Life as a Shy Parent

I have this recurring dream. I’m in Oz. My friends are a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, a dog, and a little girl named Dorothy. I’m a lion and I’m desperately searching for courage.

Then I wake up and realise I’m not a lion. Of course I’m not. But I could do with a good dose of courage sometimes.

For I’m what you might describe as a shy person.

Shyness affects people in different ways; from general apprehension and lack of comfort, through to full on social phobia and anxiety.

I find shyness fascinating and terrifying in equal measure. Fascinating because of its power over people and because of the traits it inspires others to believe you hold. For example, that you are quiet, unassertive, indecisive and unconfident. When in actual fact you often find many inspiring people are the quietly confident ones who do things in a measured way. And on the other end of the scale you have the very loud, seemingly extrovert people who hide their shyness so much that they almost convince themselves it doesn’t affect them. And I even find myself surprised when I meet somebody one might consider to be loud/dominant/“in your face”, only for them to disclose to me that they are actually very shy.

My shyness has always been in my makeup but it became amplified and escalated into low self-esteem and social awkwardness when puberty hit as an early teen. Life at that age is tough enough, and then adding shyness to the mix makes it just that little bit harder. Harder to make friends, harder to make yourself heard, and harder to find confidence and believe in yourself.

Fortunately, over the years I have learned to manage my shyness, to “come out of my shell”, to hide it, and to make my quiet, sometimes reserved nature work for me. In my work people view me as quietly confident. In my personal life I find comfort in spending time with family and close friends and I rarely venture out to make new ones. I’m in my comfort zone and I like it here.

Except it isn’t always good to live in your comfort zone. And there is a part of me, a part of everybody perhaps, that needs to be stretched and challenged.

Enter, parenthood.

I had my first child in 2012 and my second just before Christmas in 2013, so they are still pretty tot-like, completely chaotic and very lovable all at the same time. Personality-wise, my daughter (eldest) is a little more reserved on first meeting somebody than my son, who is indifferent to new and scary situations.

I see myself in my daughter and I see the shyness I have grown up with since I was a child. If somebody told me that becoming a parent would completely expose that shyness and low self-esteem I thought I hid so well, I would have sneered smugly and said “Yeah, right” (or something a bit cooler than the phrase of choice in the 90’s).

I thought the zone I had set up for myself was strong enough to hold. But you can never account for change, for unpredictability, and for the chaos of the world of children.

I find myself now increasingly feeling less and less sure of myself in parenting situations, with an internal dialogue along the lines of “You did that wrong”, “You aren’t as good as Parent X”, “See, everybody is watching you mess that up”, and “Look, even the kids can see through you”.

It seems so silly that years of constructing the coping mechanisms can count for almost nothing as it feels like those mechanisms are slowly crumbling.

We often hear about famous people who are or have been shy, for example, Richard Branson, Kristen Stewart, Lady Gaga, and it brings us comfort that we are not alone. But maybe we need even more shyness champions and more parenting ones? Shyness manifests itself in me by way of self-doubt and self-doubt loves being attached to a parent. What better person to convince they’re getting it wrong than a parent?

I wonder how my shy trait will affect my children. Will they inherit this? Will they learn this from me, even if I think I am hiding it? Will they believe me less because I’m not always the loud, openly decisive one in the room? Or will they just accept me as I am?

Who knows? I watch this space to see how it will pan out and I hope to find a new mechanism to put my shyness back in its box, and to learn to manage it in an increasingly un-predictive world for me as a new parent. And I hope I continue to meet other shy people and shy parents, to remind me that I am not alone.

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Fab time seeing Blackpool Illuminations yesterday, many years since I last saw them

Still in love with writing

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In the week the Man Booker prize was awarded to Marlon James it seems that writing is more topical than ever at the moment.    I have been blogging for just over a year for Selfish Mother and made the jump to creating my own blog last month.  

Since I have been blogging I’ve been learning about how to write in a ‘blog’ style but also how to appreciate the writing of other bloggers and learn from them.   There are some fantastic writers out there, with really interesting blogs and I love reading their work.  

I think writing as both a career and a pastime has evolved hugely over the years.  From a time when one aspired to be a novelist or a journalist, there are now so many more avenues to take in order to be able to experience life as a writer.   After all, we’re not all destined to be the next Marlon James or Hilary Mantel.   And whilst we may dream of being the next big thing on Fleet Street, chances are for most of us that dream won’t come to fruition either.

But with blogging, ordinary folk have a voice.

My love affair with writing begin when I was a child.  I had a typewriter and I wrote stories.  They were my ‘novels’.   All fiction, mostly romantic, sometimes surprising to the adults who read them as they sometimes had controversial content (think illicit affairs, that sort of thing).  I loved writing.  I dreamt of being a novelist and I dreamt of being a journalist all at the same time.   I was going to grow up, move to New York and write for the New York Times.    I had a bit of a crush on all things American so this made sense.  (I even kept a book about America in the bathroom!)

As it happens I never did become either of those two things but I have dabbled in the occasional local newspaper column and I am writing ‘my book’, although it has taken a few years to get just a few pages in.  I can only write my book when I think of the next bit and the inspiration for the characters doesn’t hit me often.
But I digress; this article isn’t a ‘woe is me’ feature about how I didn’t achieve my dreams.   For I did achieve and have achieved many other dreams.  The point is that I still love to write and I still do write and I think having an outlet in the form of blogging is so wonderful.  

I created my blog in Tumblr and I was a bit stunned when I read that there are several million bloggers already on there.  I don’t know why I was surprised but I suppose it just highlighted how many people are out there doing the same thing.  And you could see that as a negative – that you have lots of competition and that nobody will read your blog.  Or you could see it as a positive reflection on the power of writing; that so many people have the will and the means to write and there is such a richness of accessible content out there.

Blogs, novels, articles, essays.  It never gets old and it never gets tired.  We should continue to celebrate the written word and the wordsmiths. And through writing we can offer a support network and a comfort to readers in an often challenging world.  

I hope to be able to carry on with my blog.  Not to be read my millions, not to receive lots of ‘likes’, but to be able to document my thoughts, feelings, dreams, and experiences so that my written words have their own place.   My little corner of the internet, my little corner of the blogging world, and hopefully a place for my children to visit when they are older to read about what was happening when they were young.  And who knows, maybe it will inspire them to be the next generation of writers. .

image: lovethispic.com

School for beginners

Tomorrow is non-uniform day at my daughter’s school.   Aisha isn’t at proper big school yet but has started attending the school nursery, so we bought her a uniform and to all intents and purposes it does feel like she is at school.
We get a newsletter each week with school news and this week’s told us it is non-uniform day, for £1.    

I remember non-uniform days from my childhood and I remember the pressure to always wear something nice/cool/on trend.   I never quite got it right until my teenage years when my sister (who was nice/cool/on trend) started dressing me.   I didn’t think I would be thinking about or worrying about any of that sort of pressure with my daughter for a good few years, but it appears it starts as little as three these days.

This non-uniform day has a theme.    So instead of dressing her in her comfortable ‘at home’ clothes, we need to put our thinking caps on and come up with something for her to wear.

This got me thinking (regular readers will know I do a lot of thinking).    I started thinking about all of the times we are required to dress up our kids for nursery/school and how they seem to be under pressure to become more inventive every time.   Halloween, Christmas Party, fancy dress days for charity. It’s all well-intentioned but blimey it’s high pressure.   What if, like me, you don’t have much time in the week to think of much outside of your normal, routine ‘things that need to be done’ for the kids, and to add a fancy dress day just loads it on.    Or what if, like me, you’re not that creative when it comes to dressing up stuff.  

I suppose it’s all about me learning the new world of school.  Even though Aisha doesn’t officially start until next year, we’re there now really.  We are doing the drop off, the pick up, we’re waiting at the school gates, we’re scoping out the other parents.  I find myself not quite knowing how to conduct myself around the teachers.  I realise I’m supposed to appear as the grown up ‘mum’ but inside I’m regressing back to my school days and wanting to be on my best behaviour.

It almost feels like school is something you have to navigate; they should give you a handbook so that you don’t have to find your way by asking other parents or just by making plain old-fashioned mistakes.  I tend to do a lot of learning by making mistakes – wearing the wrong thing, going the wrong way.   That sort of thing.  And sometimes the person who witnesses this is nice and sympathetic but other times they look at me with a dead-pan expression.

Anyway, I think I need to create my own handbook for all the things I don’t know but should know, and hopefully by the time she leaves school at 16/18, I will know.  Never one to shy away from a list, I’ve listed below the things I think should be in my handbook:

School gate etiquette – is it acceptable to smile at every parent I see?  I do this, it isn’t always well received but I live by the mantra ‘do unto others’ or something like that.  I think it’s nice to smile at people.  Not everybody agrees.
Seeing the teacher etiquette – is it okay to make small talk with them?  How are you Teacher?  Saw you in Tesco the other day!  Nice top.  Or do you have to keep it purely to talk about the kids.  Or no talk at all?  Just a smile, a polite Good Morning, and in you go?
Other people’s kids – is it okay to smile at them when you see them outside the gate whilst you are waiting with your kids?  Or will their parents snarl at you?  
Lunchboxes – probably my longest chapter and will need to be carefully researched.   I am painfully aware that the contents of the lunchbox will come under much more scrutiny now than they ever did when I was a child.   I always had a sandwich, crisps, penguin biscuit, full sugar Ribena and a yoghurt.   But that was the eightees.  And people are much more health aware now.  So I’m always checking to make sure what I put in will pass muster and I won’t be the subject of a carefully worded letter or, worse, feature (nameless of course) in the weekly newsletter.
Uniform – Is it like the Army where every day the polo shirts have to be pristinely ironed or can you get away with the odd crease because you were too tired last night to iron them?  Do you have to make sure their shoes are always shiny and clean with polish or can you occasionally cut corners by colouring them in with black marker?
End of year teacher present giving – now I’ve been out of school for a looong time but is it really true that there is now a competitive edge to giving teachers presents?  I’ve seen the supermarket displays of things to buy the teachers to say thank you.   Jeez.   Talk about another pressure.  

I need to learn all this stuff and more.   I will begin my handbook soon, and ask everybody I know so I have the answers.  

Or, I could just navigate it the best I can, with my eyes open and make my mistakes and hope for the best.  After all, school isn’t just about the bits above. The main thing is my kids are happy there.  Whatever presents the teachers get, whatever is in their lunchbox; I just want them to be happy kids, have friends that love them, play lots and learn lots.    Here’s hoping.

Life lessons and lots of thoughts

I got lost this morning.  On my way from dropping Aisha at preschool, I decided to take a scenic route home across a local nature reserve.   My theory was I would test it out as a potential non-road route back.   I often get lost, either on foot or in the car.  I don’t seem to have a built-in sense of direction and I’m very stubborn when it comes to heeding advice to check a map or look at a sat nav.  The draw back to this morning’s misadventure was that the nature reserve was adjacent to the local landfill and I ended up walking right alongside the landfill.  In the fog, in the early morning, this looked a bit like the end of time had come and I was about to enter an alternate reality.   Needless to say, I turned back and scurried back to familiar territory and eventually the right path to my house.

The whole trip took me about forty minutes.    Forty minutes is a lot of time to think.   And I do tend to think a lot when I’m walking.  Either proper, coherent thoughts, or a day dream (usually involving some dashing sleb who loves me dearly), or if I’m feeling tired I will indulge in an ear worm.

This morning’s thoughts were all about safety.   My safety and my kids’ safety.   Whilst I was walking I felt a little bit scared.   I felt scared because I had a very clear realisation that I was a) completely alone, b) in a strange place, and c) nobody knew I was there.   All of my former years I have been taught that those three together are bad.   And if you add d) I’m a woman, it’s safe to say I’m toast.

Where do these perceptions come from?  Why do we believe that by ‘allowing’ or ‘putting’ ourselves into a situation like this, we are completely opening ourselves up to the possibility that the big bad wolf/axe murderer is going to jump out and get us?

Is it media fear?  Is it society not yet coming to terms with the fact that the only person responsible in an attack is the attacker?

I remember being taught in school about ‘stranger danger’; the man in the silver car hanging about outside schools and offering sweets to kids.  As if by saying no to those sweets, I would be safe.

I remember having the ‘rape alarm’, which I carried around with me and never thought much beyond that it was supposed to save me if I was being attacked.

I have a daughter and a son and I want to teach them both the right things in life and I want to teach them to respect people and not to hurt people. I hope for the most part that is ‘built in’ to their personalities.    But how do I teach them about the dangers of people around them without making them fear situations and strangers?

How do I teach them that they should be free to live as they wish, but also to safeguard themselves.  And is it right to teach them they have to safeguard themselves?

I don’t have these answers, just a lot of thoughts.   I would welcome any thoughts from readers about this because I know the thoughts are going to come again and get stronger as the dangers around us evolve and as my children become more wordly and less inclined to want me to hold their hands.

Answers on a postcard (or a comment box)

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