I recently came across this cartoon which made me smile as it sums up how I feel about being an introvert perfectly. I’ve always known I was introverted but have struggled to explain to people that being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t like people, as many assume, and in fact, you do enjoy time spent in the company of others, it just costs you more emotionally to engage with other people. On top of this, I also don’t see the point of small talk which limits the ways that I can interact with people…I can see that it is cold and it’s raining; why should I have to talk about it?
Of course, when you have a child, the playing field changes completely. Before children, as an introvert you can interact with people if you wish and retreat to your safe space when you no longer want to and you need a break. As a parent the choices are not that easy.
There are parent-toddler groups, people who stop you in the street, nurseries and then the playground all to navigate. It isn’t easy, believe me I know. For the fourth time in a row, I stood in the playground waiting for Meg to come out of her new school watching all the parents standing together chatting and wondering how on earth I was going to break into the circle and actually talk to someone.
I do think it is possible though, and wanted to share some tips with you which I have picked up along the way through trial and error. They are particularly relevant to anyone who has just had a baby and is feeling terrified about attending a parent and child group for the first time.
1. Be Honest
This has got me through many times although it only really works in a more intimate setting where you can perhaps catch the eye of another parent. Choosing a parent who seems more naturally extroverted than you often works well too as the minute you admit that you are shy, nervous, or not very good at talking to people, they usually feel obliged to take you under their wing. This has worked for me lots of times. Beyond this, it also feels good to say out loud to someone – I’m okay sitting by myself, please don’t feel sorry for me!
2. Pretend to be Confident
This one is a bit like to pot calling the kettle black at the moment as I have yet to try this out at Meg’s new school BUT when she started her previous school, I made a conscious decision to come out from behind my shyness and just pretend I wasn’t. I assumed that most parents would be feeling awkward and just went out of my way to speak to others. I appreciate this isn’t always possible for some people but if you feel able to, it will really help to build relationships.
3. Use Your Children
Never underestimate how much people like to talk about their own children. If you find yourself floundering for a way to interact, just ask them about their kids….they will be able to talk for hours on the topic. Children also provide a variety of questions to ask from names and ages to sleeping and eating patterns. Honestly, once some people start talking about their children you can sit back and listen and be worry-free!
I people watch an awful lot and one of the things I have noticed is that a good number of people look quite mean when they are just sitting and not doing anything. You can’t underestimate the value of plastering a smiley face on, even when you don’t feel like it. It automatically puts other people at ease and makes you seem much more approachable than you actually might be feeling at the time!
5. Small Talk…Practice It!
I, for one, despise small talk. I just don’t see the point of talking about things which are obvious to anyone with half a brain cell. Yes, the weather is crap at the moment but this is winter and it’s Britain…yada yada yada. Of course, it doesn’t work at all to launch into a deeply intimate conversation with someone the moment that you’ve met them so learning how to engage with small talk is actually quite a valuable skill. It doesn’t mean you have to like it, or that you won’t leave the conversation thinking, ‘seriously, is that all we talked about?’ but at least you will have engaged another person in conversation which is better than nothing!
Do you have any other tips for how to get on as a parent when you are introverted? I’d love to hear them!