Okay, full disclosure. Being an introvert, and given some of my psychological hang-ups, making friends hasn’t been my best life skill. I have a few close friends, most of whom do not live locally, and widening that circle is a frequent source of stress and trying too hard or not hard enough. I seem to have a revolving group of acquaintances but a hard time moving to the next level. Having children has created new opportunities for connection, but it has also extended my social anxiety to their relationships.
I recently booked a play date with a woman I admire and would like to know better. Her kids are close in age to mine and we share quite a few common interests, which actually creates a perfect storm of tension for me. I was nervous about the get together, nervous! – about saying something silly, revealing too much of myself, parenting imperfectly, etc. Ridiculous, I know. At the park, things seemed to be going well enough. Between interruptions, we began a few conversations, and although our kids weren’t bonding in joyful playground bliss, they were interacting. I heard Clare quietly tell one of the older kids that she didn’t want to be pushed on the swing anymore, but all seemed peaceable. Until a few moments later a very loud, very determined four-year-old voice said, “I told you to stop, and you aren’t listening. You are not being nice. I don’t want to play with you anymore.” And over stormed my four-year-old, looking very red in the face. The other child had run over to a bench and was sitting there, head in hands, presumably crying.
I felt awful about this playdate for several hours after. I texted the other mom hoping her child was okay, talked carefully with Clare about speaking kindly, and generally obsessed about my daughter’s inability to form friendships and my inability to teach her. But when I described the situation to my husband, he surprised me by saying, “So what? She didn’t do anything wrong. She stood up for herself, and we want her to have boundaries.”
Hungry for love
He was right, of course. Realizing it made me wonder why I’ve developed such a persistent and shallow need for acceptance. Why do I perceive my daughter’s healthy boundaries as a threat to being liked? Is it the effect of social media, of an unapologetically superficial culture? I wonder what it was like being a woman, a mom, in the fifties, in the nineteenth century, five hundred years ago, back when the grocery check-out wasn’t lined with glossy magazine images of flawless women, when homes were more purposeful and less Pinterest, when children were parented by neighbourhoods and not just the product of one mother’s strengths or failures. Was it easier “in those days” to form open friendships, to admit weakness, to know and be known?
I realize this may not be everyone’s problem. As I look around, it seems as though there are plenty of women in my network who have healthy social groups and don’t agonize over this silliness. But if there is one other mama out there who feels, as I do, that she is living on a bit of an island, afraid of not measuring up, afraid of her children not measuring up, well, I’m with you. And I’m calling the bluff of a culture that is demanding us to be less of our Christ-image by comparing ourselves. I don’t exactly know what action this requires from me, but I’m working on it; I’m praying. I’m asking God to people my life with the right people – not the ones who look right or act right or parent right, the ones I need. I’m asking that I become more hungry to love than to be loved. And I’m trying to nudge my way ahead in the vulnerability line-up. As you might be able to tell.