parent opinion

"My husband is an extrovert but I'm not. And it's making me feel like a bad parent."

I’ve always struggled with shyness and introversion. I love being alone with a good book, and if I do socialise, it’s usually to catch up one-on-one with a friend.

But now that I am a mother, I’ve had to make a huge effort to make it less about “me time” and more about giving my children a rich, interesting life full of people and places.

Recently, I realised that I was relying too much on my very extroverted husband to break the ice for me – and he showed me this by doing nothing at all. Jeff is often described as “the life of the party”. He has the magical ability to chat with any person and find common ground.

He can crack up a room in seconds, because he moonlights as a stand-up comedian. He genuinely loves being around people, whereas I am more likely to get annoyed or frustrated and then scurry back to my hermit hole.

In big social situations like parties or weddings – events that would usually stress me out – Jeff is my secret weapon. I will coast behind his wave of extroversion, and thus enjoy the occasion and observe people, without having the pressure to chat or ‘perform’. There are definitely huge benefits to the introvert-extrovert partnership.

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When I’m on a solo excursion with my kids, it’s terrifying. At story time at the library, playgroup, or to a kids’ party, I am feeling nervous and anxious before I’ve even left the house. I actually feel sick in my stomach.

You wouldn’t know it if you met me at those places, though, because I will be super chatty and friendly. It’s all to cover up the fact that I am feeling shy and scared and I want to run away. But I’m there so that my kids have fun and meet friends and learn things. And I always put my kids first.

Talking to other parents can be really difficult. It’s different to meeting a new colleague or being in the same class at uni. You’d think that other parents would have a lot in common, but I’ve found that’s not often the case. I usually leave conversations with other parents feeling like I’m a total weirdo. I do love being weird – it’s something I embrace about myself, as a creative person.

But when I’m trying to make connections with people who I’m going to see on a regular basis, I just want to find something we can chat about with enthusiasm. Not everyone is interested in hearing, for example, that I am obsessed with John Stamos’ Instagram.

My children are now a little bit older – my daughter is five, and my son turns three in a few months. I have made a huge effort to get out there and make friends with other parents, mostly because being a primary carer can be a lonely business.

 

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Even though I have improved with my social skills, this year I still felt incredibly freaked-out and nervous about a brand-new social situation: school drop-off and pick-up.

My daughter started kindergarten this year, and we’re newbies to the area. (Of course, the real person I care about in this situation is my daughter and her schooling experience, but that’s her story to tell one day if she chooses to.)

Before the school year started, I was invited to a few informal playdates with some of the kindergarten parents and kids. I was very grateful to be included, but also worried that I would be socially awkward and uncomfortable with myself.

Jeff was still on holidays from work, and I was so glad that he came along with me. I enjoy his company, I wanted him there so that he could do all the chatting and getting-to-know-you stuff.

But this time, things were a little different.

First of all, Jeff volunteered to go off with the kids, to check out the play equipment and meet the other kids. I usually take that role so that I can avoid being awkward around the adults. This time, I felt like Jeff had abandoned me in this new frontier.

 

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Once the kids were off happily playing, Jeff sat next to me, and I waited for him to tell a funny story or ask someone about their life. But he was unusually quiet. Actually, he was silent. And I realised that what he was doing was being selfless and supportive, but this time in a different way from usual.

Jeff was giving me the chance to shine, and step out on my own. He wanted to give the other parents a chance to know me. He didn’t want to take all of the attention that day.

My stomach churned as I stood with people I didn’t know, and chimed in with the conversation. But Jeff and I both knew that our family’s experience of primary school would be so much better if I got to know other families, especially as I would be doing the school run.

I have a few budding friendships with the kindy parents now, and we say hello and chat. It’s done me a world of good, to feel like I am part of a community. One of the mums even asked if I was free for coffee one morning, and I practically shouted “yes!” at her.

I still feel like I’m the weirdo of the bunch, but maybe that’s a good thing. And I’m grateful that my husband helped me to make friends, simply by doing nothing.

Are you more introverted than your partner? How does that play out in your relationship? Tell us in the comments section below. 

Carla Gee is a writer and illustrator living in Canberra. You can find her on Instagram as @bycarlagee and @littlecloudcarla.

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