Dear Sweet Kiddos,
I very clearly remember the first time I attended a playgroup in our new neighborhood. We’d lived in our house for almost a year, and despite being invited to playgroups on a weekly basis by the women at our church, we’d never quite made it. This particular morning as I was driving to the park, I turned near the playground and whispered to myself, “There’s still time. I can go back home. They haven’t seen me yet; I can drive right on by and no one will know.” I glanced up into the rear-view mirror and saw your sweet toddler face looking back at me. I trudged on even though inside I was screaming and scared.
Hi. I’m your mom . . . and I’m socially anxious. I’m the mom who can never commit, the one who RSVPs “maybe” on every Facebook invitation. I’m the mom standing by the playground looking intensely at grass as if the most fascinating bug just crawled by. Really I’m just avoiding social awkwardness. I’m the mom that was so excited to get a cell phone, not because I had anyone to call, but because I could finally have something to aid me in avoiding less than desirable social situations. Just thinking about going to an unstructured event like a playgroup causes my stomach to seize up a bit.
To my oldest, I know you experience a bit of the same anxiety I do. It’s hard to see your little brother have natural social extroverted tendencies while you’re fearful you won’t have anyone to sit by when it’s carpet time at school. I want to take you in my arms and tell you it’s okay, that social situations become easier when you become an adult. In a way, it’s true. As a grown up I can decide for myself what I will and will not attend. I chose a job where I work from home and found an introverted spouse. I can find ways to not challenge myself to go beyond my comfort zone. But the anxiety doesn’t go away.
There’s a misunderstanding about those who feel socially awkward, that they don’t want to be social. The opposite is true. Most anxious people I know really desire social interaction and friendship, but avoid social situations out of fear. And avoiding one event leads to another and another until the next thing you know, the word “hermit” might actually apply to you. I don’t know how to conquer this nervousness, my love. For now, when I want to attend an event, but I’m scared, I just do it anyway. And one event I go to becomes another and another until I finally make friends. I encourage you to do things anyway. When fear of the unknown makes it hard to say, “hello,” I hope you turn that pit in your stomach from a ball of fear to a bucket of courage.
To my youngest, I know you’re my little social butterfly. I will continue to find ways to let you blossom and soar. We’ll continue to go to playgroups, and church, and other social events so you can be happy. I’ll try my best not to hold you back. It takes all kinds of people to make this world a great place, and you’re the happy little soul fearlessly bringing light to others. Thank you for unknowingly pushing me beyond myself, and for being a good example to your brother.
My loves, we’re on a journey together, and together we’ll encourage each other to overcome our fears.
Your Socially Anxious Mama