Making Friends – Stepping out from behind social anxiety

Whew, what a week! With my kiddos both in school for the first time, I’ve been bracing myself for what I knew would be a long season of strengthening our immune systems. This week it hit, right on cue. First my oldest, then myself, followed by Ms. kindergarten – never with enough time for any one person to recover before the next one succumbed to the nastiness, of course. With at least one of my kids attending school every day this week, I still had to drag my aching body out of bed in the mornings and give myself a pep talk just to get through drop off. Getting out the door seemed like a feat, in and of itself, but the thought of facing other people in this state was nearly enough to send me crawling back to bed.

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I wanted so badly to slink out the door late and dodge the steady stream of walkers that buzz down our street every morning. I even contemplated dropping the kids off in the car just to avoid human interaction (even though it would have taken twice as long to get through traffic than it would to walk). But then I looked at my kiddos little faces and was reminded to be brave. If I am expecting them to go out and face the day, whether they are feeling on top of the world or are having an off morning, I need to set the example. I grabbed my jacket and my coffee (my adult security blanket – let’s be real) and stood at the window waiting to time our departure just right so we could walk alongside our new friends.

I am pleased to report that I survived! Not only did I survive, but each day I came home with a little more pep in my step after a brisk walk and nice chat with my fellow walk-to-school mamas. I hate to admit it, but this introvert may be starting realize the value of social interaction, however painfully uncomfortable it may be.

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Here’s the deal. In my last post, I shared that my oldest daughter had been experiencing some social challenges of her own during the first weeks of school. It broke my heart to see her struggling and I wanted so badly to be able to fix it for her – to walk up to the other kids and tell them what an awesome person she is and to insist that they listen when she talks and include her in their games. But I can’t. So I came home and did what any millennial parent would do – Google “how to help my child make friends”. Quite a few articles popped up and as I read through one after another I noticed a recurring theme : “Model being a friend”. I felt a knot in my stomach. I want my daughter to make friends and have positive social interactions, but the last thing I want to do is step into that arena myself. I instantly felt like that little girl on the playground; “What if they don’t like me”? “How do I even start a conversation”? “They already have friends. Why would they want to be friends with me”?

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You see, my daughter and I are very similar, sometimes painfully so. I’ve always been envious of people with overly social children. Why can’t my kids be the ones walking down the street starting conversations with every person they pass so I can just tag along and jump on board their social trains. All at once it hit me that maybe our shared weakness could be a positive thing. A way to grow together instead of an excuse to keep shrinking further and further back. I have the privilege of knowing exactly how she feels. I’ve been there. I’ve felt that. I’m still there. I still feel that. We can talk about our struggles and instead of me pretending that it should come easily, she can know that it’s hard for me too. She can watch as I put myself out there and push my own boundaries and know that it is something that she is capable of as well.

We’ve been walking with our group for a little over a week now and I can already see things opening up for us. My daughter has the opportunity to start the day off with a small group of friends instead of figuring out how to work her way into the larger picture once the bell rings and swarms of students start billowing into the classroom. As for myself, I have really enjoyed getting to know this group of mamas and have been pleasantly surprised by how welcoming they have been and how this little bit of social interaction has boosted my own confidence. For so long I have fed myself the lie that I am an introvert, therefore I do not need social interaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are all social creatures who crave love and belonging, maybe on different scales, but in some capacity none the less. For those of us with social anxiety it can feel like a constant battle of having to talk yourself into stepping out every .  single . time . It may get easier with practice or it may not, but I am beginning to recognize that it is a battle worth fighting.  Not just for my daughters sake, but for my own.

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There is a reason we are hardwired for connection. We are stronger together than we are apart. As cheesy as it sounds, it is so incredibly true. No matter where you are in life, whether you are 7 or 37 (I am not 37 by the way, it just sounded better than 30 ;)), there is a constant stream of new challenges to overcome. Challenges that other people all around us are facing too. When we open ourselves up to the world and connect through shared experiences, we gain the collective power to conquer those challenges rather than letting them conquer us.

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What about you? Have you ever had to step out of your own comfort zone to help your child work through a difficult situation? Share with us in the comments below!

 

When Homeschooling Doesn’t Work Out

Let me start out by saying that this is not a post intended to bash homeschooling. I believe homeschooling is a great option for many families and can be done beautifully and successfully. The truth of the matter is, however, homeschooling is not for everyone and that is ok. I want to share our real life struggles with homeschooling and our decision to transition to public school because I feel like there is a void of information regarding the subject and I believe it can be helpful to know that you are not alone if you’ve tried homeschooling and it’s not what you expected or if you are considering homeschooling and wondering if it is right for you.

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When I began contemplating the idea of homeschooling my daughters over 2 years ago, I scoured the internet searching for answers as to whether or not it would be a good fit for our family and what our long term education path might look like. Nobody ever said that it would be easy (thank goodness), but everywhere I looked families were taking control of their children’s education and rocking it. As a former early childhood educator I thought “I can totally do this”! What could be better than spending all day, every day, with my beloved children, tailoring their education to meet their exact needs, and building our family around our values and schedule? Yep. It was a no brainer – I was homeschooling my Kindergartner and I was going to crush it!

As I bet you could have guess, It didn’t quite work out that way. Though it took me a long time to admit it (ahem…right now) homeschooling was A LOT harder than I thought it would be, but not in the ways you might guess. As far as picking curriculum and actually  teaching my kids – that part came fairly naturally to me. Sure, there were late nights on the couch searching for yet another literacy program because the first one was too easy and the second one was too structured… There were times when my oldest daughter’s perfectionist tendencies (that she may or may not have inherited from me) had us butting heads or days when I simply gave up trying to get my youngest to sit still for any type of formal instruction. Overall, however, I felt pretty competent. Whenever I started second guessing whether or not I was doing enough, they would have a major educational breakthrough to reassure me that things were working.

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What ended up being hardest for me, and it took me quite a while to even be aware of this, was balancing the role of mom and teacher. Before homeschooling, I LOVED being a mom. I adored planning fun activities and taking them on outings. Once we started homeschooling, all of my time and attention was poured into planning educational activities. I was drained and had nothing left to give. Before homeschooling I took my kids to weekly story times and play groups but I quickly discovered that, while they do exist, these types of programs are few and far between for school-age children. When we did go out, we often felt out of place.

Another hard realization was that having two kids, close in age and opposite in personality, together ALL THE  TIME  was a recipe for insanity. Siblings bicker. I get that. My kids play nicely together about 50% of the time, but they are also very competitive. When left with zero space to do their own things or be their own people, it began to feel a little suffocating. For all of us. I am very much an introverted person. I love my children but I need time, and space, and quiet – all of which are hard enough to come by as a mom, much less a homeschool mom who is surrounded by kids day and night. When  I don’t have time to process my thoughts or emotions I can become a pretty grumpy person and I was not happy with the Mom I had become.  I chose to homeschool to enjoy my kids more, and simply put, I wasn’t enjoying it at all.

I am not the type of person that likes to admit defeat (who does?), so I kept chugging along convincing myself that I was in some sort of mom-funk and needed to snap myself out of it. I couldn’t dare entertain the thought that maybe I had taken on too much. I was born to be a mom so how could spending 100% of my time on my kids not make me happy?  And even more than that, was my happiness alone, reason enough to think of making a change? After all, my kids were doing great academically – what more could I want?

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Thats when God threw me a bone –  a ticket to bow out gracefully. Right as my oldest daughter’s first grade year was coming to a close and I was really beginning to contemplate whether or not this was going to be a road we could continue down much longer, Lee got a job offer in Seattle. Before we knew it, it was a done deal and we were searching the internet for houses. We were really struggling to find something that would accommodate our budget and our menagerie of pets, but just as things were beginning to feel hopeless we found the perfect rental and just down the street they were building a brand new elementary school! I knew right then that this would be a perfect opportunity for a fresh start!

We spent all summer planning and preparing to send them both to school in the fall. While I knew it was the right time, I still felt anxious as to how the transition would play out. Would my kids settle in easily or stick out as “homeschoolers”? Would public school meet their needs academically? Would it help them grow socially and emotionally or would it steamroll right over their uncalloused hearts?  Not to mention the question of how on earth I was going to cope with sending both of my babies off to school at the very same time.

We are just now wrapping up our first full week of school and while most of those questions and concerns will take time to completely answer, I feel more confident than ever that this is the right choice for them. We’ve had our fair share of struggles this week in terms of navigating the social aspects of a much larger pond, but the lessons my kids are learning, while difficult and sometimes painful, are helping them to grow in ways that I could never have prepared them for on my own. I feel grateful to be a part of this community that seems to be very involved and supportive and can already see that taking this leap of faith will help us all move forward into this next season of life.

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I want to end by saying that I do not at all regret my decision to homeschool. My daughters both excelled academically in that environment and I think getting off to a strong start will make a lasting impact on their learning. I also really enjoyed the privilege of guiding them through some of their earliest and most important educational discoveries. Getting to know their individual learning styles and realizing the importance of following their lead will be beneficial while helping them with homework and advocating for them within the school environment. Further more, I know that if I hadn’t given homeschooling a try I would always look back with a big “what if”.  If you are considering homeschooling, I think it is a great option and worth a try.  Just know that, as with all choices, there are definite pros and cons. Think hard about your personality and your kid’s personalities. If you are the type of person that can easily create your own social network and be “on” all of the time, then homeschooling could be awesome for you. If not, it might be worth considering other options or having a strong support system in place before you jump right in. Every family is different and sometimes you need to try things on for size before you know whether or not its a good fit and that’s ok too. You will be better off knowing than spending the rest of your life wondering.