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A Birthday Party Survival Guide For The Socially Anxious Mom

mom trapped in a ball pit reaching for child's hand

For most moms, a year does not pass without receiving at least a handful of birthday party invitations. Upon receipt of said invitation, the kids virtually swell up with excitement anticipating the big event. And why wouldn’t they? These two-hours of cake-filled playtime chaos is enough to send any kid into a frenzy. But, for the socially anxious mom, a birthday party is THE KISS OF DEATH.

What’s the worst thing you can do to a socially anxious mom who is afraid of talking to people she doesn’t know well? How can you torture the mom who is worried she’ll say the wrong thing? How do you send her “everyone thinks I’m a bad mom” complex into overdrive? Send her to a children’s birthday party, where the only job she has is to make small talk for 120 agonizing minutes.

I am no expert. I’m only a mom – a mom who has been to well over 50 kid’s parties over my course of motherhood experience. From my point of view, there are two strategies for us socially anxious moms to take towards birthday parties.

One strategy I like to call Birthday Party Survival. The second strategy I’ve entitled Birthday Party Victory. Whichever tactic you choose for your next big event, do not beat yourself up. Get your kid to that party, and give yourself a huge pat on the back when it’s over!

two lego figures holding balloons
Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Strategy A: Birthday Party Survival

Getting yourself out your door and into the birthday party is a major first step. Now it’s time to emotionally survive so your child can have a joyful experience spending the day with their friends.

The survival strategy is all about distraction and movement. Stay in one place too long and you might find yourself in full freakout mode. As you open the door, prepare for a barrage of people, kids, and noise. Approach with your game face on and get ready to implement your tactics.

Tactic 1: The Bathroom Break

So you’ve got your permasmile on your face and you’re feeling pretty good that you haven’t made a complete ass out of yourself yet. Two warm and friendly moms have engaged you with conversation for the last 15 minutes and you feel you did alright as a participant. Kudos to you! Not bad for a socially anxious mom, right?

As soon as they leave, however, you begin hyperanalyzing every little thing you have said, trying to suppress the distinct feeling they don’t like you afterall. While you’re transfixed by your inner struggle, another mom you kind of sort of know approaches. You’re not ready! You don’t know what to say. Your face gets hot… your chest constricts.

It’s time to find the bathroom right now. Phew, that was close! Once you’re in the “safe zone” take advantage of that little five-minute sliver of isolation and do some deep breathing. Take a moment to find your happy place, so you can work up the courage and get back out there for round two.

Tactic 2: What The Kids Are Doing Is Intensely Interesting

There may be moments you feel close to panic, moments you desparately need to check out for a couple of minutes. But you also don’t want to be that loser (at least in your mind) that’s standing by herself. This is the time when whatever the kids are doing becomes intensely interesting.

That’s right. Watching the kids bounce up and down in the inflatable bouncy house is just exhilarating to you! Right at this moment there is no place you’d rather be! Good. Go with it. This will buy you a few moments to space out for a bit and reset before the next bit of social interaction.

Tactic 3: Go On The Offense

If you’re like me, you feel really uncomfortable when people ask you questions. You feel exposed and vulnerable as if talking about yourself will make them realize how illegitimate you feel on the inside. In moments such as these, if you’re just not ready to share, go on the offense in conversation.

Ask your conversation partner about their life, but only if you’re honestly interested. By asking them questions, you’ll help yourself feel at ease and it will give you the opportunity to get to know other people so they feel less like strangers. When you’re plum out of questions, maybe you’ll be ready to talk about yourself a little. And if not, employ tactic 1: run to the bathroom.

Tactic 4: You Forgot Something In The Car

Save the “I forgot something in the car” trick for when you’ve just got no social juice left. I’m talking about those moments when your mind goes blank and the color drains from your face indicating an impending pass out. Any socially anxious mom knows running out to the car will get you some much needed fresh air. And if you’ve parked far enough away, you’ll have a nice small moment of freedom with just you and the pavement under your feet.

Now I’m not saying my Birthday Party Survival approach is the healthiest coping strategy. Nor is it one based on professional advice. But it will get you through a birthday party, and leave you feeling proud that you got your kid to the party. There is another strategy that takes a little more time and work, one that is based on the advice of true experts. When I have the time to prepare, Strategy B is my approach of choice.

Birthday firl hiding behind balloons, studio shot on black background

Strategy B: Birthday Party Victory!

As I’ve learned more about social anxiety, and what parts of me are the anxiety talking, I’ve pushed myself more and more to employ professional expert strategies that encourage healthy habits. It’s really hard, but highly rewarding. Better yet, it’s a cascading effect. The more I do it, the easier it becomes.

That being said, I have plenty of Strategy A moments still. I, like many socially anxious mothers, am a work in progress. Some days are much better than others.

Tactic 1: Offer Yourself Silent Encouragement

Every positive step you take at the birthday party, such as making eye contact, smiling, engaging someone in conversation, etc. give yourself an internal word of praise. According to Dr. Aziz Gazipura, this is essential to fight against the inner critic.

“One way to coach yourself is to consciously practice giving yourself support, encouragement, and praise—S.E.P.—frequently throughout the day. The self-critical propaganda campaign is running on multiple fronts throughout the day and night.”

The Solution To Social Anxiety: Break Free From The Shyness That Holds You Back” by Aziz Gazipura

For people like us who are so hard on ourselves, we deserve to be nice to ourselves too. When I do this, I feel more encouraged to be social.

Tactic 2: Use Responsibility Reminders

Everyone socially anxious person is different, right? For me, when I am in social situations this socially anxious mom somehow feels responsible for people’s emotions. If they aren’t smiling then that means they surely don’t like me. Ridiculous I know. Especially when it’s not even my party.

But, according to Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, “Taking responsibility for others’ happiness is a big cause of anxiety (Anxiety Causes: What Causes Anxiety?). People who are highly sensitive, caring individuals naturally want the people in their lives to be happy, to experience wellbeing. Caring for others is a character strength. However, it can easily morph into something unhealthy…”

https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2016/05/big-cause-of-anxiety-responsibility-for-others-happiness

I remind myself that I am in no way responsible for other people’s feelings or experience. That doesn’t mean I’m supposed to be a jerk. But if I’ve got my friendly smile on and I’m working hard to get to know other people, I should not take anyone’s signs of boredom, or lack of smiles personally.

Tactic 3: What’s The Worse That Can Happen?

For me, the absolute worst thing that could happen is that all the parents would stop what they’re doing to scoff at me, mock me, point their fingers, and laugh. I know in reality that would never occur! Think about your worst fear when it comes to this social situation and remind yourself of the impossibility of that scenario. (Anxiety Canada has an excellent resource on how to work out your “the worse that can happen” type fears.)

Tactic 4: You Are Not Alone

When I go to a party, I do my best to stay aware of the fact that I am not the only one with anxiety in the room. There are plenty of other people who are just like me, who may be feeling a little insecure, or who may prefer to be hanging out with a smaller crowd.

I am by no means a professional. I’m sure there are a myriad of strategies and tactics a socially anxious mom can use to not only survive a party, but enjoy it. The most important message of this post is that getting the help we need is essential not just for our personal mental health, but for our roles as mothers to our little ones.

My goal as a socially anxious mom is to go to birthday parties and enjoy them as much as my children do! I’m much closer to that goal today than I was over a decade ago. For those of us that aren’t there yet, stay strong. And in the meantime, take all the bathroom breaks you need!

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