Do I really need to join mum and baby groups, even though I have social anxiety?
Earlier this week, I posted one of those ‘Ask Me Anything’ widgets over on Instagram Stories, and one of the questions I got was something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately:
What are your thoughts on baby groups? Do you go to any with Max?
So, here’s the thing: I really, really hate people. Groups, I mean! GROUPS! Er, groups of people, I guess. Especially ones I don’t know, and who I’m supposed to attempt to socialise with. And, of course, for those of you who’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, this will come as no surprise at all. I’ve written at length (At great, great length…) about my social anxiety, my shyness and my introversion – and absolutely none of that screams, “Person who will want to join parenting groups!” does it?
Nevertheless, when you become a parent, you start to find yourself under pressure to socialise with other parents – often for no other reason than the fact that they are other parents. It starts as soon as you get pregnant, in fact. Take ante-natal classes, for instance. Now, I didn’t attend a single one of those: I felt – and my midwife agreed – that as someone suffering from tokophobia, some of the situations covered in the classes could be quite triggering for me, and I was obviously keen to avoid that. In terms of the information provided by them, meanwhile, I know it can be invaluable to many people (And, just to be crystal clear, I’m not knocking these classes at all: I know they’re absolute lifelines for some people – they just weren’t for me), but I already had a lot of support and information from my midwife and doctor, so both Terry and I were comfortable with our decision not to sign up for any groups.
“Oh, but you HAVE to go to classes!” I was told. “Because you’ll be able to make friends there!”
And this refrain was repeated over and over again. No one, it seemed, felt I should be going to ante natal classes in order to learn about childbirth or parenting. Everyone, though, thought I should go anyway – “to make friends.”
But here’s the thing:
I already have friends. And, honestly? I didn’t really feel the need to make any more.
In fact, the repeated insistence that I HAD to make new friends now that I was pregnant was really quite odd to me. I mean, it’s not like I was about to become the only mother in town or something. Almost all of my friends have young children – in fact, two of them were pregnant at the same time as me, so it’s not like I was going to find myself suddenly cast adrift, with nothing in common with anyone I knew, was it? Still, I was definitely going to need new friends, I was told, so I’d better get on that, STAT!
I didn’t, though.
And, honestly, it’s not something I can say I’ve regretted: mostly because, every time I try to imagine me attempting to make friends via an ante-natal group, it ends up being as awkward as that one time Chandler and Phoebe tried to kiss on Friends. (Only without the kissing, obviously – because I might be awkward, but I’m not quite THAT awkward…) Like, I bet they’d all start a Whatsapp group without me or something. (Seriously, though, even my own FAMILY have a Whatsapp group that I’m not in, so it’s not like it never happens…)
Once Max was born, though, the focus switched to mother and baby groups, and I suddenly found myself having to find excuses not to join those, either. Because, again, I don’t want to.
I don’t want to have to go through the anxiety I know it would cause me to walk into a room full of complete strangers, and try to socialise with them. I don’t want to sit on my own in a corner, feeling stupid when all of my conversational gambits fall flat, and no one wants to talk to me. I don’t want to have to make small-stalk about the weather – or even about baby stuff, really, which I guess is the whole point. I don’t want to feel like I’m back in high school, always trying my best to fit in, never, ever managing it. I don’t want to go home afterwards, and over-analyse everything I said and did, cringing at how totally awkward and forced it all felt.
(I sense you all about to tell me that it might not be like that, and I might might some amazing people, who’d become friends for life. And, I mean, your faith in me is touching, seriously, but experience teaches me that, NO, it probably wouldn’t, unfortunately. Or, not unless I was somehow able to change my entire personality first, anyway, and miraculously turn into the kind of confident, outgoing person who enjoys meeting new people and manages to fit in with them – instead of being the shy, socially anxious person I ACTUALLY am. And it’s not that I don’t try either: at soft play, for instance, I always do my best to smile and make eye contact with the other parents there, but I never know what to say to them, other than the usual, “How old is yours, then?” and none of them seem particularly keen to chat anyway – possibly because most of the other mums seem to travel in pairs, and be much younger than me – so they’ll answer politely, but then that’s that.)
I just don’t want to go, basically. But, the problem here is that, unlike the ante-natal groups, which are all about forging friendships between parents, with mum and baby groups, we’re encouraged to believe that they’re good for the babies, too. Are they really, though, I wonder? Because, it’s not like Max doesn’t get any contact with other children without these groups: no, we go to soft play, or the park, when it’s warm enough, and we’ve also been making more of an effort lately to meet up with friends who have children, so he can get to know them, and do some socialising of his own. Honestly, though? He doesn’t really seem to care. I mean, he’s quite interested in some of the older children he meets (Like, 4 or 5 year olds, say), but when he comes into contact with children his age, he generally completely ignores them – and they ignore him, right back. At this age, I’m not convinced he really NEEDS to socialise with other children: but I know the time is coming when he will, and while he’ll probably be in nursery by the time it’s really important, I’m also wondering how useful the dreaded mum and baby groups might be for him.
Do I need to just suck it up and accept that I need to try to get over my anxiety and start spending Tuesday mornings in a church hall somewhere, gamely making smalltalk with strangers, I wonder? Will I have to sing or, God forbid, craft? Because, seriously, the only reason I agreed to have a baby in the first place was because Terry promised me he’d do all the “crafting” required, and the only reason Terry agreed, was because my mum promised she’d do it, instead. Can you tell we’re not crafters? Would I have to bring baked goods, that I’d made myself? Would there be a “parent dance,” like on that one episode of Modern Family where Mitch and Cam take Lily to a baby group, and end up stealing another baby’s building blocks? Is all of my information on baby and toddler groups actually coming from all of those chick lit novels I used to read, in which the hapless heroine keeps making a fool of herself in front of the local “yummy mummies”, but eventually shows what she’s really made of by stepping up and organising the church fete single-handedly? Will I have to organise the church fete? Are church fetes even a thing now? Is it possible I’m getting a little bit carried away here? Because, yes, I think I probably am? OK, stopping now…
Do I REALLY need to join mum and baby groups, is what I’m asking? Or is enough – for now – to keep meeting up with friends and trying less anxiety-inducing activities like soft play?