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Being an Introverted Parent During the Holidays

An introvert is way more than just someone who's shy or reticent.

Key points

  • A humorous new book offers ways for introverts to navigate parenthood, playdates, and people they don't want to talk to.
  • Introverts can learn to honor their socialization needs, or lack thereof, and stop apologizing or feeling bad that they're not "more outgoing."
  • An introvert is way more than just “a shy, reticent person," and more people are beginning to understand this fact.

Humor writer Julie Vick is the author of Babies Don’t Make Small Talk (So Why Should I?): The Introvert’s Guide to Surviving Parenthood, a funny and sweet book that is a lovely companion and very timely during a holiday season where gatherings (even via Zoom) can be stressful. Vick's words are for anyone struggling with the demands of new parenthood—and those that being a parent places on you, in terms of interacting with other parents and the world at large. I recently spoke with her about parenting, her book, and her perspective on what being an introvert is really about.

Let's talk about the feelings that arise when someone who needs more quiet has to navigate a loud and extroverted world with a baby (or two). The holidays in particular bring this issue into focus.

Julie Vick: When it comes to parenting, there is always so much you can feel like you should be doing. I think in a more extroverted society people expect you to want to socialize and talk a lot and so when I was younger, I spent a lot of time trying to do that more even if internally I would have been happy with a quieter weekend at home. There is more awareness about introversion today, but I still struggle with feeling like I should be doing things in a more extroverted way at times. At least in the U.S., it feels like there is still an extroverted ideal.

As a kid, I was often labeled quiet or shy, which I didn’t really love because it was not usually framed as a positive but more of a “Why are you this way?” question. Once I learned more about introversion, it helped me to realize that socializing with people I don’t know and louder/busier environments are draining for me, and that some of the things that I’d heard in the past (like that you have to be extroverted to reach certain career goals) aren’t really true.

I think your book extends a hand to others—introverted, extroverted, or somewhere in between—who are new to parenting, new parents again, or might be going through some challenges that leave them feeling alone or different, something that I believe is common for most of us—I have felt this way—but is exacerbated by social media.

JV: I’ve heard that you should keep in mind that social media is often a collection of other people’s highlight reels—but there are plenty of outtakes and challenges in the background.

Social media can give parents the false impression that everyone else has it together; they have figured out how to get their kids to eat their kale and smile for a photo in matching outfits because there is one curated picture of their kids doing just that. But we don’t see the struggles or bribing that went into getting the good picture, or the meltdown afterward.

Many parents I know who look like they have their act together outwardly are internally struggling with something. A lot of parents can struggle with similar things, whether they are extroverted, introverted, or somewhere in between. A lot of us, myself included, appreciate when people are honest with friends or on social media about their struggles because it helps you feel less alone. No one wants to feel like they are the only person having a hard time.

There is that saying that I think about often: "Don't compare your insides with someone else's outsides." Can you apply this to the parent who just doesn't want to make small talk but who knows that, sometimes, doing so might be a way to start connecting with someone who might become a good friend or, equally meaningful, a friendly acquaintance?

JV: It’s actually really hard to tell from the outside what someone is like internally. Shyness is different from introversion, and some extroverts are shy and some introverts are outgoing, but then just need alone time to recharge after socializing. When it comes to trying to make new connections, I think sometimes we can convince ourselves that we won’t have something in common with someone just based on how we perceive them to be. But that’s not always true.

Even people who are shy or socially anxious don’t always look like they are that way on the outside. The parent taking the lead in organizing the school picnic may be an introvert and another parent who doesn’t enjoy making small talk at school pick-up may be an extrovert.

Studies have shown that people can feel happier when they have brief conversations with strangers, so impromptu conversations can be good. Even if it feels like you don’t want to make small talk, it can be the gateway to a more meaningful conversation or friendship. I try to remind myself of these things when I am in situations where I need to make small talk, even if I do pick and choose which small-talk situations I put myself in.

Follow Julie on Instagram or Twitter.

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