Parenting is inherently messy and noisy. For introverted parents it can be challenging to suddenly find you have a small person permanently needing your attention and that you’ve entered a world of play dates and mother’s groups.
Studies1 have shown introverts make excellent parents because of their empathy, listening skills and approach to conflict.
However, friction between the need for solo time and the social demands of parenting can leave some people conflicted. Wanting to be with your children, but also wanting to be away from them while craving valuable alone time to recharge your batteries, may lead to feelings of guilt.
The American Psychological Association defines introversion as an, “orientation toward the internal private world of one’s self and one’s inner thoughts and feelings, rather than towards the outer world of people and things”.
“It’s not that people who are more introverted are anti-social, but rather that they have a preference for spending alone time, preferring quiet to loud noise, having close relationships or one-on-one time rather than interacting in large group situations,” explains Macquarie University, Department of Psychology, Associate Professor Simon Boag.
“So, you can understand that with young children, who can be quite dependant on their primary caregiver and are often naturally raucous and loud, that can be a potentially challenging situation for someone who finds that environment overstimulating.”
Dr Boag highlights that introversion, and its counterpart, extroversion, are on a sliding scale when it comes to a person’s personality.
Another key point is while introversion and extroversion are important components of personality, we need to understand how they relate to the entire constellation of personality traits and emotions.
For example, being shy and being introverted are often, mistakenly, paired together.
“It is important to know that introversion and shyness are not the same,” explains Tamara Cavenett, President of the Australian Psychological Society.
“Introversion is a personality type whereas shyness is an emotion.
“An example is that introverts don’t choose to skip social events because they have strong negative reactions to larger gatherings in the same way that shy people do; they just prefer being alone or in very small groups.”
Introverts make great parents
Before we go on to the challenges that introvert parents can face, it is important to point out that it is not all an uphill battle.
“Being an introvert doesn’t put you at a parenting disadvantage,” says Tamara.
“Introverts often excel as they are thoughtful, self-motivated, insightful, introspective and empathetic which are all wonderful things to instil and develop in your children.”
Dr Boag points out a Finnish study which showed that introverted nurturing parents tend to have more family favourable environments, such as better communication within the family.
“The same study showed evidence to suggest that introvert fathers tend to be more child-centred or child-focused,” he adds.
“Broadly speaking, if you are more introverted, you are often more attuned to your inner world, and therefore potentially more reflective on your children’s inner world and more sensitive to their needs.”
The challenges introvert parents face
In many ways, our society is set up to favour extroverts, including while parenting.
“It’s easy as an introvert grappling with a more extroverted world, to feel guilty about needing alone time,” Dr Boag says.
“Particularly when the messages in society don’t promote recharging and alone time, especially if you are the primary caregiver.
“The overwhelming energy that naturally comes with young children can produce an over-stimulated environment and that can be quiet overwhelming for an introvert parent.”
Typical support networks, like mother’s groups, can also be confronting for introvert new parents.
“The school drop off is another potentially overwhelming situation,” adds Dr Boag.
“There are children swarming around, large groups of parents talking, it can be an intensely overstimulating environment that can be challenging for an introvert parent to navigate, especially if they are trying to form social connections.”