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.
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.
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”?
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.
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.
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!