Last Friday my son had an interschool sports day, where 3 district schools come together to compete in primary school sporting events, both team and individual.
One of the many things I always tell my son is that he is his own person and to always be true to himself. There is no one else like him and he needs to be proud of who he is and the things he loves and knows.
Oftentimes teaching kids these concepts can be challenging to parent, especially in those times where we are asking them to follow instructions and they come back with "I am my own person and you can't make me." The reason I teach him this? Because I grew up believing that I must fit in and that in order to do that I had to sacrifice a lot about myself. And when I didn't I was exposed to bullying, ridicule and pushed out as a social outcast. My son's confidence in his own quirkiness has so far led him to find a good group of friends who are as unique as him. So far, we are blessed in this respect. My hope is that it continues and he never have to sacrifice his uniqueness in order to "fit in".
I wish I could say it was as easy as an adult. You see, on this sports day, within 30 minutes of being there, I was caught off guard and having to defend myself and the choices I make, in a public arena, while watching my son win his first ribbon of the day in the JP relay race.
This is a small school, with a tight community - and I mean tight. Most of the parents have known each other for years. They live in the area (which we do not) and have older children who have attended the school or are in higher grades (we do not) and who's child|ren attended the local kindy attached to the school (again, not us). There is a familiarity there and that can be really hard to break through.
Anyone who has met me will know that I am fairly introverted - okay, understatement, very introverted. I would prefer to be at home with my family and my dog or with a very select few of close friends. I don't do crowds (they overwhelm me) and I don't feel comfortable making small talk (yeah I can if I really try but hell's bells, it's exhausting). I am not the most socially comfortable person and never have been. I wasn't the outgoing teenager that was invited to all the parties and my discomfort often made others uncomfortable because they didn't and don't know how to respond.
What I have discovered at the school is that many like to stand around gossiping and reliving their daily dramas, bragging about their accomplishments, or talking about the weather or how their kids are. Having been on the receiving end of gossip I am not a fan of it and so steer clear. As for reliving daily dramas, I have my own thanks, and I don't particularly want to rehash them. Small talk, not for me. Generally, I stay in the car until the bell goes and rarely venture into the yard as I feel very uncomfortable and out of place. I also find this exceptionally draining and exhausting because I either have to feign interest or shield from their emotional states.
Having said that, there are some parents and people I have spoken with and we have really interesting conversations that leave us both laughing and smiling. These are the talks where we learn something about each other. These are the ones I love to have. They feed souls and build connection.
On the few occasions that I've been asked what I do I've explained only to be told, "that's really interesting - look at you!" or "hey, good on you for doing such important work!" or "hmmm fascinating" as conversation shutdowns and they turn their backs on me and speak with someone else with a "hey, how's - - - - " or "you won't believe...!" Yep, I'm that weird mum.
I recognise that these situations hurt me, they undermine my self confidence, and leave me feeling unwelcome so I remove myself from the environment and keep to myself. To me, this is an act of self care: Why continue to expose yourself to things that damage you, right?
So there I found myself, 30 minutes in, on a very windy and freezing sport day morning, being told, in front of people I don't know and who don't know me, "I know you are more introverted than extroverted but people don't like you and have drawn conclusions of you based on that because you don't talk to anyone and avoid people. A lot of people have noticed."
Basically, I'm disliked because I have made choices, based on the experiences I've had, that respect myself and my needs. I was ill-prepared for what came out of this woman's mouth, someone that I thought was likable and kind. I defended myself in a confused manner, "we've had a lot on" and "I don't really like lots of people" and was hit with another question requiring me to justify my choice: "why's that?". Startled my response was, "I find it overwhelming and prefer to keep to myself." That was the truth of it. The nuts and bolts is that I'm not good in amongst people and fake conversation and prefer to stay out of it, instead seeking to speak with people who want to get to know me. And I can tell who they are, you get a vibe and you gel, these are the people I resonate with and I trust that.
If the vibes I get make me uneasy or there is no animation whatsoever I know, nope. Leave well alone. As you can imagine this left me feeling vulnerable and exposed for the remainder of the day and I kept very much to myself, intently focussed on my son and his needs for the day.
Did I notice people staring at me, yes. Did I notice the scowl on some people's faces as I walked past. Oh lord, yep. Did I feel unwelcomed and out of place. You betcha.
The aftermath is that it's left me with my shield up when I visit the school. It's made me more introverted and uncomfortable. And even more alone than I was before.
I've questioned if I need to be more "out there" with this group of people and if I need to make more of an effort to come out of my shell or even to try and fit in and the answer is NO.
If I try to be someone I'm not then I am undoing everything I am trying to teach my child.
The truth is that I wish we could all get along and do our thing and be respected for who we are but our world and our society is very far off that. Instead I focus on teaching my son that he must embrace all he is and not compromise his needs, morals, and integrity for anyone.
I focus on living the truth of this so that I can role model to him how I want the world to be. And everyday I see him being himself and accepting himself uncompromisingly I am reminded that while living my truth is hard, it is so very worth it.
How to tell if you jive with someone's vibe or not
It's actually pretty simple, when you meet someone pay attention to how you feel around them.
Ask yourself: Do I feel safe? Do I feel comfortable? Am I relaxed? Do I hold tension? Am I on edge? Do I feel uncomfortable? Can I speak without reservation or watching my words? Do you feel awkward with them and do you speak with them out of obligation?
Also pay extra attention to the type of conversation they lead you into. Are they asking surface questions like, how's this weather? Or had a busy day? I've often found that while these can be lead in questions and feelers, it is polite conversation and keeps you at arms length. This is often a hollow and shallow courtesy.
And then there are the physical cues: Do they turn away, look down, or avoid eye contact when they see you? Do they suddenly become very interested in their phone? What does their body language tell you? How are their shoulders - hunched or open? Are their arms crossed at their chest?
All of these things can give you clues as to whether someone wants to engage with you and if you resonate.
Trust the vibe you get, it never lies.