Quiet is Okay

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Early on, I remember being in new groups and being shooed away to “go play with the kids.” I have memories of not really wanting to play with a bunch of kids I didn’t know, but they would look like they were having fun. So I’d force myself, thinking that I might end up having fun too.

From age 8 to 17, I was the first one on and the last one off the school bus. I’d board close to 6:00 a.m., groggy and not quite warmed up for exciting conversation. I wanted to stare out the window and get lost in my own thoughts. Problem was, social convention dictated that one should spend the entire time socializing. Topics of conversation were usually less than profound – gossip, TV shows the night before, mocking teachers’ unusual quirks – none of which interested me in the least.

But again, I forced myself to participate. This time, it was to avoid being labeled as weird, uncool, or whatever I was avoiding. But I think I knew by then that I wouldn’t be having as much fun as the other passengers.

Beyond age 13 or so, I stopped caring about being cool or popular. I remember thinking that once I entered high school, I could just be the quiet, thoughtful one and it would be okay. If I would have been most content parking myself on a bench with a stack of books, I could do that, right?

Wrong. Instead, I discovered that I was being labeled a new thing – snobby. And that was not okay with me. It wasn’t that I was standing around thinking I was better than everyone, or anyone for that matter. It was more that I wasn’t a giggler, a rumormonger, or a hot new TV series watcher, so I didn’t have much to contribute to most conversations in my circles.

To this day, I loathe small talk. There’s no bigger waste of hot air, in my opinion. Asking questions to learn about a new person is one thing – there’s purpose behind that. But meaningless chit-chat about the weather and whatever sports thing just happened? Torture. But through almost 3 decades of forcing myself to engage in the mundane jibber jabber, I’m as good at it as the next guy. I can even fake being social and chatty. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you need to bust it out, and I can.

Most people open up once they’re comfortable with someone. I appear to be doing the opposite. I’ll say less and listen more. It looks like I’m withdrawing, but it really means I’m comfortable enough to show you me, quiet and all. I’m lucky that my nearest and dearest get it and accept it, even embrace this about me. Only one person I’ve come across in adulthood has expressed discomfort with my silence, but she has her own issues that I couldn’t even begin to help her with, so I’ve got to just shrug it off.

But enough about me. What does this have to do with parenting?

Remembering my own childhood and observing other parents I’m around now, I think kids get undue pressure to be socially “normal,” whatever the heck that means. If a child would rather go off on his own to take apart his toys instead of joining group games, we start throwing around words like withdrawn and we suspect they might need autism testing. Couldn’t he just be a curious tinkerer? Or the girl who would rather hang out at the library than splash at the pool with her friends – what difference does her choice of activity make?

There’s enough pressure for kids to conform to social and societal pressures without parents adding to it. I want my children to know that Mom and Dad would never want them to pretend to be something they’re not. I hope the freedom to be themselves can start in the home, and that they feel free to be themselves in whatever circles they choose. Judgments, criticisms and all.

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Author: Courtney

Courtney Sperlazza, MPH, has worked in health research and is currently a write-at-home mom to two of the most beautiful and charming kids on the planet. Her most recent project is baby number 3, due early October. If you liked what you read, you can find her blogging about parenting, homeschooling, winemaking and more at Project Courtney.

15 thoughts on “Quiet is Okay”

  1. We are the same way. I still struggle to sit with a group of friends and family and chit chat. When I get too uncomfortable, i love to use the excuse that i need to go nurse my baby in a spare bedroom. I can then finally breathe and enjoy the silence.
    When my toddler goes off into his room to play with blocks and his cars, i leave him alone until he comes and gets me. I let him be on his own, instead of force feeding him constant entertainment.

    1. My little guy isn’t shy about letting me know when he wants to play by himself. And when he’s ready for me to join him at “choo-choo’s” or blocks, he’s not shy about letting me know that either. Who am I to decide when he should play alone and when I should be playing with him?

  2. I was also a quiet one. I was never really picked on, but found out later that people didn’t talk to me because they all thought I hated them.

  3. Yes, absolutely. I think there’s a strange view of ‘socialization’ in our society today – namely, that kids ‘need’ to be involved with other kids, even as babies and preschoolers, so that they can be ‘normal’ and interact with other kids – the truth is that it is much more valuable for children to interact with all ages and kinds of people – this will help our children become much more productive adults, not to mention well-adjusted children. Just one reason why I hope to be able to homeschool my children instead of tossing them into a classroom of peers where they are expected to be societally ‘normal’. 🙂

  4. I very much love this post. My brother and I (we’re 20 months apart) were tortured mercilessly at a small private school we went to during middle school for our “bad habit” of getting lost in books. We both were, and still are, veracious readers. When I say lost, I mean a tornado probably could’ve whipped through there and we wouldn’t notice. You had to physically tap us on the shoulder or wave a hand in our face to get our attention. I too thought it would get better in high school, and in some ways it did since public school was a much bigger place and I was able to find others like me. But the overwhelming majority still called me anti-social/snob/weird. And it hurt. I still remember the names of the teachers that encouraged my natural personality. That told me I was a bright and engaging personality. We need more of these teachers. As you said, being quiet is ok, and our children need to know that.

  5. I also think that pushing children towards their peers and away from their parents (or other adult role models) is at the heart of the problem of peer attachment (as described by Gordon Neufeld & Gabor Mate). We may inadvertently send a message to our kids that they “belong” with their peers and that it is therefore their peers they should go to for support. While strong friendships in childhood can be a blessing and I’m certainly not advocating forced isolation, if we leave peers to raise our children we end up with some pretty dis-oriented young people.

  6. Thank you so much for this. You have just described my 5 1/2 your old daughter. I have stopped trying to get her to play with the other kids when we go to church or church functions. When she wants to play with them she will but most often she will start off sitting by herself and entertaining herself. I use to worry that she would not make any friends now I just watch from the sidelines to see what she does and if she is happy. She is happy and when she wants to interact she does.

  7. I’ve been that kid – I’m glad you recognize that she’s fine even if she’s playing by herself. Alone and lonely are NOT the same thing!

  8. I also have the most handsome and charming 2yo boy! I have been thinking about this post from a few angles…
    How do we balance allowing our children to be themselves and not push them to be anything in particular, with encouraging them to do/ be involved in/ say something we believe to be right, something which we choose to highly value as a family?
    And what is so wrong with talking about the weather? To talk about such simple things shows how different we all are. Eg, it was so cold this morning I couldn’t feel my hands biking to school/ oh, you don’t like it cold, could I knit you some gloves?/ i love cold mornings seeing frost on the grass and my breath leave my mouth. Or, I love these hot days because I can go to the beach after school/ yeah, I love the sunny days cos I can help Mum in the garden/ nah, I like the cold and the snow/ yeah, I like the rain cos it makes the grass on the farm grow! All these opinions in conversation are okay. Chit-chat reveals a lot about people and our likes, dislikes, interests, etc, and all are valid and acceptable (if they don’t hurt anyone!).
    It is a challenge to myself (shy tendencies too) to engage in these conversations, but as long as we model acceptance of everyone’s contribution, I think chit-chat is healthy, and a great start to make connections (or not) with others.

  9. I think this is a great article. I am also extremely introverted, and it takes a lot out of me to have to chat with people about things I don’t really care about. My children are both extremely extroverted, which is great for them, but very difficult for me because they want a lot of social stimulation and that tires me out. But it is so important to accept everyone’s differences, help our kids (and ourselves!) be the best us we can be while being true to our nature, and always accepting that at heart, we are all the same, we just want love and acceptance!

  10. I loved this post. It made me tear up. I was always the odd child in groups. I would have rather sit by myself and think about things than to run around and talk. And I’m still the same today. I do not do well in a big group of people talking about small pointless things.

    I pray everyday that I will never force my children to become anything, but rather let the beautiful person inside shine.

    Thanksfor this post! 🙂

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