When I made the decision to bring a new life into the world, I knew that my career, finances and sleep patterns would probably take a big hit as a result. I wasn’t necessarily happy with this trade-off, but I was at peace with it. What I was secretly thrilled about, however, was the promise that my social life would also be disrupted. Hurrah! At last, a legitimate excuse for not leaving the confines of my apartment. I couldn’t wait.
The problem isn’t necessarily that I’m shy (although I am a bit), but social engagements have always left me feeling depleted. Before I left my job as a staffer on a magazine to go freelance, recuperating from a gruelling working week involved spending time in my own company. While my colleagues would fill their weekends with plans, I nearly always opted out of them, preferring to re-energise by not talking to another soul for as long as I possibly could.
After years of fighting this instinct and doing things I didn’t necessarily want to do or succumbing to the desire for my own space and feeling guilty about it, I would finally be in a place where I could recognise who and what I was: an introvert. As such, I was realistic about how many social engagements I could attend and enjoy within a certain timeframe and would carefully guard those blissful pockets of time where I could go home and curl up with a book, understanding how important it was for my own wellbeing.
In my mind, having a baby would serve as the perfect excuse to shun even more social gatherings, enabling me to carve up my spare time further in my favour. Except it hasn’t quite worked out that way.
I love my son and would do anything for him...except, apparently, walk into a room full of strangers and strike up a conversation.
First of all, there is no spare time. Absolutely none. Also, after becoming a parent, you’re never really alone ever again (even solo trips to the toilet are a rare occurrence). But the big thing – and the one thing about parenting that nobody warned me about – is that parenting is basically one social event after another.
Once my son arrived in the world, I quickly came to realise that his needs were love, warmth, nourishment and – gulp – socialisation. After spending the first six months of his life cocooned with me, it was clear that he required stimulation outside of our four walls.
After that, it was a whirlwind of Rhyme Time (which is basically a group of mums sitting on the floors of community centres and libraries, thwacking tambourines on their thighs to the tune of "Humpty Dumpty" while their babies try to squirm off their laps), swimming lessons and play group. Having a baby was less the get-out-of-socialising-free card I was hoping for and more energy-sapping small talk. In those early days of motherhood, it felt as though I was constantly surrounded by gaggles of parents who knew each other while I flitted around the periphery, silently wishing I could drop my son's hand and retreat to the comfort of my sofa.
However, it was when he started nursery and the birthday party and play date invitations started to roll in that it really became evident that my son and I were cut from different cloth. He would run to me at pick-up time, excitedly waving another invitation over his head, while I groaned inwardly. I love him and would do anything for him...except, apparently, walk into a room full of strangers and strike up a conversation.
But I do, sometimes even attending two birthday parties in one day. I nearly always flirt with the idea of pretending it has been cancelled before eventually accepting my fate and popping a packet of paracetamol and little bottle of water in my bag in preparation for the inevitable headache. Despite my reservations, his happiness will always outweigh any discomfort I might have.
By showing him that it’s okay to socialise, I’ve accidentally shown myself too.
And yet, despite his excitement about meeting new people and hanging out with his friends, there are times when my son, like me, can be overcome with shyness. There are times when he will hover in front of a closed door, unable to push it open and walk in. At those times, I take his hand and lead the way, exuding a confidence that I don’t necessarily feel.
By showing him that it’s okay, I’ve accidentally shown myself too. An unexpected yet happy byproduct of having an extroverted son is that after years of small talk with the same parents, I’ve made friends. I find myself seeking them out at the nursery gates and in the park, inviting them over for play dates and enjoying their company.
I still value our time as a little family and understand that I need those periods at home by ourselves in order to recharge, but I no longer face my son’s social events with a sense of dread. Now, I even find myself looking forward to them.
I know that without my son and his little brother, I would likely spend most of my time on my own, especially as I work from home now too. My world would be very small. But as he grows and his needs change, he continues to push me out of my comfort zone on a daily basis. Being an introverted mother of an extroverted son is a challenge that changes and evolves constantly, but one I am ultimately grateful for. Thanks to him, I no longer feel like I’m on the periphery of life, looking in.