It’s been the grand total of seven school days since my daughter started Big School and I re-entered Playground Society. I say re-entered because my daughter attended the school nursery last year, so I had a taster of what playground life is like. Now, this isn’t a piece about parent playground politics (although, blimey, what the hell, how do you ever navigate that one?!). This is a look at how shyness affects me as I morph into a school parent and as I continue to seek out other parents like me – shy parents.
I wrote a piece last year on The Huffington Post Blog about what it’s like being a parent who is shy. It was prompted largely by what I was experiencing at the time, when I had recently started taking my daughter to the nursery. I felt like I had gone from a very comfortable comfort zone of life in her old, familiar nursery, with quick drops off and pick ups and no playground, to a very uncomfortable zone where I felt like I was in a fishbowl. This is something I often feel when I enter a new and unfamiliar place. I feel like my shyness and social awkwardness are showing up in neon lights and everybody around me is forming a negative opinion of me. I assume, wrongly I know, that everybody around me in that new place is of one collective mind. That they all know each other, they have all noticed how much I don’t fit in, and they are collectively thinking it together. Of course, when I see this in words and I think this back, I realise how ludicrous it sounds. It is ludicrous. But it is also something that is significant to me as a shy person. Shy people often have a negative inner voice. It is easier to listen to because your default setting is to believe it without question. And another horrible side effect of shyness is that you often come across to others as aloof or snobby. I’ve been referred to in this way many times, and my worried/serious natural facial expression doesn’t help.
When I wrote my blog post last year about how it felt to be a shy parent, I felt like I’d gone into Shy Persons Anonymous and come out with new friends. Complete strangers sent me messages to say thank you for voicing what they wanted to shout out for years, and for letting them know they were not alone. I’ve always secretly hoped that as I get older, I will grow into my skin and the shyness will flake away. But I’m slowly coming to realise that isn’t going to happen and perhaps it isn’t meant to. Shyness for shy people is part of our make up. It isn’t something we should seek to rid ourselves of, but just something we need to find ways to cope with.
I find being shy as a parent particularly difficult because it always feels amplified when I am around very confident parents, of which there seem to be many.
On my return to Playground Society, I found myself reverting back to feeling the feelings I felt last year around my self-esteem and self-worth. My daughter’s school playground isn’t necessarily a hostile place but it is a place where the parents appear to have known each other for years and newbies don’t really have a place. I find myself standing alone, focusing on the kids, occasionally smiling at other parents like a buffoon if I catch their eye, but I will never go up and force myself to join in a group conversation. I’m not sure how they regard me or what they think but I always suspect it is that I’m aloof. And I suppose I know I’m being aloof because to be that way is a kind of self-preservation. It’s a protective coat. If they don’t talk to me, they won’t find out I have no interesting things to say, perhaps. Or they won’t find out I’m secretly a massive bore. There she goes again, the negative inner voice.
So what is there to do for us shy folk? Do we carry on as we are? Being the lonely figures in the playgrounds? Do we wait until we are safely in our comfort zones before we shed our coats? And how will our children respond? I used to worry that my daughter would inherit my shyness. I don’t worry now. She does certainly display familiar traits of being reserved, unsure, and needing to get the measure of people before she lets them in. But I see this as no bad thing. And I don’t want her to believe for a second that she is at a deficit if she is shy. Shyness is part of one’s character. It makes us who we are. It makes us more aware of it in others. It makes us sensitive to our children when they experience it. And on an a lighter note, it’s no bad thing to have an air of mystery surrounding us.