Navigating School Functions When You’re an Introverted Parent
All of the social demands of being involved in your child’s school community can feel like too much when you are an introverted parent. Here are some ways one mom has found to make it more manageable.
By Mia Carella
I slowly approached the door and paused. I nervously straightened my shirt, took a deep breath, and entered my daughter’s classroom.
Here we go, I thought to myself.
I shuffled through the maze of desk formations looking for my daughter’s name. I awkwardly waved to one mom I knew and tried to make small talk with her as I navigated my way through the rows. In one corner of the room I saw two dads shake hands and chuckle together like old friends reuniting. I noticed a small group of parents enter the classroom together, chatting about something funny that had happened at their children’s soccer practice.
The room began to fill, but I still felt alone.
It was open house at my daughter’s school. The night when parents have the chance to meet their child’s teacher—but also the other parents of students in the class. We would hear about all the exciting things that our kids would learn and experience throughout the school year. We could ask questions about upcoming science units and hear more about the already much-anticipated end-of-the-year celebration. I wouldn’t miss this opportunity for the world if I could help it.
The problem: I didn’t want to be there.
Of course I wanted to do all those things. I want to be an informed parent who is involved in the school community. I just wanted to do them from the comfort of my home. Without all the required peopling.
It’s not that I don’t like people. In fact I love being around others. I crave meaningful connections and am always open to making a new friend. But I am an introvert.
I prefer small gatherings to crowds. I prefer a personal conversation to superficial small talk. In situations like this scene from the open house night, I can feel myself begin to shrink. It’s like my own body would fold into itself just to disappear if it could. It takes an extraordinary amount of mental effort for me to engage in these situations.
This goes for other school activities as well. Attend PTO meetings? A large group with the potential of social cliques. Yikes. Fundraiser volunteer? People will be there. Involves talking and potentially convincing people to buy things. Double yikes. Field trip chaperoning? Also known as a whole day of small talk with adults while keeping track of young people in public. My brain cannot handle these extensive social demands.
In addition to my introverted preferences, I also tend to feel out of place and extremely awkward in social situations at school. I feel like I always say the wrong thing. My nervous jokes seem to fall flat. I often feel like I am on the outside of the group looking in no matter how much others try to be nice. In my overthinking mind everyone knows each other except me. I always wonder if I fit in.
The funny thing is that when I share how lonely or uncomfortable I feel in these social situations at school, I often find out I am, in fact, not alone at all. I often hear things like, “Oh my gosh! Me too!” or “Yes! That is so me!” These comments of support bring me reassurance that maybe I’m not as weird as I feel after all.
Despite the discomfort of attending school events and being involved, it is something that I must do. As a lifelong socially inept introvert, I have figured out some ways to power through and do my best. Here are some things that I do to help myself navigate these school functions:
Yes, it would be so much easier not to attend an event or volunteer to help at the book fair. Avoidance is the path of least resistance, right? But in the case of your child’s school, it is not always the best option, if an option at all. I try to push myself out of my comfort zone when I can. I think about the memories my kids will have of seeing me helping in their school or knowing I attended an evening meeting because I am invested in them and their educational experience.
Pushing out of your comfort zone is not the same as taking on more than you can handle. Know yourself. Don’t feel pressured to be a homeroom parent or run for executive board of the parent teacher association if that is not doable for you. Do as much or as little as you can.
Fake It Til You Make It
Quite honestly, I often feel like I’m acting when I attend social events at school or elsewhere. As I mentioned, my natural instinct is often to blend into the woodwork to not be noticed. I have to consciously fight this urge, and it takes willpower and acting skills. Pretend you are comfortable! The other parents don’t know you feel weird and left out. Dig deep and start the conversation.
Invite Others Into Your Circle
This one is probably my favorite. When I am at a social gathering and see someone who looks like they might feel the same way I do, I don’t hesitate to reach out and introduce yourself. Invite that person to join your table—figuratively and literally. This gesture will help you as much, if not more, than it helps the other person.
Don’t Be Afraid To Be Honest About How You Are Feeling
Like I mentioned earlier, when I do share my feelings of awkwardness and discomfort with others, I am usually surprised to learn many are feeling similarly. Even the most put-together parent could be wearing their “brave face” mask, just like you.
Take Time To Recover Afterwards
Do you ever feel completely spent after an episode of peopling? This is your social battery letting you know it has been depleted, and this is normal for introverts. We put so much energy into these interactions, that we often feel emotionally and physically drained. We need time to recharge. Just like you plug in your cell phone after a long session of scrolling social media, you need to recharge yourself, too. Spend some time alone or in a comfortable setting doing an activity that you enjoy. This will help you reset and be ready to tackle the next challenge.
Being involved in your children’s school community can be tough when you’re a socially awkward introvert. It may seem like you are the only one who is sitting alone. It may feel like there is a “cool parent” group that you are not a part of. It can be emotionally exhausting because of the overthinking and extra effort it takes you to get through.
However it feels, remember you are definitely not alone. I get it. Plus, you can always sit at my table. I’d love the company.