For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an unreasonable amount of fear of social events. Even in high school, I would avoid parties and groups of peers in preference of spending time with just one friend. It wasn’t a rational fear, nor was it one that I could easily justify.
If you knew me then, but weren’t close to me then what I just said would not make sense. Because I seemed to have confidence to spare. I put on an excess of animation in public to mask any weakness I felt.
Getting married helped this a bit because on one hand when I was with my husband at a social engagement, I felt like I at least had one person “on my team.” One person who I could retreat to.
But when I became a mother, and the number of people in my home (my alone, safe place) began to grow, my fear grew right along with it. Maybe I’m an extreme case, or maybe I’m just putting into words. Either way, I know I’m not the only one who has panic inducing fears of having to “mix” with others at social events.
Facing my panic has taken years, but I finally came to the place where I could at least separate healthy excitement from unhealthy anxiety. Do you know what I mean?
I won’t deny that my happiest place is alone with a cup of coffee and a great book. I feel recharged whenever I get to drive a-l-o-n-e in the car for 15 minutes. And introverted or not, a homeschool mom has the unique challenge of being around her own offspring 24 hours a day, during all 4 seasons, 12 months, 52 weeks, and 365 days. To say that she is over-peopled would be an understatement.
This was especially true for me when my kids were babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. I was drained, over-touched, under-refreshed, and desperate for both alone time and adult conversation but only with one or two close friends. The thought of church functions, hobby groups, sports events, extended family gatherings, and even seeing someone at the grocery store would put me into a protective position which made me feel somehow attacked before I was even outside my home.
But all this has been slowly changing. It finally struck me recently while I was at a LIFE group meeting with other homeschool moms why I’ve been able to not only survive social outings without being drained (like to the point where I would need two days to recover from a two-hour evening event) but thrive. Something major has recently changed all of this for me, and I’ll go through all the possibilities – but there is one main trick. (I’ll save that until the end.)
- My kids are older and less touchy and less demanding.
- I use fewer words throughout the day, mostly because I take the time to write out everything for them the night before. (Remember my back to school series where I wrote that I was going to give Bullet Journals for my kids a try? Well, let me tell you that it works and it’s the single most important thing in our day for consistency and productivity.)
- I have claimed space and time separate from my role as mommy. During the day, usually around 10 am, I take time to do my own thing. I write, plan, read, meal plan, etc. I don’t wait until they are asleep, I don’t plug in a screen, and I don’t set them up with an activity. It is a part of our norm for them to know how to be independent, self-directed, and respectful of my adultness.
- I usually sleep through the night. (I know this won’t be true come June/July, but for the time being it is a blessing.) Sleep affords me with the stamina and energy source I need to be fully myself in a group of people outside my family.
- The fact that I have simply spent more time in the motherhood club has afforded me more confidence in my own skin outside my home. So when I bump into an acquaintance at the grocery store, I can wear the same face I do at home. I don’t feel the need to make up for my weaknesses. I am comfortable owning them to other people, which has majorly boosted my ability to be at ease in public.
All those growth points are great, but here’s the trick that has turned my drained introverted shell of a homeschool mom into a woman who can not only survive but also enjoy and thrive on a social engagement: I consciously smile at whoever is talking to me. I just smile as much as I possibly can. Sounds silly right? It could sound fake too, but it isn’t. It really energizes me. I can’t describe how much more engaged I feel with whoever I’m talking to – whether one-on-one in conversation or listening to someone talk to a group of people. I smile, keep eye contact, and I stay conscious of what my facial and body language says.
As I drove home that evening, the smile was still lingering on my face for no profound reason and I found myself thinking that I’m not only energized but happy and thankful for the opportunity to hear from other moms. It is a gift to fellowship and my fear of being drained by other people was robbing me of the joy.
So, I listen and smile. And I remind myself to keep smiling. Not in a goofy, out of context way, because there are certain topics that a smile isn’t appropriate for, but I make every effort to pour encouragement into every engagement.
And a simple smile seems to do the trick.