Return to the playground: having children and social anxiety

One of the problems with being a seasoned blogger is that people actually read your blog.  Obviously it’s what you want, but sometimes you’d just like to write something that nobody you will ever actually meet will read.  And not because they aren’t fantabulous wunderpeeps, just that you feel embarrassed, but you need to get it out, and blogging is your getting-it-out method.  And it’s just that the contents of your brain are embarrassing right now.

So here’s my thing.  I was talking to my mother the other day – I don’t usually bring her into this and with any luck she won’t read it anyway – and she suggested that some of the low-level social anxiety I’ve been having since…well…I had children, is to perhaps to do with, like…having children.  Not the actual having of children, bearing them, raising them (although not that these in themselves have been a walk in the park), but the fact that having children, watching them grow and accompanying them in the social story they’re weaving for themselves reminds one of one’s own childhood and the peaks and troughs of such.

And it’s reminded me how utterly terrified of- and prone to- I was (nay, can still be) of the following.  And how weird it is that this was possibly laying dormant in me for decades, between my first school experience and my second.


1.  Fear of not fitting in

It’s not an uncommon anxiety, I hear, and yet everyone else seems so much better at it!  Right?  Or is it just me (please tell me it’s not just me)?

This was my baseline fear in childhood, and I suppose it’s that of many people, just the fear that I’m not the same as you, will never be as good as you, and the terror of saying or doing the wrong thing and not being liked.  My friend calls it the instinctive fear of being rejected by the pack.

And there totally is a pack, at times, isn’t there?   There is no growing up and knowing better. And it’s like what if I make that wrong move and get cast out anyway?

Despite my belief that strong communities of women can change the world, this fear hasn’t abated.  As a feminist, I’m reluctant to even go there, but I just did. The playground doesn’t end (and women in particular are told that it shouldn’t end, through representations of ourselves that we are bombarded with every day), you just have to learn to keep right out of it and ignore how you’re being told that women should and do behave like infants in playschool.  Because by ignoring it, you win against this myth. 

Please challenge me if I’m wrong, I’d be delighted.


2.  Desire for autonomy

I am utterly in love with my children, but there is this slight unease at the thought that perhaps I will never, ever get to just be autonomous in how I direct my time, ever again.  My time will always either be taken up by my employers, or…my other employers (my children).  My brain is permanently on whatever the highest DEFCON is and I feel like I must be doing something the whole time in order to be worthy of the air that I’m breathing.

As a child, I always wanted autonomy, and I suppose we all do, but who knew that the brief phase between the childhood desperation for autonomy and the parenthood desperation for autonomy was just that…a phase, temporary.

It’s a feeling that I’m about to rebel and just get all autonomous and selfish, whenever I damn well feel like it – hrrrmmph. It’s a feeling that I remember for as long as I can remember anything.


3,   Fear of other people

My default is to be terrified of other people:  what they think of me, the many and various ways in which they might be superior at respiring than I am, and just generally wanting to be liked and left alone at the same time.  It’s extremely self-centred and not a pretty place to be, but I have spent a lot of time feeling needlessly terrified of pretty ordinary social interaction.

I want to have friends but I’m most comfortable on my own.  I like to laugh a lot with people – indeed, I find most day-to-day things hilarious, and that’s the truth, even quite serious things (examples escape me but like I’m just really easy to laugh about almost anything with) – but I also just want to be alone a lot of the time.  Other people are scary with their successful-looking lives and their kids’ clean noses and ability to stand still for more than a minute and their ability to blend and sparkle at the same time.   Like one big cluster diamond that I fell off of at the coal stage.  I have no idea how diamonds actually form, and so that could be an absolutely piss-poor metaphor.

I’m really out of my comfort zone with this whole socialising thing.  I used to dread birthday parties as a kid and now I have to actually organise them and…be there.


4.  Social expectations vs what I actually want to do

I don’t want to come out to play sometimes.  But I don’t know how to say that.  And sometimes I want to wipe my nose on my sweater and do roly-poly down the grassy hill and build a den and hide there all day from the rain.  But I can’t.  I’ve got other proper actual stuff to do.


5.  The compulsion to please everyone at any cost

It’s not really perfectionism – although the perfectionist woman/mother is a familiar stereotype created by/heavilyperpetuated in some of the contest-based reality TV shows around at the moment – and I don’t know where this comes from, but (perhaps) out of fear, I always feel compelled to make everyone around me feel very comfortable all the time, sometimes at the expense of my own comfort. Often, of course, this just happens naturally when I’m with someone with whom i have an affinity or share common ground, but sometimes the people-pleaser in me gets her crazy on and wants to make sure everyone is super okay and happy with…her.

This includes smiling at anyone I happened to ride by on my bike, walk by in the street, and just jumping in with a ‘yes’ to every request made of me and prempting with a ‘can I help?’ whenever I sense there may be a need.  Whether I can actually help or not.  It means nodding sometimes when I disagree and my mouth expresses sympathy or empathy or whatever that I don’t actually feel.  In some situations it means saying yes when I mean no.


And it’s not that I feel these ways all of the time  A part of me has grown up, grown beyond the fear that I’ll literally die if I don’t fit in, but the memories lurk, they come to the fore when the school gates open.

People often very kindly praise my blog for its honesty, for my honesty about my experiences and way of seeing, but I’m actually properly embarrassed to be this honest about still being a hopeless failure at all the stuff I was a hopeless failure at at school (I’ve had spells of doing better at it, I must say, but my go-back-to state is always failing at these thinsgs 4lyf).

Maybe others can relate, or maybe you’re reading this and cringing, but I did promise always to give as it comes to me in blog posts, and so in this respect I have delivered.  I’ll leave that there.  Thank you for reading.  Please stop reading now and if you don’t feel the way I do then congratulate yourself on being one of the aforementioned blended-sparkly peeps, for you – my friend – have made it.


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