The school year is in full swing, and you know what that means — parent-teacher association meetings. Going to PTA meetings and volunteering at your kid’s school can seem like torture for an introvert. All the forced small talk, the constant stream of new faces and new names, and overly chatty parents can make you want to hide under the table with a cozy blanket.
But I love my kids and want to be involved in their lives. I want to be there for their baseball or soccer games, for their awards shows, and yes, even their school lives. Being an introvert makes it hard to go into a big group of parents (usually women) who seem to have known each other for years and have kids in the same dance studio, but there are some things you can do to make it suck less.
5 Tips to Stop Hating PTA Meetings
1. Just sit there with a smile ready.
I get to the meeting a few minutes early so I can choose a comfortable seat towards the back and with ample arm space. PTA meetings always start late, so no need to get there too early.
Now that I’ve found a safe and comfortable seat, I just sit there and observe what’s going on around me. This is when I get a few minutes to assess the situation and see who is aggressively talkative, more quiet, looks friendly, or maybe annoying. Then I just plant a small smile on my face and take it all in.
2. Avoid small talk by making it about them.
Now that I’ve had a few minutes to look around and get comfortable, a fellow mom might come and say hi. This can be a little nerve-wracking because I feel like the one person in the room that doesn’t know anybody, but I just take a deep breath and remember that probably half the people in the room are introverts who also feel uncomfortable. And I’ve also noticed that the more outgoing, chatty moms are the ones who feel comfortable enough to come introduce themselves to me anyway, so I just give them a compliment and let them talk away.
I look for honest ways to compliment them about their clothes, shoes, jewelry, hair, etc. Something as quick and easy as “Oh, that’s a really pretty dress. Where did you get it?” can get a mom excited, and it helps me feel less anxious because I’m not trying to fill the gaps in conversation. Just pretty much anything that’ll take the focus off of me and put it on them. Usually they love the attention and are flattered, and I also give myself kudos for building up other women! I know the meeting is about to start, so I don’t have to worry about being roped into a long conversation.
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3. Find ways to serve.
Once the meeting starts and I don’t have to worry about another mom starting up a conversation with me, I focus on what the school needs and how I can help. I served as a Room Mom twice, which was both rewarding and very exhausting for an introvert. But putting myself in those slightly awkward and uncomfortable situations helps me make a difference in the school and be more involved in my kids’ school lives.
Volunteering is the best way to feel more comfortable at the school because it helps take the focus off me and put it on what the teacher or students need. I love to see how my effort makes the teacher’s life easier. Being a teacher is stressful. They work so hard and always appreciate all the help they get, big or small.
The best volunteering job that I had was to be a Copy Mom — basically just making photocopies of worksheets, assignments, etc. for all the kindergarten teachers. I was mostly by myself and had small interactions with the staff that satisfied my desire to help and also to get a little socializing outside of home.
4. Leave right when the meeting’s over.
I hate small talk, and I hate it even more when I feel trapped in a room with people I don’t know and can’t escape. So I make a point to leave right when the meeting ends, because I don’t want my brain to melt into a puddle in the middle of the room. Leaving early helps to avoid the endless conversations about who my kids are, what grades my kids are in, where I live, etc.
Sometimes I can sense that another mom wants to have a conversation as I’m getting ready to leave, so I’ve built my arsenal of excuses to maneuver myself out of those situations. I say something like, “Oh, hey, I’d love to chat, but I need to get to an appointment.” It works beautifully every time. There’s a time and place for those longer conversations, but I reward myself for making it to the PTA meeting by allowing myself to leave immediately after.
5. Count to 10.
When I first started going to PTA meetings, I saw many other moms who seemed so relaxed and at ease. I was jealous because I was an anxious mess and trying to hold it all together. I wondered when I would ever feel comfortable like them. They were chatting and having a fun time with their mom friends, and I was just trying to not make a fool of myself.
But when I started volunteering and going to meetings, I realized that everyone has a wall up to deal with life. Even the extroverted, loud, chatty people have a wall up, and they don’t invite just anyone into their lives. Yes, they’re friendly and kind, but they’re also trying to stay sane as a mom and hold it together. I wasn’t the only one who felt like I had to guard my heart and home.
I’ve found that it takes about 10 different encounters to feel comfortable and safe talking to someone. An encounter is simply passing someone in the hallway, a small smile, or a quick hello. Nothing grand and no long conversation needed. I don’t actually count how many times I’ve come across someone, but I do remind myself that it’s going to take about 10 different encounters for us both to get familiar with each other.
After 10 encounters, I usually have enough data to deem someone as not a lunatic. And they’ve seen enough of me to know that I might be shy and possibly awkward, but I’m not crazy. At this point, it becomes easier to have a lighthearted conversation and feel like I’m genuinely connecting with someone. When I give myself time to have those 10 encounters, I reduce the pressure to have instant best friends and to walk away from PTA meetings with a new tribe.
Being an introverted parent is exhausting and can make me feel lonely, but being amongst other parents who care about their children’s education gives me the courage I need to step outside my comfort zone.
If you’re an introverted parent, how do you deal with school meetings like these? Let me know your strategies in the comments.