I never learned how to build a sandcastle.
In fact, growing up, my family and I only went on vacation once at the beach (we lived in Canada). We spent the whole time at the pool from what I can remember. So I was never in a position to build a sandcastle before. Now, as a mom living in Florida, I made sure to buy my son a whole set of beach toys the moment he figured out how to walk on his own. I wanted him to dig in the sand, and build his own Elsa castle. It just never dawned on me that he would ASK ME to sit with him and build it out. I just assumed that he would manage and figure it out on his own.
Alas, that was not the case.
So, here I was a few weeks ago, sitting on the sand with a shovel and a rake in my hands, trying to figure out on the spot how to build a sandcastle. I put myself in this position willingly (instead of sending my husband over) so that I could spend some quality time with my son. We were on vacation after all, and I felt bad taking care of his baby sister the whole time. I thought “This is my chance! I’m going to sit down and play with him”. Except, it never dawned on me that I didn’t know how to play with the sand. Is that even a THING?
Cue Social Anxiety.
See, I sat in front of a whole row of lounge chairs filled with people who were staring at me. Well, they were probably staring at the ocean but it felt like everyone was judging my incompetence. I felt so silly. And that’s when I realized that my Social Anxiety has increased ever since I became a mom four years ago. I’ve been in situations such as these over and over, without having a say in them. Normally, I’d know exactly when and how Social Anxiety would strike, so I’d prepare for it in advance. But with a kid, I never know when it’s going to hit me.
And lately, it’s been hitting me really hard.
Here are some places I’ve experienced Social Anxiety as a mom.
On the playground.
When my son deals with conflict and I have to intervene. Especially when he’s the one creating the conflict and I have to smooth things over with someone else’s kid. I never know if I’m reacting properly (or not reacting for that matter because let’s face it I’d rather not intervene) and what the other parent thinks of me and my kid. Honestly, the playground gives me the most anxiety because I can’t control anything that happens there. I find myself in situations where I have to talk to a parent because they’re in close proximity to me, or I have to respond to a babbling toddler. If I could, I’d never set foot on a playground.
I know it’s a perfectly natural thing to do, and I’m grateful for the fact that I’m able to provide my baby with the food and comfort that she seeks, but man do I cringe every single time I sit down and lift my shirt up. I have this constant worry in the back of my mind that someone is going to say something. And while I’m prepared for the confrontation, and to stand my ground for my right to breastfeed, it’s honestly the last thing I want to face. I know I’m going to get flustered, and my baby will pull away, exposing my breast, and then everything will just implode.
Any place my son has a tantrum.
He’s at that age where everything is a fight. Everything is no. There have been plenty of times when he literally screams at the top of his lungs in the middle of the street. Or he hits us because we pick him up and walk away. Or even WORSE, he uses a curse word (let’s not get into that one!). A whole scene unfolds and everyone is just staring. I know it’s nothing to be embarrassed about because every parent goes through this, but it’s the most unpleasant feeling when I don’t know how to calm my son down and I have eyes on my back. It makes me judge my own parenting skills because I know everyone else around is. I hate facing the stares of the people in the “oh, they’re so not raising him right” camp. They make me question my every move.
There’s not much talk in the momsphere about having Social Anxiety as a mom or being an introverted mom, which is why I’m writing about my experience with it.
It’s real, and it’s here to stay. The scary part is that I have no idea how long it will last. Will it dissipate or strengthen when my children are teenagers? What kind of anxiety-inducing situations will I face? I can’t even begin to imagine. But what I do know is that I’m not alone in feeling this way. And while I haven’t exactly found a way to get rid of the Social Anxiety in the context of motherhood, there are a few things I’m doing to alleviate the sting of it.
Focus on my child.
Similarly to being in the present moment so that your thoughts don’t wander off into the worry territory, keep your focus steady on your child. Whether that’s sitting down with him in the sandbox, or consoling him in the middle of the playground, keep your eyes on him the whole time and focus on what you can do for him at THAT moment. That takes your gaze away from passersby and your mind away from what they could be possibly thinking about you (not that it ever matters), and it puts all your attention on this little being that needs you. Having a focus puts Social Anxiety in a corner because you’re not giving it any fuel.
Use my 6th sense.
I can’t tell you how many times Social Anxiety caught me off guard because I didn’t prepare beforehand. Now that I know it’s going to come for me (in whatever shape or form), I have a game plan in place. Let me give you an example of a game plan for going to the playground. I first EXPECT Social Anxiety to pay a visit (which helps A LOT). Every time I go to the playground with him, I know I’m going to feel socially anxious so I prepare myself for the hit. Then, I make sure to follow and keep a close eye on what’s happening so that I can prevent things. If I notice a conflict brewing, I’m going to cut it short by removing my son from the play area for a heart-to-heart. I don’t want to be caught off guard, EVER.
Bring a backup with me.
I know it’s easier said than done, but if you’re able to, bring your partner or family member with you. At the store, the playground, parent-teacher meeting, etc. If you’re really deep in anxiety, let them handle the situation for you. I’ve definitely pushed my husband plenty of times into the bull’s pen to rectify a problem. Being the ideal extrovert that LOVES confrontation, he doesn’t mind dealing with other parents. Or with our son’s antics in front of everyone. Not only does this help at the moment, but it helps me take a step back and see how someone else is dealing with a particular situation. And honestly, most of the time, I end up getting up so that I can fix it MY WAY because I’m not too happy with how he’s handling it. Funny how that works huh.
Identify the triggers
I know exactly what triggers my anxiety the most, so I’m now one step ahead of it. I’ve figured out how to better manage my child’s emotions and behavior (positively) so that I reduce the number of times I’m running around putting out fires. If I know my kid is tired or hungry, I won’t push him to go to the playground or take him to the store, because chances are that he’s going to have a breakdown. This means I’ll probably have one too. It does take time to identify the triggers though so have patience with yourself. Once you know them, you’ll be able to put them in their place and avoid them.
This too shall pass
Lastly, I remind myself that I can handle ANYTHING. Whether that’s another parent trying to chit-chat, or someone reprimanding my child in front of me, I know that whatever it is, I’ll get through it at the end of the day. And that this moment in time is so fleeting, that I’m going to forget all about it tomorrow when the next one hits. It helps me to remember that nothing is permanent and that there are good and bad days.
Like every other mom out there, I’m doing my best with the skills that I have.
My personality type seems to clash with my son’s which is why it makes it that much more difficult for me to handle the situations he finds himself in. I’m learning every day how to raise him better. I’m more aware now than ever before of what I need to do for him to grow with confidence. I know that I’ll find myself in less than great situations where I have to face my own demons, on top of his own (and who knows what my daughter will do to me when she’s old enough) but as long as I’m kind to myself about how I handle it, I’ll be ok.
And you’ll be ok too, I promise. If you have Social Anxiety as a mom, you’re not alone. Feel free to reach out to me and we can talk about how much fun we’re having!