Many times in my life, I've referenced my social anxiety as simply being part of my genetic makeup. I'm pretty sure I came out of the womb shielding my eyes and asking everyone to leave me alone, and it's not something that's improved over time. Actually, it's worse and, arguably, more awkward. Now that I'm a grown-ass woman with a partner and children, I wish I could wave a magic wand when my anxiety becomes too much, but there are also things moms with social anxiety (like me) can be really proud of.
My anxiety is a well-rounded one that doesn't end or begin with having children. When I was a young girl, I feared making a fool out of myself when trying to make friends so, instead, I'd climb our front yard tree and talk to the squirrels because they couldn't judge me. I've always been overly in-tune with the way I think others perceive me so, in order to conserve a little bit of dignity, I usually avoid people as much as possible. Sounds fun, right? I didn't really stop going out or being social altogether but, instead, switched personalities as quickly as I could to suit whatever situation I was in. I'd unzip the comfort of my usual skin and trade it in for one that's more "out there" for short bursts of time, only to retreat back into the familiar before anyone could figure me out. I'm a complicated being and the social anxiety probably makes me appear that much more weird but, after decades of explaining myself, apologizing for behaviors, and pretending I was someone I'm not, I'm OK with me.
Having two little ones certainly adds to the challenge of being a "normal" human in the world, especially when it comes to all the functions, sporting events, and school drop-offs I really don't want to be involved with. Over the years, I've had some small victories within these realms that I'm pretty damn proud of. That said, here are all the ways us moms with social anxiety should celebrate (quietly, in the privacy of our own homes, alone, or anyway that makes you feel comfortable).
Walking A Child Into School With Ease
I loathe putting "outside" clothes on, leaving the house, and worse; having to walk a child into school where all the people. Still, sometimes it's necessary. As much as my anxiety wants me to hang back, fold my chin into my chest, and hide, those times I'm able to overcome and do this "normal" act I'm pretty much cheering in my head the whole time, just so you know.
Parent/Teacher Conferences That Aren't Awkward
It's been established how much I hate leaving my house but near the top of my "nope" list is the dreaded parent/teacher conference. They're never "fun" or "exciting" and always make me feel like I'm in trouble for something as I enter the classroom door to sit in one of those tiny desk chairs. When we have a conference about my 5-year-old son, I'm not too worried because he's a typical good boy who listens and seems to excel at everything they're working on.
With my 10-year-old daughter, on the other hand? Well, let's just say she's having a harder time due to homework (I, myself, don't understand) and the attention span of a gnat. I love her, but holy hell I worry about how she's going to graduate and live on her own someday. She's very much a free spirit for better or worse.
Having said this, the last parent teach conference we had about her went well and I don't mean in regards to her, but me! I was articulate, funny, and — OMG who is this person? — the exact opposite of the screaming inside my head. When we left, I made brownies. I earned them.
Supervising A Successful Play Date
Do you know the elation I feel when, a) I allow another small human into our house without having a panic attack and, b) the small human and my child interact and play well together and my nerves are still in tact? It's a lot. I'm elated to the max. While it doesn't happen often (because we don't schedule a lot of playdates due to my anxiety), when it does and it's a win, I'm so, so proud of myself, it feels like I could schedule another one right away. I won't, but it feels like I could.
Saying Yes Instead Of No
I'm known around these parts as "The Queen of No," especially in terms of my children. So, when there's a diving opportunity for me to be "The Yes Girl," letting them play outside on a busy day (people!) or walking them to the park (more people!), and I take it, I feel like Oprah yelling out "You get a YES! And YOU get a YES!" It's probably the only time my kids think I'm pretty great.
Making A Grown-Up Phone Call (And Winning)
One feature of parenting that's often overlooked are all the calls you have to make. To the pediatrician. Your doctor. The pizza delivery guy. The school when a child is out sick. I hate it all. All. I'm the girl who'll text, email, and handwrite a postal letter before I'll call so to do so, hell yes I'm going to celebrate getting through it!
Talking To The Barista At The Coffeshop
I go to a great local coffee shop where all the baristas know my order before I work through the door. It's ahh-mazing and I love them so much it hurts. But, if I have to venture to another, say if I'm out of town or the shop is closed, saying my order aloud is terrifying. Then, the small talk I try to make for simply standing there, waiting, is horrid. Then, I usually feel the need to make sure I know their names when I thank them and typically (at least the ones I've been to), they aren't receptive. Maybe I'm spoiled by my usual place but in even continuing to try to put myself out there means I get to order the largest latte they have. This social stuff is hard!
Complimenting Another Mother
You know that feeling of being "trapped" in a space with another mother (say, a school event or the park) and you aren't sure if you should stick to your socially awkward ways and say nothing or say something? These are the times, due to nerves, I normally spout out something inappropriate or random only to feel like an idiot.
However, there have been a few times when I say something nice or complimentary and it seems to genuinely make the mother's day (as it would mine). I could probably leave it at that and not high five myself in the moment, but then I wouldn't be me.
Accompanying A Child To A Birthday Party
If only we lived in a world no one had birthday parties and no one was invited to multiple parties per year that I have to attend with my child. If only. Sigh. The reality is, I have two children who are, in fact, members of their classes and, I guess, highly liked (which I heard is a good thing). There was one birthday party I took my daughter to a few years back where we were confined to the basement of the house. Me and other parents and our children. I sat there with my hands quietly folded together and tried to disappear. That's my typical way of going through life.
Then, at another party — a skating party — I had to skate with my daughter. It was a lot of fun and surprisingly, made me feel empowered enough to talk to the other adults. I wouldn't say I made my best friends for life in that rink but I did something I don't normally do: talk to people I don't know. Yay, me!
Making A Mom Friend
Through the course of my two kid's lives, I've tried to remain pretty low-key when it comes to meeting parents and such. It's mostly because, well, I don't want to meet people outside of my laptop (hello insecure writer here!). I have managed to meet and make a few mom friends, who've been pretty damn spectacular. Had I not met them, I might still be talking to my laptop when I'm lonely. Kidding. Mostly.
In all honesty, it's scary not knowing what others think of me and that causes a whole other mess of anxiety. It's a lot of work being stuck inside a brain that's continuously worried about everything at all times, particularly when it comes to being a woman in the world. I'm awkward. I'm clumsy. I have no idea what words are going to fall from my lips. But I'm good with who I am, flaws and all. With social anxiety like mine, that acceptance of myself makes me more proud than anything.