What My Extroverted Daughter Has Taught Me About Life
We were definitely an introverted family. My husband and I are both introverts, drawn together by our love of deep conversation and mutual respect for each other’s space. Then came our first daughter. She was always content to rest upon my chest and sleep or sit on my knee and watch the other small children playing. Her smile was reserved for those she loved best. Even our dog had that somewhat aloof nature of an introvert, turning away when people she didn’t know would try to stroke her and reserving cuddles for us on the sofa. But then my second daughter arrived.
From her very earliest days, she was smiling and interacting with everyone she could. I couldn’t make it around the supermarket without people stopping me half a dozen times or more to enjoy her laughing and gurgling at them. She leans into life in every way possible. Every challenge is a possibility. When she was 18 months I hovered over her as she climbed up and over all manner of obstacles, leaving her contemporaries in her wake.
Not only did this thrust me into a lot of new situations (conversing with random strangers while they cooed over my baby), but it caused me to question some of my own beliefs about human connection and my ability to communicate with others. Was it really as difficult as I imagined? I will always have that need for space and time to myself, but could I lose some of the social awkwardness I carried around with me? Possibly so. Here's what I've learned in my two years (so far) of loving this bonkers little extrovert:
1. Human connection doesn't have to be complex.
I’ve always found that initial moment of meeting someone to be particularly awkward. I notice my mind worrying about whether that person wants to talk to me, about what I can say and whether it’s interesting. She has no such qualms. She’ll wander over, offering her hand to hold and a smile. It's as simple as that. This is almost universally met with reciprocated smiles and encouragement, however fleeting. It's made me realize that what you’re saying doesn’t matter so much as the intention with which you say it. Most of us simply want to connect with genuine and positive people.
2. Everyone can be soothed—it starts with not being afraid.
From her very early days, my daughter has been adept at managing to find the secret to calming people who are prickly or irritable. She’ll offer a trade with other toddlers if she wants to play with something they’re holding, or she’ll find a way of sidling up to an adult and offering a smile or gentle hug regardless of their demeanor.
She doesn’t write someone off for having a bad day and is endlessly optimistic about the chances of connecting positively. I’ve noticed in my own life how much easier it is if we give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Meeting their irritation with kindness and generosity is an act of compassion that creates gratitude and warmth in return.
3. There are always opportunities to love those who need it.
My daughter has a knack for finding the most elderly or frail people or those sitting alone and engaging with them, which inevitably means I am drawn into conversation. If I had been on my own, I would never have gone up to people like this, worrying (selfishly) that I might get drawn into a conversation I couldn’t leave (an introvert’s nightmare). Seeing the delight on people’s faces as she holds out a chubby hand to hold or does a silly dance for them makes me realize that I’ve been wrong all these years. The conversation is rarely awkward, and I’m always able to leave, but it brings so much happiness to everyone involved that it's always worthwhile.
4. You should never be afraid to be the first to offer a hug.
As much as I love human contact, I’m never sure whether other people do, so I tend to hang back and keep my distance. My little extrovert has no such fear. She’ll offer a hand to hold or a hug freely, spreading joy and happiness wherever she goes. I often find myself marveling at how easy she makes this seem. It’s helped me realize that my worries are unfounded and that maybe the awkward dance of non-hugging is worse than just giving it a go. No one has jumped away in horror yet, anyway.
5. Making mistakes isn't something to fear.
I’ve observed many times that she doesn’t worry about making mistakes, unlike her older sister and I do. If someone doesn’t want to stop and chat, that’s fine. If she bumps her head while trying something new, she shrugs it off. Her unbridled enthusiasm for the next thing she wants to learn or do is infectious. How many times do we hold ourselves back from trying because we’re worried about not succeeding? Meanwhile, we watch others living the dreams we held for ourselves. Letting go of my perfectionistic internal critic has allowed me to find joy in doing what I love, however imperfect the results may be.
I’ll be eternally grateful to both of my girls for the life lessons they have given me, but today I give thanks to the chubby little face that smiles at the world.
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