How to Navigate School Functions as an Introverted Parent

As an introverted parent, I’ve always been thoughtful about how to navigate school functions. So, when it came to visiting my daughter’s classroom, I approached it with deliberation. I moved slowly towards the door, adjusted my shirt, and took a deep breath before stepping into the bustling environment.

I thought to myself, “Here we go.”

I walked around the confusing arrangement of desks, looking for my daughter’s name. As I moved through the rows, I awkwardly waved at a mom I knew and tried to make small talk with her. In one area of the room, I saw two dads shake hands and laugh as if they had known each other for a long time. I saw a small group of parents walk into the classroom together. They were talking about something funny that had happened at their kids’ soccer practice.

The room started to fill up, but I was still by myself.

The school where my daughter goes had an open house. The night when parents can meet their child’s teacher and the parents of the other children in the class. We’d hear about all the fun things our kids would learn and do at school. We could ask questions about future science units and find out more about the party at the end of the year, which everyone was already very excited about. If I could help it, I wouldn’t miss this chance for anything.

I didn’t want to be there, so that was the trouble.

I wanted to do all of those things, of course. I want to be an engaged parent who knows what’s going on at school. I just wanted to do them at home, where I could relax. Without the right number of people.

Not because I don’t like other people. I love being around other people. I want to connect with people in a deep way, and I’m always up for making new friends. But I’m a shy person.

I like small groups better than big ones. I prefer a personal chat to superficial small talk. I START TO SHRINK when I’m in situations like this one from the open house night. It’s like if I could, my body would fold in on itself to go away. For me to deal with these scenarios, I have to put in a lot of mental work.

This is also true for other things at school. Attend PTO meetings? A big group that could have small groups of friends. Yikes. Fundraiser volunteer? There will be people there. Involves talking to people and maybe getting them to buy things. Double yikes. Chaperone for a school trip? Also known as spending the whole day making small talk with adults while keeping an eye on kids in public. My brain can’t handle all of these social obligations.

In addition to being an introvert, I also feel very uncomfortable and out of place in social settings at school. I feel like I say the wrong thing all the time. My nervous jokes seem to fall flat. No matter how nice people try to be, I often feel like I am on the outside of the group. In my overthinking head, everyone except me knows each other. I’m never sure if I fit in.

When I talk about how lonely or awkward I feel in these social situations at school, I often find out that I am not alone. “Oh my gosh! “Yes!” or “Me, too!” “Yes, that’s so me!” These positive comments make me feel like maybe I’m not as strange as I feel.

Even though it makes me uncomfortable, I have to attend school events and participate in them. As a loner who has never been good at making friends, I have learned how to keep going and do my best. Here are some of the things I do to help me get through school:

Be Brave

Yes, it would be better not to attend an event or help at the book fair. The easiest thing to do is to avoid something, right? But when it comes to your child’s school, it’s not always the best choice, if it’s even an option. When I can, I try to get out of my safe zone. Because I care about my kids and their schooling, I think about how they will remember seeing me at their school or knowing I went to a meeting in the evening.

Set Boundaries

Getting out of your comfort zone is not the same thing as taking on too much. Know who you are. Don’t feel like you have to be a homeroom parent or run for the parent-teacher association’s executive board if you can’t. Do as little or as much as you want.

Pretend Until You Make It

To be honest, I often feel like I’m putting on an act when I go to school or other social events. As I already said, my normal tendency is to try to blend in so I don’t stand out. I have to fight this urge on purpose; it takes a strong will and good acting skills. Act like you’re at ease! The other parents have no idea that you feel weird and alone. Find out more and start talking.

Invite People to Join Your Group

I think this one is my best. When I’m at a party, and I see someone who looks like they might feel the same way I do, I don’t think twice about going up to them and saying hello. Invite that person to your table, both in a physical and a figurative sense. This will help you as much as it helps the other person, if not more.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say What You Really Think and Feel

Like I said before, when I do talk to other people about how awkward and uncomfortable I feel, I am often shocked to find out that many others feel the same way. Even the most put-together parent could be hiding behind a “brave face” mask, just like you.

Take Some Time to Get Better

Do you ever feel like you’ve done everything you can after a day of peopling? Your social energy tells you it’s empty, and introverts often feel this way. We put so much energy into these exchanges that we often feel physically and emotionally drained. We need downtime to refuel. You need to recharge yourself just like you plug in your phone after a long time on social media. Spend some time by yourself or in a place that makes you feel good doing something you like. This will help you get ready for the next task and get back on track.

If you’re a socially awkward introvert, getting active in your kids’ schools can be hard. It might look like you are the only one sitting by yourself. You might feel like there is a group of “cool parents” that you are not in. It can be hard on your emotions because you think about it too much and have to work harder to get through it.

No matter how you feel, know that you are not alone. I get it. You can also sit at my table any time. I’d love to be with you.

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