By Ailish Delaney of Mumma in the Middle
My daughter is 12, and if I do say so myself, she is pretty, funny, and smart. She also has a big personality, but the thing is – she keeps that for the people she knows. When she is comfortable and at ease, she comes out of her shell, but if she is around strangers…forget it.
For a while I tried to get her to mix better and be more sociable, until I realized that I was doing it for other people and not for her. You see, people, especially other adults, just aren’t comfortable with a reserved child, and I found that I was trying to force her to mix with people she didn’t want to mix with just to make other people happy.
Well, you know what? Fuck that! No more.
I can remember when I was small – much younger than she is now – and I was exactly the same. My mom would force me to speak to strangers and I hated it. In shops, if she couldn’t find something, she would send me off to ask a sales assistant and I would be so embarrassed that I would actually shake. I was like, freaking FIVE years of age!
When I wasn’t much older than that, she would send me off to the shop to buy her cigarettes or washing powder, and I would be almost peeing my pants with fear at the thought of having to go in on my own. God forbid if I brought the wrong thing home – she would send me straight back to change it, and that would just about finish me off.
So why was I doing the same thing to my daughter when I know how terrifying it was for me?
I think the moment of realization came about a year ago. My mom was visiting, and when she was leaving, my daughter didn’t want to come to the bus stop to see her off. She whispered to me that she had terrible period pains and could she stay at home?
My mom sulked all the way to the bus stop before sighing loudly and saying, “Why can’t she be more like her brother and sister?” That was it. That was the defining moment for me. She’s NOT her brother or her sister, she’s her – her own, unique, funny self.
I was pretty pissed off at my mom saying that too – all three of them are her grandchildren, and yet she clearly favors the older two, so much so that one time, when the three of them were younger, they were all lying on their bellies watching TV. My mom sat and looked at them and then said loudly, “Look at my beautiful grandchildren – well, those two anyway. Who’s the ugly child on the right?”
She said she was joking and laughed hysterically when my youngest daughter burst into tears at being called ugly. When I told her she had no right talking to her like that, my mom got annoyed and said I had no sense of humor. Well, if knocking a little girl’s confidence is funny, then no – I have no sense of humor.
No wonder, now that she’s 12, she’s wary of who she lets in. When we are in a group setting, she is happiest sitting with me and reading or just listening in to the conversation, and for a while this bugged me until I realized that actually, I was more worried about what people would think of her and wonder why she was ‘unsociable.’
But now I get it—she’s just VERY choosy about who she likes. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly and has a small social circle. Who am I to force her to move outside her comfort zone?
Forcing her to go and talk to people she doesn’t know is just an extension of making a toddler cuddle or kiss a stranger, and I don’t agree with that, either. If I am teaching my daughter that her body is her own and that she, and only she, has the right to decide what to do with it, where do I get off telling her who she should and shouldn’t talk to?
So, actually, I don’t think she has social anxiety after all – I just think she’s damn choosy, and how can that not be a good thing?
About the Author
You can read more of her ramblings on her blog Mummainthemiddle, or you can follow her on Facebook.