Lessons I’ve learned from my extrovert daughter
In my mind, we were definitely an introvert family. My husband and I, our daughter and even our dog. Then my second daughter arrived. From her very earliest days, she was smiling and reaching out to everyone she could. I couldn’t make it round the Supermarket without people stopping me every 5 minutes to enjoy her laughing and playing with them. Not only did this thrust me into a lot of new situations (conversing with random strangers whilst 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 introvert need for space and time to myself, but could I lose some of the social awkwardness I carried around with me? Possibly so. Here is what I have 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. As simple as that. This is almost universally met with reciprocated smiles and encouragement, however fleeting, and it makes me realise 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. When I think more deeply about it, I realise this pre-occupation with what other think is somewhat selfish. Placing my attention on the other person is actually a much better way to get to know someone than obsessing over what they think about me.
2. Everyone has a smooth handle
From her very early years, my daughter has been adept at managing to find the smooth handle when people 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 maybe a smile or gentle hug regardless of their demeanour. 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. Who knows what that person has encountered that day? It costs nothing to give someone the benefit of the doubt.
3. 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. Previously I would never have gone up to people like this, worrying (selfishly) that I may get drawn into a conversation I couldn’t leave (an introvert’s disaster). 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 realise 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. It reminds me of this quote.
“Anyone can love a rose, but it takes a lot to love a leaf. It’s ordinary to love the beautiful, but it’s beautiful to love the ordinary.” -Unknown
4. Be the first to offer a hug
Much as I love human contact, I’m never sure whether other people do and 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 spend my time marveling at how easy she makes this seem. It’s helped me realise that my worries are merely thoughts and 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. Be open to mistakes
I’ve observed many times that she doesn’t worry about making mistakes, unlike her older sister and I. If someone doesn’t want to stop and chat, that’s fine. If she bumps her head whilst trying something out, 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 perfectionist, 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.