Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Square holes

*all images courtesy of Kate T. Parker Photography (

I'm not the fly on the wall, but the fly doing backstrokes in your soup, trying to figure out your story and add you to my coterie of Facebook "friends". The anticipation of a mixer or business meeting is almost too much to handle. Any opportunity to engage in the nuances of relationship building is right in my wheelhouse.

I need noise, movement, and people to feel comfortable. As a child, I loved falling asleep to the sound of my parents bustling around downstairs, and think the entirety of my high school studying happened with Jammin' 94.5 playing on the radio in the background. Silence does not come easily to me as I know once my inner monologue takes over, the tendency for anxiety to ask for a piggy back ride is soon to follow. Or maybe I get lonely. Or lost somewhere in one of the universe's many black holes. If a woman is silent, does she exist?

Taking a tip from Paula Abdul's matchmaking advice, I found eternal companionship in my opposite: an introvert; someone adept at social situations, but not nearly as comfortable or excitable by the thought of name tags and  the back and forth of personal/professional resume volleying. It works because my husband is completely capable of governing his own social experience. Yin and yang. Peanut butter and super gregarious jelly.

Perhaps during a time that I was fraternizing with a space creature in a black hole, the universe missed my clarion call for me to birth progeny who were more inclined to mimic my own social needs and experiences. Four years down, and I admit that  I struggle, daily, living with a child who is an observer and not an eager participant in life's social situations. Whereas with my husband I feel little to no responsibility about his (anti) social idiosyncrasies, I have an overwhelming sense of ownership with my son's.

The seductive nature of new playground equipment becomes obsolete if strange kids are playing in front of him. He dissolves into a repetition of "I don't know how" or "I need a hand please" during new social situations.

I see his reticence at the start of playdates.
I hear him vocalize trepidation in regards to sharing the playground space with Kindergartners.
I feel him stroke and twirl my hair in concern when he sits on my lap during a concert.

But I don't get it.

Like any well intentioned parent, I have solicited the advice and recommendations from a variety of sources to see what I could do to change him. I have pathologized him and created a lens of disorder with which I view his behavior. I have secretly wished him to be more like [fill in the blank with a number of friends' children who are incredibly socially adept]. I have been operating under the premise that once we eliminate a general social anxiety, that an outgoing and socially comfortable personality will blossom and flourish. The sooner the better, because I operate under a false pretense that somehow his social comfort is a direct measure of my parenting success. And you know how amazing those end of the year parenting bonuses are due to commendable and successful parenting.

What I have been looking for is an avenue to change my son's inherent personality to resonate with mine. I've been so focused on fitting a square peg into a round hole, that I missed opportunities to look for square holes.

The element of narcissism in my approach is no longer lost on me.

My guilt has resulted in me imagining building a hermitage in our backyard and homeschooling all of my children just to eliminate the issue of ever having to participate in society. My guilt has also resulted in me saying some unsavory things to my husband and even denying advances for physical comfort from my son during periods of his nervousness. I have tried to truncate the periods of observation he finds comfort in when approaching a new social situation in exchange for ripping off the proverbial band aid and demanding he confront the fear head on.

While my responses have yet to be what I would consider measured, I have recently not only realized, but also believed that the goal of changing his personality may not be nearly as important as monitoring my approach.

I cannot change what I have done or felt, and much like I cannot get my son to understand what it feels like to get tickled and excited by new social situations, I also must accept that I may never "get" what it feels like for those situations to drum up feelings of worry or anxiety.

Finding middle ground is hard and taxing when it initially feels very non-committal and as though I am not honoring either of our approaches. Yet, there has to be a way to engender confidence, encourage growth, and hone skills to navigate this silly and crazy world. This journey is not about changing my child, but shifting my perspective and approach. It is admittedly uncomfortable, but worth the effort. I owe it to my son and I owe it to myself.

But what I promise you, Miles, is to start looking for those square holes and getting you through them with confidence. I vow to exploit your strengths and also honor your vulnerabilities. And I promise you can still sit on my lap and stroke my hair during concerts; just no twirling.


  1. This post is amazing. It's utterly beautifully written and touches on such a deeply important message.

    I am one whose child's personality aligns with their own (outgoing, center-of-attention-hogging, silly no matter who is watching, etc.), and I often find myself "showing him off" in a way that pushes even him to the limits of his extraversion, if only for my own amusement and patting myself on the back as a mother. When, clearly, there's no one who says that a kid who will sing "Twinkle Twinkle" on command for a crowd is any "better" than a quiet one. But somewhere along the line I think I made myself believe that.

    I don't have experience raising the polar opposite in personality, but maybe someday I will, and I hope that I can remember and revisit this post.

  2. I appreciate Kate's input, too.
    Would it help as you try to reach that middle ground between your needs and your son's to know that when you do hold his hand or allow him to snuggle close, that you are providing him with the base of security on which he can build comfort and confidence? I know from experience that being denied that support does not help when one is introverted and shy. As you know from living with your life partner, introverts can function socially very well as confident adults while remaining true to themselves. In other words, the shyness can be ameliorated even though the innate introversion is immutable.
    Another observation is that even children who are more like us can drive us crazy, as in sometimes we dislike in them traits that we dislike in ourselves (I guess as a parent we can't win!). With my shy and introverted child, I still had trouble dealing with it BECAUSE I related too well and hurt for him.
    You may have said in your posts, but I urge everyone to read "Quiet" about introverts living in an extroverted world.

  3. I love this post, Ali, and I think you are such a wonderful mother <3
    Love Auntie Shirl