I have always struggled in social situations.

Anyone who knows me professionally may be surprised to hear that. I am great at fundraising at work, talking to parents about their child’s development in my classroom, and teaching people about something I am passionate about. I can stand in front of a room of teachers and conduct trainings. Teaching a large group of parents on Zoom about behavior management techniques is a breeze.

Give me a kid to chat up and I’m rocking it. But small talk with adults? Not my jam.

When I don’t have a predetermined topic — even with my friends — I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach and end up rambling about the most irrelevant topic possible. I laugh awkwardly and look for any opportunity to escape the social interaction. I wouldn’t say I’m an introvert as much as someone who has no ability to make conversation without some direction.

I was recently talking with some moms at my daughter’s pick up. Well, in reality I was actually listening to them talk to each other, smiling and nodding, feeling very much not part of the group. They were talking about some upcoming play dates and having other families over for a movie night — events I had not heard about and was not in the loop on. And it hit me. Is my social anxiety causing my children to be socially outcast?

Because I can’t (or don’t) connect with other moms, have I held back my children’s social lives?

My oldest son is 17 and has some trouble making friends. He is much more comfortable chatting up adults than peers, and he always has been. I can’t help but wonder — if I had been more social with the parents of children his age when he was younger, would he have a better social network? I mean, a child’s social life is pretty dependent on their parents when they are younger. Did my social anxieties cause his lack of friendships?

My husband is super social. It has become a family joke that if he is chatting up a stranger, one of our kid will say, “Oh, Daddy’s making friends again!” Gas station attendants, bank clerks, bartenders, and park rangers are all susceptible to becoming his next buddy. He can talk to anyone wherever we go, and it is always such a nice conversation. I envy being able to chat so freely.

And if my son was raised by both of us, why did he absorb my social inadequacies?

As we now enter the rabbit hole of worry and regret, I will pull myself back out and look for what I can do about it. I may not be one who enjoys social settings, but at a recent event I connected with some great moms. I even drove another mom home, and there were no awkward pauses in the conversation (thank you, Kristen, for being so easy to chat with!). At the event, we all had a shared interest, so it was easy to connect.

With that success in mind, I’ve decided to help my son find connections with others. He loves Dungeons and Dragons and storytelling. So we are getting him connected with some local hobby shops to meet people who share his interests. With the help of my extremely extroverted husband, we can do this!

Raising children is so hard, and we can’t help but take blame for struggles our children encounter. But isn’t part of growing up learning how to deal with struggles? Isn’t learning coping skills for our areas of weakness as important as nurturing our successes? I’m growing in my efforts to improve my social skills, and I’m going to use my lessons learned to help my son find similar growth through his social anxiety. And maybe, if I’m really listening and watching, I can grow from his growth too.

Michelle Mady
Michelle is a lifelong New Englander who lives in Stoneham and works in Charlestown. She is a preschool teacher and Assistant Director at a small private preschool and holds a master’s degree in early childhood education, which has come in useful at both work and home. She has a supportive stay-at-home-dad for a husband and is a mom of five children. She has three boys born in 2005, 2007 and 2008, plus two girls born in 2012 and 2015. Michelle teaches infant and toddler classes for early education teachers and is an adjunct professor for The School Of Mom. She also runs her own business, The Parenting Survival Expert, offering parenting tips and support. In her spare time, she can be found reading a murder mystery novel, sipping far too much coffee, and dreaming of a home in the mountains.