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The Hardest Thing About Parenthood is All the People You Have to Talk To

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his is a post for the introverts: and for the socially anxious over-thinkers – the ones who go through life suspecting that everyone secretly hates them, even in the absence of all evidence.

Those people? Those are my people. If you’re reading this and you’re one of them, I just want you to know that I got your back. Seriously, I’d invite you round for coffee, if I didn’t know how excruciatingly awkward that would be for both of us, so we’ll maybe just leave it there, yeah?

Anyway. I am both introverted and a social anxiety sufferer. As most of you know, the two don’t always go hand-in-hand (You can be an introvert without being anxious, and not all anxious people are introverts…), but, in my case, they go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong, so, yeah, I won the ‘awkward’ lottery, basically, Yay, me!

Now, social anxiety – and, to a lesser extent, introversion –  makes a lot of things in life harder than they really need to be, obviously, but what I’ve discovered over the course of the past two years, is that it makes parenting particularly hard. Because parenting brings with it apparently endless opportunities for social interaction, doesn’t it? 

Me and Max on the beach, Bulgaria 2019

The play dates. The baby groups. The swimming lessons, and the baby sensory classes and, then, later, the school gate cliques, the sleepovers, and God knows what else the future has in store for us as Max gets older, and makes friends of his own.

My husband, of course, is thrilled by all of this. Terry, you see, is an extrovert: he’s the kind of person who talks to everyone, never turns down an invitation, and thinks nothing of inviting complete strangers into our house – including random delivery drivers, and, well, anyone who asks, basically.

And me, on the other hand? 

Well, I’m the kind of person who I think people would say, “Likes to keep herself to herself.” I can almost hear them saying it, actually. “Oh, yeah, the house on the corner? The man’s really nice, always friendly, up for a laugh  – but the wife: well, she likes to keep herself to herself, you know? You barely see her. Would walk past you in the street, that one.”

And that’s just the more polite things I imagine people saying about me. You’ll want to tell me I’m just being paranoid, I know, but the fact is, I have literally walked past people I know in the street: not on purpose, obviously, but just because I was either off in a dream world, or I just didn’t recognise them out of context. (Or, more often, because they were on the other side of the street, and I wasn’t wearing my contact lenses. Quick pause here while I go and re-order my contact lenses, brb..)

The Hardest Thing About Parenthood is All the People You Have to Talk To

Where was I? Oh yeah: in the street, ignoring people. And you can call me paranoid all you want, but I know that my shyness and natural awkwardness can come across as rudeness, or, well, weirdness, to people, and I know because they’ve told me. When I was younger, I was frequently described as “stuck up” or “aloof” by people I was actually just too shy to talk to, and I still vividly remember the time a drunk colleague at a Christmas party told me repeatedly that she just couldn’t believe how nice I was “once you got to know me”, because everyone at work thought I was “really stuck up!” I was mortified: mostly because I knew exactly why they thought that, and it’s not because I actually AM stuck up –  it’s just because I have resting bitch face, and don’t always wear my contact lenses.

Since then, I’ve worked hard to try to overcome my inbuilt awkwardness, but I still struggle. I’m not good at small-talk, for instance: once we’re past the usual comments about the weather, or whatever, I never know what to say, and I’m always so worried that I’m going to make the wrong impression, that I inevitably end up…making the wrong impression. And then I go home and spent the rest of the day worrying that the person I was speaking to must have been secretly thinking all of the same things that people have thought about me since I was a kid: that I am awkward, and weird, and too quiet, and all of the other things that keep over-thinkers like me  up at night. 

Me and Max on the beach

There’s absolutely nothing to suggest, of course, that the perfectly nice people I meet at play groups and in the park, when Max goes barrelling up to them to tell them he’s got shoes on (Yeah, no idea about that one: he’s just currently obsessed with everyone’s footwear – or lack thereof – at the moment…), are secretly hating me. I still think it, though, in pretty much every social interaction I have with people I don’t know that well (And sometimes with the ones I DO, to be totally honest), and it’s one of the reasons I find enforced socialising so incredibly awkward and, well, forced, basically. Even when I’m good at it, it exhausts me : and when I’m bad at it, it just makes me want to run away, and never have to face that particular person/people ever again. 

As a parent, though, you can’t do that. For Max’s sake, I have to somehow find a way to get past my anxiety, to put my introversion to one side, and to get involved in all of the groups, and the activities that he wants to do. As he gets older, I’m going to have to deal with the play dates, and the “school mums”, and all of the other things that will essentially require me to pretend to be a completely different person from the one I actually am, just so that Max doesn’t miss out, or end up being The Kid With the Weird Mum Who Doesn’t Talk to Anyone.  And I will have to do this for, ooh, the next decade or two? Sounds easy enough, right? 

So, in the end, I guess the hardest thing about having kids ISN’T the people you have to talk to… it’s the ACTING you have to do.

So, in the end, I guess the hardest thing about having kids ISN’T the people you have to talk to, because the people are all perfectly nice, really. It’s the ACTING. Parenthood requires a lot of acting: from the hours you spend pretending to enjoy playing with toy cars, or reading the same book over and over, to the years you spend pretending to be comfortable in situations that take you totally out of your depth. Ultimately, I feel a bit like motherhood is forcing me to change my entire personality: and while I suspect there’s an argument lurking here that that’s probably for the best, because it’s not really healthy to be as antisocial as I am, it’s still a hard thing to deal with. 

How do you change your entire personality, after all? How do you stop being the person you’ve been for your entire life, and start being someone else? How do you overcome anxiety and awkwardness, and, well, make people like you, basically, for the sake of your kid? (And yes, I know people don’t HAVE to like me, but, pathetic though it sounds to say it, I’d quite like them to – not because I feel I need “mum friends” or a girl-squad, or whatever, but purely to make my life – and Max’s – easier, over the next decade or so, during which I’ll be seeing these people on a regular basis.) How do you solve a problem like Maria Amber, in other words?  And, while I’m here,  why IS my toddler so fascinated by the fact that people wear SHOOZ?  

Can you keep a secret

coping with social anxiety as a parent parenting can be tough when you have social anxiety: but you're not alone the hardest thing about parenthood is all the people you have to talk to

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25 Comments
  • Steph
    October 14, 2019

    This is the part of parenthood I’m really dreading! The idea of baby groups fills me with utter dread. Thankfully I have a friend in the village who’s baby is due in January so If I can muddle through till then I at least will have someone to go with which will ease at the initial ‘walking in on my own’ fears. Like, what if I got the time wrong and I’m late? What if I got the location wrong and it’s actually an AA group or something? Be cool when you walk in, don’t trip over or say something weird (which almost always makes it inevitable that I will trip over or say something weird…) and my personal favourite – do you think there are some special rules or instructions that I didn’t know about, that by not doing I’ll be instantly ejected and asked not to return?? I even find myself annoying as I write this so god help me!

    • Amber
      October 14, 2019

      It’s definitely the ‘walking in alone’ bit that’s the worst! So far everyone has been lovely, so I don’t worry about being thrown out so much as just making a horrible impression, and them all secretly hating me: it’s constantly in the back of my mind!

  • Sandy
    October 14, 2019

    Oh my gosh! That does sound just like me. I hated the baby groups, swimming lessons, school gates!
    I really did try to get a “mum gang” but no one seemed to be open to the idea. I’d say hello & they’d reply but I was never included. (This probably isn’t helping your anxiety is it? Sorry! I’m sure you’ll be fine!)
    Fortunately my son powered on ahead & did have friends but even then I’d feel awkward if they came round to play.
    I still get it now when my son brings home a girlfriend, I just know I’ll be the MIL who the gf/wife will think hates her. I won’t, I just won’t know what to say. 😂

    • Amber
      October 14, 2019

      Oh God, dont even get me started about future partners – even before Max was born I started thinking about how I’ll probably be the MIL everyone hates!

  • Lila
    October 14, 2019

    I’ve had three children and I’ve managed to avoid all the groups, school gate mums and anyone else in my path, not because there was anything wrong with them, it was just I preferred my own company and really didn’t want any new friends; even if my children happened to be involved.
    They would do their activities but I would just keep to myself, they could still make friends but it didn’t mean I had to make friends.
    This was over 20 years ago, but I would still make the same decisions now and avoid everyone like the plague, you can still make small talk but it never would go further than this 😅😂
    My husband would mostly pick the kids up from school as I hated waiting for them outside, but as I was the only driver I would take them to their activities, and then choose to wait for them in the car to avoid any other interaction with people 😂 So yes it can be done and your child can still have friends and lots of interaction, I’ll just slowly edge myself out of any circle of mums/dads/carers who have started a conversation 🤣

    • Alice
      October 14, 2019

      Yes, I think I’m an introvert but I don’t have social anxiety so I am perfectly happy just …….. not getting involved. I’m polite but see no need to chat to people I have no interest in. You really don’t need to do baby groups, babys don’t care about other babies they are perfectly happy just with adults! And once they get older you can go to activities but you still don’t have to talk to the other parents. I don’t know any of the parents at my daughter’s nursery; when she starts school I’m open to making friends if I happen to get on with someone but I don’t see it as essential.

      • Amber
        October 14, 2019

        I think my worry is mostly about it being such a small community that if I get a reputation for being unfriendly (Which has happened to me in the past, so I know it’s how I can come across to people….) it might be embarrassing to Max, or make his friends reluctant to come round or whatever. The perils of village life!

  • Minda
    October 14, 2019

    I could have written this, only my kids are 12 and 9, so it would include all the terrifying scenarios since. The school pick-up is by far the worst- all those parents greeting each other, daily, like they didn’t just see each other yesterday! I have no idea how to do that. Girl Scouts, school performances soccer games…and, of course, one of my kids would be an extrovert in the extreme. I have worked really hard to not let it get in the way of my kids’ social lives as they would like them. What’s important to them is important to me. And I will miss them horribly when they grow up! But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I also look forward to a day when I don’t have to push myself out of my comfort zone for their sake every single day.

    • Amber
      October 14, 2019

      I’ve already started anticipating all of the future scenarios – the problem is, there’s just so many of them!

    • Clare
      October 15, 2019

      It’s actually nice to read something about social anxiety and parenting. I have a 8 month old, 2 year old & 4 year old. 4 year old has just started school & I dread the hanging around bit waiting to go in cos everyone talks to each other apart from me (ok, not all parents talk to each other but I just know other parents don’thave my problem and would easily make friends with the other parents). I so want to be included but I don’t have that ‘conversation opener’ skill.

      I don’t know what I’m going to do about birthday parties now where she’ll want school friends invited to them. I have to take the lead. I have to tell people that I’m about to bring the cake in (I’ve done this before with a close friend and her kids and family & had to ask someone to do it for me).

      I go to groups with my baby (these groups have between one other mam or 3 other mams there) and as much I dread it, I hope someone will want to be my friend but it never happens. I want to talk about myself but people either don’t listen, aren’t interested or I become self-aware of my voice and as I’m talking I’m saying whatever I’ve just said out loud in my head so I lose concentration. It’s like listening to your own voice over a microphone – you hear yourself talk plus the microphone voice. I just feel like ALL eyes are on me, observing what I’m doing. It’s like my life is Big Brother. Everyone is making a bad judgement of me (I’m a mam who wants to do everything correctly & properly to avoid this, so I’m always happy to be told the right way of doing things with kids & babies).

      My children, and current baby, have attracted attention from strangers yet I can’t do the same with other peoples kids

      • Amber
        October 15, 2019

        I’m SO glad someone else gets that “hearing your own voice talking” thing! It really is like hearing yourself through a microphone, and it’s SO off-putting, isn’t it?!

  • Mary Katherine
    October 14, 2019

    I feel for you! I’m an extrovert (“hey – let’s invite 25 people over tomorrow night! It’ll be such fun!”), and my prince has social anxiety (“ask our 2 best friends for drinks next week – AUGHHHH!). So it’s really good for me to read about What It’s Like From The Other Side. And to remember to NOT try to meet you for a coffee on my next trip to Edinburgh – bwahahah!

    • Amber
      October 14, 2019

      Ha, you’ve no idea how many people have asked me to do that (I’m actually thinking of doing a post on Patreon about it sometime!). The weird thing is, it’s never people who comment regularly, it’s always people who’ve never interacted with me *at all*, and then want me to do a two hour round trip to meet them for coffee – so awkward!

  • Jana
    October 14, 2019

    Thanks for posting on this subject. I’m an introvert with social anxiety. My son is 38 though. I forced myself out of my shell for his sake and suffered many days with doubts about acceptance by people I felt obligated to socialize with. But it wasn’t me. I’ve finally come to a place of self acceptance,. After several years of a program called Celebrate Recovery offered at my church, I have decided that I don’t have to force relationships. I’m happy helping out where I want to and not expecting anything in return. That has made all the difference.

  • May
    October 14, 2019

    I’m the very odd combination of introverted and fairly socially anxious, but Not Shy. So when I’m feeling up for it I will strike up a conversation with anyone. I can either run out of things to say after the basic talk is done and create an awkward silence, or I can keep bringing up topics and end up 1) feeling socially drained and 2) overthinking the entire conversation, worrying that they found me annoying or ott and thinking “now why did I say THAT”.
    It makes for a pretty interesting social life let me tell you.

  • Kathleen
    October 14, 2019

    Dear Amber
    I’m not a blogger and don’t follow Any bloggers Except you and Jenny Kayne and Visit Scotland ( I’m planning a trip of a lifetime)
    I knew from the moment I saw you that there is a kinship there…
    I am of Scottish ancestry. I’m a blond but my son is a redhead.
    I’m also an artist, introverted and extremely sensitive to sounds, taste, and my family says I have ambience disorder.( I think it has to do with certain light in my eyes?)
    I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone!
    It does get better…I was so shy but being a storyboard artist for many years working with so many “out there” guys I gradually was forced to come out of my shell. Raising 3 children also helped as you’re experiencing. I’m no longer shy and love socializing but only for a few hours before I need some space. It’s just how we’re wired.
    My best tip is cotton balls…Pull a cotton ball in half and insert half in each ear! Voila! A kinder gentler world. You can still hear but just not as un-nervingly. You can probably get away with it all day with your long hair!
    Hugs
    Kathleen Coutts Bieck
    Hawaii

  • Sharon
    October 14, 2019

    How do people know what to talk about with strangers? Small talk is hard. And then there’s people who within minutes of meeting someone will be having deep meaningful conversations. Eh? It’s a skill I’m not getting any better at.

  • Michelle
    October 14, 2019

    Another introvert with social anxiety here! The socializing, it really is excruciating, isn’t it? My daughter went to a small school for the first 6 and last 2 years of her education, and there’s a LOT of parental involvement required in a small school (for both communal and economic reasons). Playdates were easier for me because they were one-on-one, but things like volunteering in the school cafeteria and holiday fair were absolute torture. My daughter graduates next spring, and I’m sooooo excited about not having to deal with schools anymore!! I learned to do some things over the years to make life easier. I got picky over which activities I participated in. I deployed my husband to help out (also an introvert, but one who is comfortable making small talk) – he ended up taking half my cafeteria shifts, and he took her to some playdates and birthday parties. And I’ve learned to honor myself when I just can’t. My daughter’s current school opens up the new year with a family picnic. It’s my worst nightmare. I did “my fair share’ of talking to parents, talking to teachers, eating to avoid having to make conversation, and standing around awkwardly not knowing what to do next. And when my discomfort level got really high, I just went and sat in the car for 10 minutes by myself so I could calm down. As soon as it seemed socially acceptable to leave, I went and sat in the car again, until my daughter was ready to go home.

    I never really fit in with the schoolyard moms. I think I’ve made a grand total of two long-term friends over the years of people I’ve met because of my daughter. I tend to meet people elsewhere, through activities that I participate in.

  • Myra
    October 15, 2019

    You’re doing great x

    • Amber
      October 15, 2019

      Thanks, Myra ❤️

  • Miss Kitty
    October 15, 2019

    I am an extreme introvert, but I don’t really get anxious, so I suppose I got lucky there. I just REALLY REALLY don’t like interacting with people. I have a job where I am interacting with people all day, and when I get home I don’t want to see anyone else. It’s not that I don’t like people, it’s just that being at work around people over-fills my social needs. If I had a job at home all day where I wasn’t seeing anyone, I would probably quite like going out and talking to someone, for a while anyway. I’m not good at small talk, but I have a good group of friends who I don’t need to do the small talk thing with. My main problem is that they are all in the having kids stage, and I don’t plan to have kids, so I feel that I am starting to be the odd one out, and soon I will have to find a new group of friends. That does give me a twinge of anxiety. Hopefully it can happen fairly organically, without having to try too hard to push myself on someone as their new BFF!

    • Davina
      October 15, 2019

      I live just round the corner from my son’s school and in year five he can walk home (the 2 minutes it takes ) although I have a 3 year old so I guess it won’t feel any benefit until he is in year 5 (damn) I can’t wait until I don’t have to do the awkward pick ups!

  • Jean-Loup
    October 15, 2019

    Dads can be introverted and socially awkward too. I know there’s more pressure from mums to take part in all those kids activities and because of that it’s harder for You when you have to put on the brave face and pretend like you know what you’re doing.

    But here’s the thing though. Most people spend more time worrying about what the rest of the world thinks of them than actually judging others. It’s hard to let go of wanting to be liked, to be included even when we’re convinced we have nothing of value to offer and just accept to be who we are.

    For men they came up with the expression “strong silent type”… Not sure how the strong part applies but that’s not me. Maybe it’s you though, you just haven’t realised it yet.

    I wish I could tell you it gets easier but it really doesn’t and every day you worry about whether you’re doing the right thing for them, whether they know you love them or if teenagehood will turn them against you because hormones…

    Sorry about the brain dump. All that to say you’re not alone.

  • dubliner in deutschland
    October 16, 2019

    So I don’t have any answers to your questions but I’m also socially awkward. Recently I’ve been thinking how I would like to have more friends as I seem to have lost a lot since becoming a mum. I was walking around town the other day and I saw two women I know who hadn’t seen me but instead of saying hi like a normal person I hid in a shop. So then I had two voices in my head- one was giving out to myself saying I should have just gone over and been friendly, maybe they would have invited me along for coffee, and another negative voice saying they probably wouldn’t want to hang out with me anyway etc. Sigh

  • Jaime Pickering
    October 17, 2019

    Oh man, I could have written this post! My daughter is just a smidge older than your little guy and definitely at that age where I feel terrible for not taking her out to play groups more. I find it SO DAMN AWKWARD. Firstly, so many of these mums already seem to know each other. Secondly, I am convinced they are all judging me (I know, I know… but I’m convinced). Thirdly, so many of these women just aren’t who I wouldn’t naturally choose to be friends with? There’s this unspoken rule that you’re supposed to make mummy friends because you become a mummy, but often I find these women just as cliquey as highschool girls I spent the last decade and a half distancing myself from!

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