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.