Navigating Social Situations as An Introverted Mom
As an introverted mom, I often dread the daycare pickup. Moms cluster in the parking lot and engage with one another, often sharing what they did over the weekend. I overhear parents reminiscing about the time they spent together at birthday parties or backyard BBQ’s and planning play dates. The instant assumption, is that these mom friends may have known each other for a long time. But perhaps just by the nature of the friendship their kids are developing at daycare, these moms are becoming friends. Either way, I duck in and out, wanting to avoid the possibility that someone may say, “hey…aren’t you Henry’s mom?” ? “So and so talks about you all the time. We should get together”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I too have spent time in the parking lot chatting it up with parents. I am a therapist and I have “talk to me invisibly etched into my forehead). I enjoy it, but those moments are few and far between. And never have these conversations translated into the extended invitation. I have yet to move the dialogue from the parking lot to the park or planned activity. But the day is coming for when that will happen and I need to prepare myself for that. I have been invited to birthday parties though, simply because the children are friends. But the friendship has not yet expanded to the parents.
The play date feels like a necessary evil
As a first time Mom, I often look to my close friends with older kids to educate me about parenting. They help me understand social situations, etiquette, hierarchy, etc. Funnily enough, most of my closest friends are extroverts. While they love socializing, they too recognize that the development of friendships between the kids and the parents when kids are young can be a bit much. So, imagine my dread, as an introverted mom, when I contemplate having to navigate birthday parties and play dates. I get burnt out from hanging out with my own child. But my mom friends reiterate to me time and again that this time will come. And being prepared is crucial to ensuring that I help my children thrive.
What about extracurricular activities?
We also haven’t begun to introduce any extracurricular activities. This may be a consequence of being an introvert, my naivete or my desire to keep life simple. Life will become hectic enough as my kids get older. And I am a believer in extracurricular activities as a way to promote healthy mental and physical well-being. So these things will happen, it’s just a matter of when.
Thinking about these scenarios is enough to give me nightmares. I think to myself, “you’re telling me that I have to hang out with strangers and their kids, just because my 3-year-old has a ‘best friend’ at daycare?” Or ” we are invited to a party or because he takes swimming lessons?”
But wading into the play date waters has begun. A few months ago, a neighbor invited us to their home for a play date and we had the BEST time. I got along great with the mom and the kids very much enjoyed their time together. We have had a subsequent play date and I hope that this friendship will continue, especially as having a friend in the neighborhood would be great.
The Dilemma for introverted moms
Henry will come home and tell me ALL about his friends. He has two best friends and he can name that he played with this one and that one. I suspect that my child may be an extrovert, but it is still perhaps too early to tell (or maybe I’m just in denial).
And then it happened. The other day he said to me “mommy…can you call ____’s mom and ask her to come over or to go to the playground?” “Mommy, can so and so come over to our house for a Star Wars party?” I said yes, and in order not be a liar, I promised him that I would call them moms and ask. But I have yet to do so, because we have lots of activities on the calendar (plus I’m due to have my second child in a few weeks, so there are other things preoccupying my time).
Listen, I want my child to have friends. For my child to have a best friend or two that he’s known since he was a baby would be great! I love the idea of Henry having friends in the neighborhood where he could go and play. Having mom friends who could watch him if I needed downtime, or had an emergency is also crucial to any parent’s mental health. It’s also important that I make myself and my home available to kids for the same reason. But the onus of making that happen falls on me as the adult. And it requires that if another parent wants to foster that with my son, I have to make myself available to ensure that this happens. It is just that my mental bandwidth is limited because I can easily get “peopled out”. So what am I going to do?
Find like minded introverted mom friends.
This admittedly is hard. I have a core close group of friends that even now I have a hard time keeping up with. They have been my friends for over 20 years and many know me so well by now that we have an unspoken arrangement. The idea of adding more friends, albeit mom friends for the sake of my child’s social development, is a bit scary. BUT I must tackle this. The reality is that I am going to have to get out of my comfort zone and develop friendships.
As someone who does not thrive with small talk, I will have to grin and bear it and try out multiple moms. In doing so, I may have to make it explicit that I am an introvert so as not to offend the moms if I don’t say much or excuse myself to go to the bathroom frequently. Hopefully, I find other introvert moms that I like and who will therefore get it. I am looking forward to that, because the ability to make a mom friend with whom I can have a really third dimensional relationship with can be fun.
Keep the play date to one or two moms
Being an introvert means that my threshold for stimuli is limited. I am extremely attuned to those I am with and I can be laser focused when in discussion. It allows me to pay close attention to detail and be truly present with you. I think that this is what makes me a great therapist. This quality also makes me a good mom. I pay attention. I am curious.
In that respect, when there are lots of people present, or lots going on, I get overwhelmed. It becomes difficult to focus and attune to who and what people are saying. I lose the sense of connection. Add to that, the sounds of children and their needs, and I shut down. The shutting down doesn’t happen in the moment, but rather afterwards. I have less patience, I become fatigued and I am less capable of accomplishing things. In knowing this, I would resist the opportunity to accept another invitation for a play date.
To know this about myself, means that play dates need to be limited to one or two parents. Perhaps it’s a couple or simply one mom and her children. Being able to focus on one conversation means that I get less stimulated and less distracted. The risk in this scenario is that more vulnerability or personal disclosures may happen. I am ok with that, but for others who don’t like to share about themselves, it may be uncomfortable.
Create play dates with an end time.
The struggle of the play date is that there is uncertainty. You can invite people over to your home or you yourself may be invited to someone’s home, but the invitation is an open one. The hangout can last for 3 or 4 hours. And on a Saturday or Sunday (prime real estate for recharging my batteries) losing that much time makes me procrastinate doing the whole play date thing in the first place. Then I discovered the timed play date. Go to a jungle gym or Zone park of some sort where you can book the activity for a period of time 2 hours.
If you can offer to meet up in public somewhere with a designated time, it may make the experience more manageable. It also doesn’t have to be a loud destination (a blessing or course for introverts depending on your sensitivity to crowds and noises). It could be story hour at the library or Barnes and Noble.
Timing is important when you are introverted
Are you a night owl? An early riser? Depending on where your energy lies, try to plan activities that align with your energy cycles. If you are someone who wakes up early (hello 6AM, I see you) and find yourself burnt out by 3PM and wanting to wind down, the idea of heading out the door at that time feels torturous.
If you don’t really start getting active until noon or 1PM (possibly after the kids’ naptime), being asked to leave the house at 9AM to meet up for a play date may feel like you’re being dragged to the torture chamber. Identify what time of day you tend to thrive in and plan dates around those times. For me personally, if you invite me to a play date at 11AM, where I could be home by 2 and have the rest of the afternoon and evening to myself, I would be in Heaven.
Incorporate activities that you enjoy as an adult and introverted.
So often the challenge in having play dates, and parenting in general, is that the activity is so child centered. Or it requires you to be very hands on. I can only “play” imaginary tea party for so long with the kids. If the bulk of the activity requires your attention and/or supervision, you may get burnt out. If the activity requires you to act like a child for 4 hours, you may lose your sense of self. Instead, are there adult activities that you can enjoy within the play date? Activities like gardening, fishing or kids cooking classes may make the play date more enjoyable. You may develop a friendship with the parent along a shared interest. You also engage in an activity that you can enjoy as an adult. And the kids can still be together and develop their friendship.
Allow for a window of silence after the play date
Regardless of how enjoyable the play date is, you will still need the opportunity to have silence and recharge your batteries. I am notorious for going out with friends, and then spending the next 24-36 hours hibernating (as best I can when I still have to parent). The reality is that introverts need time to reconnect with their internal world. This is even more true when as an introverted mom. That may mean lots of different things to different people. For me, it’s reading and taking care of my plants. Silence means anything where I don’t have to engage. Ideally, that means that play dates are on Friday nights or Saturday early afternoons. Rest days are on Sundays. It is important to try and build in those moments so that you can balance socializing your child and meeting your own needs.
As a parent, you want to do the best for your children. Parenting is the balance of meeting your child’s needs and your own. For introverted parents, the challenges are unique but they are not insurmountable. If you know how to thrive, you increase the chance of your child thriving too.
My name is Eddie. I am a mindfulness-based therapist in Bordentown, NJ who specializes in trauma, anxiety and Mom stress. I provide online counseling throughout the state of NJ. Find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.