Play dates. Classmates. A hail of phone calls. A calendar full of extra-curricular activities. Birthday parties on rotation. Parent-teacher conferences every few weeks. The school drop off. The school pick up. There is no switch-off when you are a parent. It can be overwhelming, more so when you take personality types into consideration; to an introvert it can be a nightmare. Introverts naturally gravitate towards introspection and solitude and tend to shy away from social interaction. But wearing a mantle of a mum or a dad calls for socialisation.
Sneha John, clinical psychologist, Camali Clinic Child & Adult Mental Health, says, “The overwhelming energy that naturally comes with young children can produce an over-stimulated environment and that can be quite overwhelming for introverts.”
As a parent must you then put aside your tendencies and gravitate towards extroversion? Must you metamorphise into a social butterfly? Well, it could prove beneficial if you do. Take the case of Nilufer Yuldas from Uzbekistan, who calls herself a selective extrovert. She says being social and making connections “can be helpful at the right time”. It’s certainly helped her son, she believes.
She recalls an incident in school where the parents of introvert children were very worried about their friendships when classes were juggled. “When I speak to other parents, I get shocked about things they have to worry about. For example, we moved to a new school last year and there were so many expats who just moved to Dubai. So, they didn’t know in Dubai every year the school classmates and teachers change. And it was a big thing for them… [I’m not worried] I believe that my son is capable enough to build new relationships with classmates,” she explains.
And there’s always a trickle-down effect on the children. “We all know that children tend to copy their parents. Obviously, even if the parent is an introvert, the child can be born an extrovert yet trying to follow the parent, they will be copying [introvert traits] unconsciously. Even if they stay an extrovert, I think it does have an effect.”
Filipino expat Ann Diaz, who is a recent UAE import, admits that as a parent there is pressure to be a certain way, to socialise so your child can. “I can be quite shy when dealing with new people. When we first came to Dubai, I had no friends - we didn’t know anyone. I did feel a certain pressure to meet new people for the sake of my daughter. I didn’t want her to have no friends just because I was being shy. I had to put my introversion aside and go forward, meet new people and get her to see that new didn’t always mean scary. We made friends from her school, our church,” she explains.
There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert. There are plenty of positives to be had. The important thing to remember, says Bene Katabua, an Abu Dhabi-based psychologist, is that it’s just a way of being, not something that needs to be cured.
“One of the benefits of having introverted parents is that the child may have the privilege of being around someone who thinks deeply and can find meaning in both the big and small things in life. There is a quiet confidence with introversion, which comes with a greater sense of self-awareness, introspection and reflection,” she says.
It may also teach them to trust themselves more because they are not stuck in a ‘what will people think’ storm. “Being around a parent who doesn't value societal expectations above their personal ones will likely be greatly beneficial for the child's own worldview. They may become less susceptible to peer pressure and place less emphasis on developing their own beliefs and decisions.”
Introverts are known for their listening skills and this feeling of being heard may also help. However, it is important for children to meet and learn about all kinds of people, whether quiet or loud. “It can be difficult for children to operate in certain social contexts if they have not been exposed to more loud, impulsive and gregarious people,” explains Katabua. And this exposure becomes difficult when the parents are bent towards introversion.
While some people can straddle the worlds of extroversion and introversion, for others, the chameleonic quality is an impossibility. Rashmi, an Indian who asked that only her first name be used, is quick to admit she hates small talk and could never come to terms with making polite conversation. ”I have made peace with this part of me. But I did not anticipate how this characteristic would affect my children. Little as they were, they sensed my discomfort around other people, which they interpreted as, ‘strangers are to be feared’. They became shy and inward looking, but secretly envious of the popular kids. Their limited social interaction put them at a disadvantage in mingling: they also had no role models to emulate. “My children are grown up now and are finding their way through life. People pleasing still does not come easily to them,” she says.
Introversion can come at the price of debilitating isolation. Indian expat Fabiha Khalid, an ex-Dubai expat, felt alone when her son was told by his paediatrician that he didn’t speak enough words and he wasn’t putting words together to form sentences. “It was a real shock to us and it put me down the rabbit hole of what next? Much to my dismay we didn’t know of anyone who was going through this issue. But as moms, we have this incredible ability to rise over challenges and insurmountable personal limitations to help our children. I started chatting with mums at the nursery my son would go to and tried to make friends with them so that my child would have friends. Then we relocated to Dubai.
“Despite the newness of the place, Dubai opened its arms to us and just like that we found people who had children of my son’s age and I was able to arrange play dates with them and my son made friends. Gradually, his speech got better and very soon he was at par with children his age. His friends made him socially more confident and on point with his responses,” she says.
Firstly, say the experts, recognise that nothing’s wrong with you. “You need to be a good parent. Regardless of whether you benefit from social interaction or if you are drained from social interaction,” says Katabua. “Finding time for solitude is so important, but this can be hard when you are raising a family. Therefore, it can be an activity that the entire family engages in. You can find time in the day where you can have 30 minutes quiet time at home - where the children can engage in activities such as reading.
“You can arrange playdates, after school activities, sports engagements, etc. so that your child gets to enjoy that aspect. At home, you can find ways to socially engage that don't feel draining - such as playing board games, watching series together and discussing, making meals together, etc.”
John adds: “Recharging and being refreshed makes you a better parent. While finding that balance, especially as a parent, is tricky, it is incredibly important. Rather than waking up with the child or children who are immediately engaging you, starting the day with some quality alone time to adjust to the day can really help.”
So is it important to be a social butterfly to be a better parent? Probably, not. But some socialisation skills are a must.
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