I’m not ignoring you—I’m just shy

One mother navigates the perils of being a shy parent
By Tonilyn Hornung  Published on 08/30/2018 at 11:00 AM EDT
Illustration by oOrn Studio

Waiting for my son outside his preschool classroom, I look at my phone. I am important and popular. Well, that’s how I want to appear. I certainly don’t want to reveal my true nature, which is awkward and uncomfortable. I listen to the other parents chatting away. Most of them have already done two loads of laundry, remodeled their bathroom, or brokered multi-billion dollar deals. I’m awestruck. I have no idea how they do it: all the talking. Their conversational skills both amaze and elude me. Being a parent and being shy do not always go hand in hand.

There has never been a point in my life where I’ve not been quiet. As a child, the stress of participating in class made me want to fake an illness in order to go home (sometimes I did). As an adult, I still find it difficult to chat with people (especially strangers), but at least I no longer need to invent a sudden stomach flu to get out of a conversation.

Over time I’ve been able to learn some tricks of the trade when having to converse in public like asking a lot of questions or discussing the weather, and these have been helpful. However, my quick tricks can’t carry me through a whole playdate or daily pre-school pickups. What’s a shy mom to do?

Baby classes, playdates, toddler classes, and now pre-school functions all have the same trend: New adult people everywhere! The only person I know is my kid, and after two seconds he runs off. I’ve been thrown into a scary ever-changing plastic ball-pit of social interaction. I do enjoy people—I simply enjoy them more when I don’t have to talk to them.

Small talk always feels big, and I find it difficult coming up with subjects to discuss. My whole life I’ve wondered how my more demure brain works in comparison to those with the gift of gab. I envision outgoing people with a ticker tape of dialogue constantly accessible while my tape just rolls blank. One isn’t necessarily better. One just has more words.

Small talk always feels big.

I’ve started pre-planning discussion topics. My gregarious husband laughs at me, but this tactic helps. Sometimes I bring the hubby along with me, and then I don’t have to talk at all! But on days I have to fend for myself, having a list of what I might want to say is good for me.

If the playdate conversation becomes too uncomfortable to bear, then I can also just talk about my kid. That is common ground. Usually, though, after I’ve exhausted the topics of toddler vs. pre-schooler sleep and vegetable eating, I’m exhausted. For me, talking can be as much of a workout as rock climbing: I’m always reaching up to grab for that next word.

There have been some days that I’ve thought about not taking my son to his playdate because I don’t feel like reaching for those words. But I know it’s not what’s best for him. He loves socializing. He becomes energized playing and interacting. I don’t want to take that from him. As taxing as these social situations may be for me, they’re now part of my job description. I love my job.

I’m not going to suddenly become “unshy,” but acknowledging the uncomfortable moments (and sometimes even pointing them out for the other parents to laugh at) has given my conversations a new ease and grace. I love my kid, and I understand that his life will require me to shift and grow. My little guy and I, we change each other. I’m looking forward to even more changes as we grow together.

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