My Life as an Extrovert Nearly Killed Me

How to care for introverts

I used to think that success required an extroverted personality.  Over the years this belief has nearly killed me with heartache, depression, feelings of failure and worthlessness. 


If you asked people who knew me in high school they would probably say I was an extrovert.  I was involved in everything: sports, music, plays, student leadership, and all sorts of social activities.  If you asked people about my freshman year of college they would say, “who?”  That’s right, they probably wouldn’t have known me.   I was usually hiding in my room listening to music or hanging out with a small group of friends with whom I felt very comfortable.   At the time I wouldn’t have admitted that I was an introvert (this would have meant admitting weakness), but I think things would have been a lot easier if I had been able to accept my introversion at a much earlier age. 


Following college I was pulled towards people ministry.  Work felt good when it involved serving others, being creative, or impacting another’s life.  My first attempt in this arena involved working as a camp counselor for the entire summer following my senior year of college.  I am not sure if you have ever met a camp counselor, but they tend to be an extroverted lot of people.  They are full of energy, excited about everything, and endlessly positive.  I gave a pretty good go of it for a while; I lead worship, sang silly songs, and built relationships with as many campers as possible.  I poured out all the energy that I had.  By the middle of the summer I was spent.  I had nothing left and I had no idea where to go to get more of whatever it was that I was giving.  The other counselors seemed OK; they weren’t as tired as I was, what was wrong with me?


Looking back on this summer, I realize that I was trying to be someone that I was not.  Actually, looking back on much of my adult life I realize that I have many times pushed myself to act like an extrovert when deep down I am an introvert.   I felt guilty when I wanted to spend time alone. I thought I was being selfish when I gravitated to individual conversations rather than groups.  I forced myself to speak up in classes when all I wanted to do was observe from the back.   I developed a love for reading, but felt guilty about reading too much and not spending enough time “ministering” to people.  In short I could not accept who God had made me to be because I thought to truly serve him I had to be someone different. 


In recent years and even months I have grown to accept my introversion.  I am learning to view the time I spend quietly reflecting, my sensitivity, and the way I organize my thoughts before speaking as strengths rather than weaknesses.   Working as a therapist has been a very good fit for my introverted personality.  I have the opportunity to connect deeply with the people I counsel.  We talk about deep, thought provoking subjects with ultimate meaning. One thing I have been reflecting on recently is how an introverted person like myself can successfully parent 3 seemingly extroverted children.  Like many other areas of my life, I have tried to fake it as a parent, over the years.  I have pushed myself to interact more and more and more while on the inside desiring time to slow down, reflect and think.  I wonder how much they have missed by my ignoring my inner self.  Could they too be introverts that have been pushed to act like extroverts in order to survive?  If I had viewed introversion as a strength would they have greater ability to accept themselves for who they are?  My introversion added into the mix could actually have been a good thing giving to them an experience of rest, and reflection in a culture that is hurried and over-stimulating. 


I am hoping to continue to grow in this area both at work and home.   I desire to parent more like “me” I desire to work more like “me”.  The more I accept my introversion as a strength rather than a weakness the more my personal leadership and parenting style will come out.  I think I will find that I will have more energy to give, because less of it will be wasted pretending to be something that I am not.

The Two Great Objects

A few days ago I read this post entitled “6 lessons of an influence seeker.  It was written mostly to people that write, speak, or teach.  The idea is that if you truly want to influence people you need to do the 6 things described.  The post really has nothing to do with parenting or raising a family but the more I think about it the more I hope to apply its first concept in my life.

Lesson one is “know your two great objects” the author sights a journal entry from British politician William Wilberforce that states, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners [moral values].”  These two objects were the driving force behind Wilberforce’s life work.  Everything he did followed from these two passions.

The moment I read this quote I asked myself the question, “What are my two great objects?”  A number of things came to mind right away; family, faith, and work were at the top.   I tried to get more specific, what are my two great objects at work, for my family, and in my community?  As I began to think more deeply I discovered that I had no clue what my two great objects were.  There were lots of things that I thought were important.  But I was finding it difficult to narrow down the two things that really set me ablaze, got me excited, and drove my passions.  I found that so many things were important that nothing was really important.

So, I have set out to more clearly define the two great objects in these areas of my life.

  •             Family
  •             Work
  •             Faith
  •             Community

I am hopeful that clarifying these objects and more intentionally focusing my energy in these areas will increase my sense of purpose and improve my ability to positively influence those around me.

Will you join me in this endeavor?  Leave a comment and share your two great objects!

Before We Talk Gun Control, Let’s Talk Self-Control

I see the video of students running to embrace their parents after the Columbine shooting.  I hear the 9-1-1 calls from Aurora Colorado.  I fear for my child’s safety following Newtown Connecticut.  The images of these tragedies continue to raise serious questions in my mind, what is wrong with our society?  Where does this violence come from?  And what can be done to protect my children?

In the months following the Newtown Connecticut shooting my questions have been societies questions.  The issues have been discussed on news shows, experts have weighed in and there are all sorts of opinions.  Recently however the discussion seems to have focused on gun control.  Who can own them?  How many rounds should they hold? What is the difference between hunting and military style weapons?  And should there be a national gun registry?

I am afraid that these discussions about gun control miss the more important point.  If we are seeking to answer the questions, “what is wrong with society?” “Where does this violence come from?” and “How can we protect our children?” then we must instead be talking about self-control.  We have become a nation of self-indulgence.  The Centers for Disease Control reports that over 1/3 of American adults are obese.  The collapse of the U.S. housing market revealed a pattern of gross overspending and irresponsible lending.  In my work as a school counselor I see many parents indulging their child’s every desire while expecting very little responsibility.  We are surrounded by technologies designed to make life quick and convenient while avoiding the arduous and difficult.

Our children are told that happiness comes from living in the moment, following their heart, and being themself.  Yet according to the U.S. census bureau between 1990 and 2009 for every 6.8 marriages there were 3.4 divorces.  The emphasis placed on self-indulgence does not seem to create successful relationships. What if this over indulgence of self actually makes it easier to discard important relationships?  What about the influence celebrity?  In 2012 Americans spent $1.37 billion on movie tickets.  Many look to these movie stars as well as athletes as role models for success.  However, based on the number of front-page mug shots and court appearances even these cultural figures struggle with self-control.    I am very concerned that my children are growing up in a nation that views impulsivity, selfishness, and self-aggrandizement as virtues rather than vices.

Why are we surprised when a product of this culture does exactly what he was taught to do?  He follows his angry heart, disregards the value of others, and impulsively, irrationally, and selfishly murders innocent people? The real solution for the gun control problem is a radical shift in our national values.  Self-control must not be viewed as an attempt to limit individual freedoms.  Instead, it must be viewed as the ability to choose what is best rather than what is immediate.

Self-control provides a person the power to direct ones life.  I have encountered many students who do not know this.  They seem to believe that self-control is a position of weakness rather than strength.   They are convinced that limiting themselves will result in limited freedom.  What they don’t realize is that controlling ones self is the ultimate in freedom.  The ability to control our impulses, emotions, and desires may be the most difficult task of life.  However, as we learn to harness these inner experiences we are set free from the ups and downs of inner volatility.  We realize that others have absolutely no control over our inner world and thus no control of us.  “I am the only one who can control me.”  What a great freedom and responsibility.  The freedom provides the path to make life what I want it to be.  The responsibility requires that if life is not what I want it to be, I have no one to blame but myself.  Man Life is tough!

My guess is that those who perpetrate mass shootings never learned the lesson of self-control.  They never realized that they were ultimately in control of their thoughts, emotions, fantasies, and actions.  I would guess they felt a sense of their life being out of control.  I imagine they felt provoked to commit these crimes and saw no other escape from their prison of anger, hurt, and loneliness.  My hope is that as we shift from a culture of self-indulgence to self-control that the would-be murderers will regain the power to direct their life.  I hope they will find freedom in valuing others, connecting in relationships, and living in reality.  That is the best gun control only an individual can create.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project

I Hope My Son Drops Out of High School…

I hope my sons drop out of high school if they find it to be a total waste of their time.  I have long considered schools unfriendly environments for boys and a recent article in the New York Times only confirmed my hunch.  The article sights a study finding, “that boys across all racial groups and in all major subject areas received lower grades than their test scores would have predicted.”

The researchers attributed the discrepancy to, “noncognitive skills”: attentiveness, persistence, eagerness to learn, the ability to sit still and work independently.”   As a father of 3 energetic boys I know that “noncognitive skills” can be very challenging for young boys to master.

 I was reminded of two recent interactions that fueled my frustration as I considered the educational challenges many boys face in the coming years.

            The first interaction was an enrollment meeting for a student that was returning to our school after having missed most of a semester due to truancy, spending some time in the department of corrections, and being “home schooled”.   He sat silently and solemnly as we spoke about his need to take responsibility, complete his work, attend regularly, and have a positive attitude.  He barely acknowledged us but with a shrug agreed to the expectations.  I was struck by how horrible it must feel to be stuck for days and years in a place that seemed purposeless.  Had this young man just traded a prison of bars and guards for one comprised of textbooks and teachers?

The second interaction was a fourth grader who has not done good work at school for years and has done minimal work for the last few days.  His acting out had grown worse and his unpredictable behavior required one-on-one supervision.  He is a wonderfully likable boy; his hands are stained black from his hobby of fixing and selling broken bicycles.  He knows more about an engine than I ever will.  Every time I enter the room he pretends to pull the thumb off my hand.  We joke around, I act surprised and he puts it back as we say hello.  Today’s interaction was like many others but I was again struck by his imprisonment.  He has 8 more years of school before he will be able to make a living doing what he enjoys.  He will likely work with his hands fixing cars, building houses, or driving machinery.  My guess is that he will be very good at it, but until then he is stuck inside pushing pencils and causing “problems”.

These boys do not want to be in school, they discovered a long time ago that it does not work for them.  They do not see how math, english, and science are going to help them in the real world.  They do not care about following rules, sitting still, or reading a loud, these skills will not help them survive their environment.

My mind immediately moved to solutions.  How can these boys be re-engaged in the learning environment?  What can be done to provide an increased sense of success? Here are my thoughts.

Provide a sensory rich educational environment.

Fewer recesses, cuts in P.E., pressure to perform on standardized tests, and limited budgets all contribute to sensory deprivation in schools.  A lot of classroom instruction is limited to the senses of vision and hearing.  Many boys learn best by touching, smelling, tasting, and especially doing.  A varied and dynamic learning environment could engage all the senses and cells of a child’s body.  Reasonable breaks for large muscle movement, snacks, and social interaction could also reinvigorate a student.

  Increased parental support

Many people would like to blame the parents for not providing enough support.   It is true that many parents do not have the emotional, psychological, or financial resources to provide the support their children need to find success in school.   Many of these parents are struggling to provide for basic needs, they may be preoccupied with personal difficulties, or have had bad experiences in school themselves.  For whatever reason many parents struggle to emphasize education as a family priority making it extremely difficult for their child to succeed.  Parents need to step up!  Too much responsibility has been placed on schools and teachers.  Parents teach values, self-control, and work ethic. Abdicating these jobs to schools creates an impossible task and an adversarial environment.  Parents must trust schools and work to reinforce the shared goals of hard work, responsibility, learning, and growth.

Create clear connections between future work and current curriculum

I have found very few boys that were not willing to work hard as long as they could see the purpose in their effort.  It may be difficult for boys to see how toiling for years in math, english, and science books will prepare them for careers as a welder, carpenter, business man, or engineer.  Some boys desire skills, hands on training, and practical experience.  What happened to vocational schools?  Can a 15- year- old apprentice with a plumber for his last two years to earn his high school diploma?  Learning outside the classroom, in real work situations could provide purpose and engagement that cannot be found in a book.

   A realistic valuation of college vs. career paths

Is it true that everyone should go to college?  I think not! Not all students are interested in or capable of continued studies.  Students are warned that they won’t be able to get a good job without a college education.  This is just not true.  Many times college-educated students struggle to find work while those with practical skills are in high demand.  The skills of hard work, perseverance, and intuition can be just as valuable as a college education.  I hope that we will begin to see careers in the trades as equally honorable as compared to a professional career.

            I am hopeful that my sons will graduate from high school.  However, without a sensory rich educational environment, increased engagement from yours truly, clear connections between future career and current curriculum, and increased valuation of the trades they may not make it.  If they choose the path of GED and trade training, I am confident they will find success.  I will be proud of their hard work, honesty, and integrity.  I will be honored to be their father.

What has school been like for your son or daughter?

Do As I Say Not As I Do?

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us. Ephesians 5:1

I learned another important lesson of parenthood the other day, and like many other lessons this one was the direct result of something involving my child.  My family and I have had the wonderful blessing of spending this Christmas with my wife’s family.  Her brother is here, her sister’s family, parents, and of course, the associated kids.

One of the great things about visiting with family is watching the children play together.  They spend the days outside playing with bicycles, searching for treasures, and building friendships.  Two days ago however we ran into a little snag.

My wife and I had left the house to run an errand with two of our children.  We got a call from my mother in law that something had been broken at the house.  It appeared that one of the two boys we had with us was the culprit.  Driving home we decided that the “suspect” would have a private talk with grandma before he moved on to any play activities.   We knew that she was not upset but that she wanted to reinforce the lesson of confessing and apologizing if you have damaged a piece of someone else’s property.

As we pulled into the driveway I parked my father in laws truck next to my brother in laws relatively new car.  Since it was the holidays and we had two kids with us it was a bit of a struggle to get out of the car.  I opened the door and began unloading the boys and the packages.  As the “suspect” jumped out I leaned to my left and bumped the truck door pushing it further open into the passenger door of my brother in laws car.  I put down my belongings, pulled the door partially closed, and surveyed the damage.  I had left a dull silver/grey scratch the size of a quarter on the dark black paint.

My first thought was, “Oh Sh*t”. My second thought was, “he may never notice, maybe I could wipe it off.”   My third thought jumped right to my poor son marching his way to a private discussion with grandma about the stone cross he had broken.  To be a father with any integrity and character, to be the father that I claim to be, I must tell my brother in law what had happened.

I went inside and watched as my son sheepishly spoke with his grandmother telling the story of how the stone cross came to be broken.  As expected, she was not upset with him.  She only asked that next time he tell her when something at her house was broken.

Moments later my brother in law walked in the house and I sheepishly told him about his car.  I apologized as he walked outside to check on the damage done.  As expected, he was not upset with me and only thanked me for telling him that it had happened.

I wonder who learned the bigger lesson?  My son won’t remember this experience and I am pretty sure “not me” will be blamed again in the future.  I think this lesson was a Christmas gift for dad.  I learned that the way I live my life speaks much louder than the words I say.   This was a simple reminder that in order to raise children with integrity, honor, and love for Christ, I must first possess that which I hope to pass on.

I pray that my boys see more of Christ in me than they do of me.  I know that it is only through His grace that any child of mine will become a child of His.

 How do you experience God’s grace in parenting?

How Do You Ask Nicely?

“A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself” 
Proverbs 11:17

I live in a house with three sweaty, stinky, rough and tumble boys.  They love to wrestle, play in the mud, eat lots of food, and make funny noises.  Being an older and hopefully more mature version of these creatures I have sometimes found it difficult to know the appropriate level of manners to require of them.  I am thankful for the high standard that their mother has helped me to set and the lessons our boys have learned from it.

Early on in our parenting experiment my wife began to require our children to say please and thank you at the appropriate times.  We had never really discussed this expectation but since she was from the south it was something that had been stressed in her home as a child.  At first I thought it was a little over board, “come on, the kid can’t even talk and we are teaching him signs for please and thank you?”  Being the laid back person that I am I followed her lead and persisted in this expectation.

As the years have rolled by and the children have multiplied I have fully embraced the expectation set in those early days.  I regularly find myself saying, “how do you ask nicely” as a way to remind my children of there appropriate manners.  They always know how to respond and more and more lately they have not needed the reminder.

It seems today that manners are less and less of a priority.  I have met 5 year olds that say words not even adults should utter out loud.  Many times people are surprised to here children speaking with respect.

I may be a little idealistic but I firmly believe the above scripture, “A kind man benefits himself.”  I am not teaching my children to say please and thank you to  get them a better job, or more money.  I think the scripture could just as easily say, a kind man respects himself, controls himself, befriends himself.  When we set high expectations for our children’s manners and behavior they begin to see a picture of who they can be.  They can’t be perfect but they can be self-controlled, respectful, kind, generous, and a good friend.  These are qualities that I hope my children learn from saying there please and thank yous.

What Do You Think About That?

A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother. Proverbs 10:1

There are parents all across the U.S. struggling with the foolish decisions of their children.  I myself have often wondered about my own son, “why did you do that?”  I really wish that children came out of the womb with all the tools they needed to make wise decisions.   Unfortunately children are born ill equipped for the thousands of decisions they will make in there life time.  How then do we as parents train our children to make wise decisions?

I believe that we train children to make wise decisions by asking the question, what do you think about that?  When children become teenagers they are suddenly required to make many decisions.  If when they get to this stage they have never thought through the consequences of a decision or solved a problem on their own, they are in for a lesson.

I like to start out small and young.  Asking children at a young age what their favorite color is, food, movie, game, friend etc…  All of these questions require a child to think about their wants, desires, and at some level what is valuable to them.  These are not the ultimate values of life but they are the beginnings of determining the ultimate values.  One of the most important things to focus on as a parent during these conversations is truly seeking to understand your child’s inner life.  The more you are engaged with understanding your child’s thoughts, opinions, and values, the stronger they will hear the message, “what you think is important to me.”  If you value their opinion then they will see value in it as well.

As a child increases in age and practice it is wise for parents to begin asking their opinion in more significant ways.  What sport would you like to play? What assignment would you like to do first?  What do you think about this bible verse?  What is important to you in this?  The more opportunity they have to express their opinions about a wide variety of topics the more confident they will be in their opinions.  The more confidence they have in their own opinions the more likely they are to make decisions based on their values rather than those of their peers.

It is not possible to guarantee that our children will always make the right decision.  It is possible however to provide tons of practice and rehearsal for the moments when their values are really tested.  When the pressure is on they will rely on what is most comfortable and familiar to them.  Parents can influence what is most comfortable and familiar by engaging in thoughtful and challenging conversations.

More articles available at www.parentingboysraisingmen.com

The Secret of Power and Control

My wife and I are in serious trouble! Today my five year old discovered the most well kept and important secret of the parenting world.  I was hopeful that my boys would not discover this secret for several more years.  Now that the middle child has figured it out however, it will not be long before the other three catch on.

He has discovered that when it really comes down to it, I cannot MAKE him do anything.

We stopped at a local restaurant to grab dinner following his soccer game.  I was rushing home to pick up his older brother so that I could take him to his cub scout meeting.  As we left the restaurant he stopped, just outside the door.  I was walking ahead of him and looked back to see him propped up against the wall scraping his soccer cleats on the ground.  I said, “come on buddy, let’s go” He said, “No” and just stood there.  He looked at me with a knowing smirk; he saw that my hands were full, I was in a hurry, and that I had few parenting “tools” at my disposal.

Thankfully, I had gotten off work a little early today so I was in a pretty patient frame of mind.  I remained calm and began racking my brain for the best way to handle this situation.  We stood there looking at one another for nearly a minute.   It began to feel like the stand off at the OK corral, whoever moved first, was doomed to lose.  After searching for the most helpful tool in my bag for this situation, I came up empty.  I was unable to think of a logical or enforceable statement to convince him that he should move on his own.  So, I walked back to where he stood, took his arm and walked him to the car.  Eventually he decided to walk on his own, and climbed into his seat.

As I reflect on this situation I am struck by the simple truth, I CANNOT MAKE HIM DO ANYTHING.  At this point he is only five, I am bigger than he and I can take him by the arm and walk him to the car.  In ten years if he decides to take a similar approach about going to school things will be different.  I will not be able to physically move a fifteen year old as I did my five year old today.

This was a power struggle, he realized that I was in a hurry and short handed; he decided he was going to exercise his personal will.  I am reminded of how important it is for parents to admit and be OK with the fact that we cannot MAKE our children do anything.  All we can do is state what we are going to do.  We cannot control our children, instead we must explain the expectations or limit and then manage our own responses accordingly.  When the child does not meet the expectation the parent can let go of forcing him to “do” something and provide a logical consequence for the decision.  If the child meets the expectation he learns a lesson about responsibility, if the child does not meet the expectation and experiences a consequence, he learns a lesson about responsibility.  Either way the lesson is learned and the parent maintains sanity by understanding, “I don’t have to control my child, only my self.”

Over what has your child power struggled?
What are your favorite enforceable statements?
What are your “go to” phrases for enforcing limits?

I’m Sorry

I totally screwed up the other day!  It had been a long week, a long day at work, and when I arrived home things were a bit chaotic.  I lost my temper, and snapped at my oldest son.  My tone of voice was angry, the words were shorter than normal, and I am sure my facial expression was scary.  I cannot recall what pushed me over the edge, but I can see the look on his face.

            I now see that my angry response triggered an angry response in him, which only made the whole situation worse.  As I have reflected on my anger over the last few days I am reminded of something I once heard a speaker say.  He said that the most important thing he ever did as a parent was to apologize when he messed up.  I have tried to keep this advice in my mind specifically for times like these.

            A couple of times in my experience as a parent I have apologized to my children and seen the immediate calming, and healing effects of the words, “I am sorry.”  Another time that sticks out to me is a situation in which I jumped to conclusions about my son’s actions.  I walked into the house thinking I knew exactly what happened and began handing out consequences before getting the facts.  As the injustices of my uninformed decisions mounted I could sense my son puffing up with defensiveness and frustration.  His reactions got larger and the tears began to roll.

            As I came to my senses and began to learn more about the situation I realized my mistake.  I had misunderstood, over-reacted, and been wrong.  Due to the wise words of the previously mentioned speaker,  I realized my mistake, apologized to my son and immediately saw him deflate.  He calmed down, relaxed, and opened up to me about what had happened.  He could put down his defenses, as he was no longer being attacked.

            Apologizing when we make mistakes disarms a situation; it demonstrates humility, strength, and honesty.  If we as parents are willing to apologize our children will be more willing to apologize as well.   “I’m sorry” is a crucial message to send to your children.  It allows them to understand that you are not perfect, you are doing your best but make mistakes.  Saying I’m sorry also gives them permission to make mistakes.  They will learn to handle their own mistakes by following your model.

 What is your experience with apologizing to your children?
          

Let’s Go Help Mom

 I learned a very important lesson about marriage even before my wife and I got married.  She was living in Texas and I in Southern California.  She came to visit and meet my parents for the first time.  I was excited to show off my hometown and my parents were elated that it looked as though I might be moving out of the house at some point in the future.  My then girlfriend however, got a glimpse into how she would be treated as the future Mrs. Mark Vander Ley.

            She returned to Texas and we continued our nightly phone calls.  She gave me the news in her characteristically straightforward manner.  “If you treat me the way that you treat your mom, we will not be getting married.”  She saw the way that I treated my mom during that visit and was not impressed.  She wisely knew that a son who disrespects his mother is a son who disrespects his wife.  I am thankful that she called me out on this behavior before we got married.  By the time the wedding came around I had made some growth.  I am still working to model for my boys, the level of respect and honor that their mother deserves.

            Another lesson came when my wife and I served as mentors for a young married couple.  Like in many cases I learned much more from this relationship than the young husband I was mentoring.  One day we decided to hold each other accountable for serving our wives in unexpected ways through out the week.  This might mean emptying the dishwasher, taking out the trash, picking up around the house, or making breakfast.  Basically, it was getting off my “duff” and doing something without having to be asked.

            This experience softened my heart towards my wife.  The accountability of this young married man helped me to put my wife first.  He helped me to step up and lead through service.  I still struggle with selfishness in this area and have plenty of room to continue growing.  I am hopeful however that my boys will get the message of “let’s go help mom.”  I am convinced that they will learn to respect their mother, and women based on the example they see.

            I hope that dads will humble themselves and follow the command to, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:33

In what ways could you serve your spouse this week?