No Diving In, Only Inching Forward

Michaela Mitchell Toddlers & Pre-School

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Sean is my baby, and he's the one most like me. A hard-core introvert and painfully shy, he never speaks to strangers and only sometimes to people he knows, depending on his mood.

It took me a long time to realize that his introversion is coupled with another trait we share – stubbornness.

Once he decides he's not going to do or say anything, there is nothing on this earth that can convince him to waiver. Except maybe, me.

He's a total Mama's boy, and I know he's my last child, so I let him be as close as he wants. His brother's too big to cuddle, and until I get a dog or a cat, he's my last opportunity for a warm snuggly body in my lap.

I use the influence I have with him to push him.

He has his limits, though.

Halloween, preschool program in his classroom. Sean refused to sit with the other children. He trembled in my arms every time his teacher asked him to join in and sing along. While Sean buried his face in my chest, refusing to acknowledge anyone else, silent tears streamed down my face.

What was wrong with my baby? Why was he so fearful?

A month later, Thanksgiving, back in the classroom. He sat with his class, only because I sat behind him. His teacher offered me a seat on the other side of the room so I could get a good picture. I politely declined. This was progress, and I wasn't going to screw it up.

Somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I came to the conclusion my Sean was an introvert, shy, and stubborn. I tried to explain it to his teachers, but they didn't understand that the stubborn part of him meant he wasn't going to comply simply because an authority figure said so. (By the way, this makes parenting him very interesting.)

By the Christmas program, I was already over all the pageantry of the fall and winter months. How many more times did I have to watch my sweet boy refuse to participate?

This time, he stood on stage with his classmates, although he never opened his mouth or moved a muscle. When it was time to meet Santa, I spent 15 minutes reassuring him. The promise of a toy from Santa worked in the end.

A pattern emerged. Give him time, information, and freedom to decide, and eventually, he'd try something new, step out a little, and allow himself to be seen by others.

He's not diving in to anything.

By the end of the year, I'd learned just how much influence I have with him, and I'd learned he needed freedom to decide for himself.

“Are you going to sing and dance at the graduation program, Sean?”

“I don't know, Mommy. Do you want me to?”

I paused. Yes, I wanted him to jump in, make a memory, and do something that scares him a little. I didn't want to make him feel guilty, as if his answer, or he, let me down.

“Sean-Sean, I'll make you a promise.” I looked at him in the rearview mirror. “If you get up there and sing with your class, I will smile big and take pictures to send to Grandma. And if you don't sing, I will smile big and take pictures, too.”

He gave me his are-you-kidding look. “Really, Mommy?”


Graduation night. I was a bundle of nerves. I didn't know what he'd do. I'm not sure he knew, either.

The music began. I smiled and gave him a thumbs up. I'm an awful mother who has no clue what the songs were anymore, but I know one thing.

Sean sang.

I sobbed.

Taking the pictures became almost impossible.

In true Sean fashion, he didn't sing the songs he didn't like. The songs he did sing, though? I swear I could hear him from the back of the room.

What was the lesson in all this?

My baby isn't made for diving in to anything, at least not right now. He needs to think about things, weigh his options, get a feel for the people, and then decide.

I find that part the most difficult.

As his mother, I know he'll have fun and grow from these experiences, but I have perspective he can't possibly have yet.

As a fellow introvert, I understand what he's doing. I respect his process. I also know, though, that holding back too long means missing opportunities.

My oldest, the social butterfly extravert might dive, feet first, into everything life brings him, but Sean is a different boy.

He steps in, inch by inch, at his own pace. The rest of the world will either wait or go around him, it matters not to him. I'm learning to let go of my concerns and expectations and simply let him be his introverted, shy self.


About the Author

Michaela Mitchell

Michaela is a freelancer writer, blogger, and mom of two rowdy boys. She writes all the random thoughts that pop into her head at .

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