Small groups help overwhelmed introverted parents

My previous article on being an introverted parent has become one of my most-read articles ever, and I couldn’t be happier about that — thank you all so much for your interest. Being the father of six children plus the world’s most introverted introvert can make for an… interesting life from time-to-time, especially if you define “interesting” as “omigosh I feel so overwhelmed I swear the walls are closing in.” But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It just takes some coping mechanisms, and today’s article is about one of my favorites — and one of my children’s favorites, too.

“Audrey Hepburn: Many-Sided Charmer,” LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1953 (Link)

Audrey Hepburn, by all accounts, was an introvert. When she described her ideal weekend (see picture at right), she might as well have been describing mine. I’m a classic introvert in that time spent alone leaves me refreshed, energized, and blissful, while too much time with other people — any other people — leaves me tired, worn out, and dazed. When my weekend comes close to what Audrey describes, I feel like her dancing in Funny Face:

Image via Giphy

But when I spend a weekend socializing, I feel more like her in My Fair Lady, planning my revenge and muttering, “Just you wait, ‘Enry ‘Iggins.”

Image via Giphy

This is all pretty standard for introverts, but what if you’re an introverted parent? Our kids need our love, but almost just as much, they need our time. What happens when they need to be with you when all you want is to be alone? What happens when there are six of them who need you? That’s a sure-fire recipe for overwhelm, so what’s a loving parent to do?

Small Group Sessions
Any introvert who has survived formal schooling has an instinctual, negative reaction to the phrase “small groups,” because it is a reminder of times we were forced to socialize with others, even if it made us uncomfortable. But take the phrase out of the context of school, and it’s exactly what we often want. A quiet cup of coffee with a couple of friends is usually (read: always) preferable to a wild time at a loud and large party.

Why not apply this same small group mentality to time spent with your kids? When I look back over just the last few months, some of the kid activities I have enjoyed the most were small group activities, including:

  • The time just my two oldest boys and I went to see Star Wars: Rogue One
  • The time just my three girls and I went out for shopping and froyo
  • A couple of times when my eldest daughter stayed home with me while everyone else went to a party

Small group time is still time spent with your kids, which they absolutely crave, but as a bonus, there are fewer of their siblings demanding your attention, which leaves more available for the ones present. From the introverted parent’s perspective, since it’s not all the kids at once, it’s less overwhelming, less noisy, and more intimate. And I don’t think you have to be the father of six, like me, to find positives in small groups. This is something any introverted parent with two or more children can benefit from.

One-on-one time
Perhaps even better is a slight variation on the small group session: one-on-one time. My wife and I have long been big believers in the importance of each of our children getting a bit of alone time now and then with each of us. All of the benefits of small group time, both for the children and for us, apply, but even more so because here the group is a duo.

The only negative to this technique is the more children you have, the more one-on-one sessions you need to have if you wish to give all your children equal attention. (And who wouldn’t?) Too many of these in succession can get you right back into an overwhelmed state, just via a thousand small paper cuts instead of one big stab. So spread them out, a little at a time.

Don’t forget your spouse
There’s one vital consideration you have to make before scheduling small group sessions with your children every weekend from now until October. What are your spouse’s needs?

I mentioned one of my favorite recent small group activities (a one-on-one, actually) was a time when my eldest daughter and I stayed home together while the rest of the family attended a birthday party. This same day is one of my wife’s least favorite days in recent memory, because it happened on a Sunday, a day on which she has a strong preference for the entire family to stay together.

The time you and some of the children are away is the time your spouse is left with fewer family members; if your spouse is an extrovert, that may not be an ideal situation for him or her. Alternatively, if your spouse is also an introvert, think about how he or she will feel flying solo with the larger portion of your children while you’re off having a small group or one-on-one adventure. You’ll probably have to return the favor by switching roles at some point and letting him or her have some small group time.

Also remember: children keep ledgers. Your daughter will remember the time four months ago you went on a solo trip with her brothers, and she’ll want to know when she gets to have her turn. Keep it fair. When you plan a small group experience, consider at least scheduling when the children who won’t be participating get their turn.

Small group time allows for more large group time
None of this is to say that the only way an introverted parent of a large number of children can be happy is to spend time with subsections of the family. While kids will love their one-on-one and small group times with Mommy or Daddy, they absolutely crave and need lots of time in which the whole family is together.

But when every family activity is a whole family activity, this introverted parent feels like he’s falling apart. Small group time is time to recharge and time to take a fresh perspective, all while continuing to spend time with your children. It helps me to stay laser-focused, but not inward, on myself. Instead, it keeps my attention on something far more important: my children. “Introverted” is an adjective that describes us, but “parent” is the noun that describes who we are.

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