How to Find Acceptance When Your Children Are Different from You

Q. I have two daughters, 12 and 10. We have a wonderful, respectful, open relationship. The older is very much an introvert, like me and my husband. She works hard academically, achieves well, and has a mind that races along a million miles per hour. She is always up to something constructive, is very comfortable in her own company.

The younger one is a quiet extrovert and wants to be entertained all the time. Academics come easily to her, and she gives up if something is hard. She seems to have little drive to do much at all. Being on her own is like a form of torture. We do a lot together as a family—board games, walks, parks, doing crafts together, cooking and eating together etc. I am strict on minimizing screen time.

I have a very hard time seeing her lie around doing nothing, watching everything I do. I feel under pressure to entertain her but want her to entertain herself. If I suggest anything for her to do alone, she says no. I don’t want her to feel bad and criticize her for being lazy, but this is so difficult! Any suggestions?

A. It sounds like you have created a wonderful family. And you have answered your own question—if you just connect the dots. Three of you are introverts. Only one is an extravert. Three of you are fine doing things on your own. One of you needs interaction to be engaged. There is nothing wrong here. 

Your question is a good one for highlighting the importance of ALWAYS being mindful of the fact that our children are not mini-mes. It can be strange to birth a child who turns out to be enough different from you to make it hard to understand where they’re coming from and therefore hard to see that they are fine the way they are.

It’s difficult for you to watch your younger daughter just hanging out because you would never do that, and so you naturally make judgments about it—she’s lazy, unproductive, refuses to do anything on her own. This is your problem to work on. 

It is not your daughter’s job to change herself so you can feel better. 

I doubt if you call her lazy but it’s in your tone. This requires a mindset shift so instead of biting your tongue you actually see her differently. What if you thought that she could teach the three of you something? Let her know you admire her ability to just be in the moment and relax and that so many people could benefit from that including you. When she feels fully accepted, you may be surprised to see her get more productive. Or she may just be the most relaxed person in your family!

It sounds like she is a thinker, an observer, and a people person. Let her sit and watch you—you never know what she is taking in and learning. You three others might need to stop and smell the roses. Perhaps your older daughter will be the one to invent a new rose hybrid, but your younger daughter will be the one to enjoy them. 

If you are able to allow your extrovert to wait for the interaction she wants without either giving it to her begrudgingly or criticizing her for not doing what you would do, she will learn how to get what she needs in a way that works for her. But if you harRosesp on her, she will learn there is something wrong with her and may resist by doing exactly what you fear. Her hanging around you may be her way of trying to get from you the acceptance she needs.

If academics come easily to her, of course she’s not going to work beyond what she needs to do. Perhaps this could mean finding a more challenging school for her—or letting her do it her way. There will come a time when she needs to work harder to get what she wants. But she must be old enough to know what she wants. Ten is still a little girl.

You may not be aware of how extraordinary your 12 yo is. Comparing your girls is unfair when the 12 yo has set the bar so high. Not many 12 year olds are as self-confident, capable and hard-working as you say she is.

The fact that she does so much with your family and is not on a device all the time, but instead watches you and wants to interact with you is testament to some pretty great parenting and family dynamics. Give yourself a pat on the back and let your youngest be your teacher.

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