home to a silent apartment at the end of the day and not have to talk or listen to anyone else for twelve hours. Now that I have kids, there’s no way in hell I will be able to spend all day talking and listening to other people for a living, and then go home for several more hours of talking and listening to my family. And the weekends. Oh, how I hate weekends now, those long days of endless family togetherness and noise.

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7 thoughts on “Parenting is an extroverted activity”

  1. 2100 words per hour??!? Sweet Jesus. That’s 35 words a minute! Does it all have to come from parents? Do podcasts and tv shows count? Can you layer them so that it counts for more words per minute?

    1. Yeah, it’s a lot. In the original study it was only the parents speaking to their child. It has to be a real live person because the AAP recommends no media use for children under age 2, and it can’t be just podcasts or audio because they need the words to be linked with visual cues in order to learn what the words mean.

  2. I see how lucky I am that 3 out of my 4 kids are introverts! But then, I have always been a working mom, and my job is pretty introverted. It helps a lot, except for the days that require a lot of extroverting. Luckily those are progressively fewer as I move up. Whew! BTW, I have intelligently gifted children, but never ever did they receive 2100 words per hour. Luckily, as introverts, they could learn without that much stimulus. It would have driven them (and me) mad!

    1. You are lucky to have so many introverts, and to have an introverted job! I’m sure it must get easier (in the talking and noise department anyway) as children get older and become better listeners and are able to control their talking.

      1. Not necessarily…extroverted kids often have extroverted friends. And when they are teens, well, it can get pretty rowdy. Ha, ha! Let’s be honest, they can always be rowdy. Good luck with that. I suspect that when the kids can take care of themselves more, the stress will go down and the noise won’t bother you as much. Let’s hope so, anyway.

  3. Another INTP mom here – I have two boys, age 3 and 1, both extraverts, and both prefer VERY high stimulus. It’s interesting that you flag the E/I tension as the most difficult for you. For me, it’s the ordering – structuring time, picking up toys (I won’t even say “cleaning” because I don’t ever even get to the scrubbing and wiping that’s part of normal housecleaning) getting everyone’s socks and shoes on before leaving in the morning and teeth brushed, clearing out all the accumulated objects in the car, getting enough calories into the kids, etc etc. that drains me. It’s all the Si and Se tasks I just never feel like I have the time to do or that seem worth the little time I do have. I’d much rather be reading a book with them (Ti) or having a spontaneous (Ne) silly game arise and engaging with them on that than doing any of that S stuff. By probably a ratio of 10 to 1. And since I feel like I’m always in a deficit for Ti and Ne connection with both kids, I almost never feel like I should interrupt or restrict that time for any of this tedious, sisyphean bullshit.

    Secondarily, I’d say the Fe is a huge pain because it requires dealing with societal expectations of what are “good” kids (i.e. kids that sit still and say please and thank you, and are polite and don’t interrupt when adults are “busy” etc.). And those are essentially the opposite of my priorities. But even though that is my inferior function, those demands are less draining because by the very nature of it, I’m not really fully aware of the existence of these standards and expectations because they are shrouded in the unconscious. I can rationally recognize that some people get pretty worked up about it and it seems important, but it’s so foreign to me to think that way that mostly I’m just not even considering it enough to go through the conscious effort of rejecting it.

    Conversations with and about kids actually are pretty energizing for me because they can fit into the Ti and/or Ne – kids are very often both fun and fascinating. I do a lot of reading about the theory of brain development, social psychology, and various other theoretical things that inform what I see and hear my children doing and saying. So that can be pretty interesting even if it is pretty normal kid stuff on a superficial level – I’m getting a big education out of it, both cognitively and existentially.

    Having said that, I hear what you’re saying about the scarcity of words and energy for connection with your partner at the end of the day. Most things just don’t seem worth the effort of bringing up, so when he and I do have good conversations, it’s not about the practicalities or events of the day for the most part. And as an extrovert, he can’t really understand fully what a drained me at the end of the day needs (and vice versa). So that requires some talking about talking, which is tedious and a pain. It’s generally best when we’re talking about something abstract or random rather than something tied to daily life, or at least about a thought that’s triggered by an event in daily life but quickly goes bigger and more global. Again, it’s the S demands that drag me down and I get to the end of the day craving Ne time with him as well as Ti time.

    I also can’t listen to music since having kids. I never really liked it but it’s WAY overstimulating now. Like something that’s just annoying and demanding of my already low focus stores. I always hated the emotional hijacking that music does, so that’s part of it too. I don’t feel that way about podcasts though, usually. So it’s interesting that you say that about both. I will say I HIGHLY prefer reading a book to listening to one, but I will listen to spoken words electronically when the choice is that or silence, but only when doing a mundane task like cleaning. And really that’s just because I’m trying to dull the S overload with some Ti.

    Perhaps, like one of your other commenters said, it’s because I have a job that leans introverted in its demands (although not always) that I can get some of that recuperation. I only work part-time, but it seems like a good balance on the E/I demands.

    1. Welcome!

      I wouldn’t say that the extraverted demands are actually the most difficult thing for me. The Se tasks are way worse. I spend almost all of my time and energy every day making sure everybody is fed, clean of poop and pee, and sleeps when they need to. That’s a monumental task as you know. I’d say the single most annoying thing for me is feeding everybody– cooking/preparing, grocery shopping, planning meals, trying to get dinner ready while keeping two kids out of trouble at the same time. So yes, Se.

      I do find talking to and about kids interesting when it fits into Ti or Ne, but the problem is that with such young kids, that happens a very small fraction of the time. My daughter and I can have really fascinating conversations that are energizing, but for every minute that happens, she spends another ten minutes just shouting “poopoo butt” at the top of her lungs. It’s the nonsense noise that really wears me out and drains my capacity for having real conversations.

      It’s true that my capacity for extraverting is always the first thing to go whenever I’m worn out. All the Se work of parenting hits me hard in the Ne, and the only way for me to recharge is by being alone and/or in silence. No matter what the problem is, usually the only remedy is introverting.

      My husband and I minimize the amount of time we spend talking about Se things to the bare minimum, but with young kids, a lot of things have to be discussed. I don’t have anyone else who I talk to about Se type parenting matters, so we do a lot of troubleshooting together on baby sleep issues, feeding, etc. We try to spend the majority of our conversations on intellectual topics unrelated to our daily life, and those conversations are crucial to my self-care. But we are often so drained after discussing the necessary things that we lack the activation energy to talk about anything else. And sometimes there are practical, Se matters that I need to discuss with him, but I put them off in favor of having intellectual discussions instead.

      I think that working in an introverted part-time job would be ideal.

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