I was always shy, even as a kid. Making friends did not come easily to me, even though I cherished the friendships I did have. It was always a slow process, usually sparked by a more bold person approaching me, and not the other way around.
After making it through high school and uni with wonderful memories and plenty of solid, lasting friendships to take me into adulthood, I thought the worst was behind me. I worked in the magazine industry after graduation and made fast friends with colleagues who were like me — introspective, creative writers who took a while to emerge from our shells. No matter where my professional life took me, pangs of first-day jitters would keep me silent in the very beginning, but in a week or two I’d make at least one great friend. I actually thought, for a while, that I’d cured my old social anxiety in adulthood. Then I had a baby.
I was already working from home when I got pregnant, but I had an active social life and my career brought new people into my life often. I was always consulting on projects that took me into the city for meetings or events. I was even a publicist for a while, thrust onto the red carpet with a microphone in my hand and a Kardashian walking toward me, I learned how to swallow my fear and speak even when intimidated beyond belief.
But now that I’m home with a tiny human who relies on me for everything, I don’t get out much. And when I do, the old fears and anxieties come bursting forth like a monster from beneath the bed. I just can’t seem to find the tools to fight the monster away like I did as a single twenty-something on a red carpet.
There’s a lot I love about staying home to take care of my toddler. And my flexible career as a freelance writer means I get to spend a lot of quality, one-on-one time with her, without giving up my income or autonomy. I’m intellectually stimulated by my job and I have the benefit of being the one with a front-row seat to all her milestones, the one who gets endless cuddles and has lots of laughs every day. But there is a dark side of being a stay-at-home mum these days, and it’s loneliness.
I won’t blame my new town (which is filled with young families very similar to mine), or my husband (who is more than game to invite neighbours over to barbecue on the weekend or introduce me to the cool wife of a favourite colleague). I won’t blame my job, either, because even though I don’t hang out with my colleagues, it offers immense flexibility that an office job doesn’t. Conceivably, I should be rolling in friendships, what with all this time I’ve got to kill with a very social almost-2-year-old on my hands. But I’m not.
We go to the park, the playground, the shops and playgroup. I take the advice of my mum and my well-meaning, existing friends who don’t live near us. My eyes are open. I say “hi” when I can muster it, trying to be social. I’ll compliment other mums on their outfits and their nappy bags. Use my daughter’s propensity to wave as an excuse to wave myself. But I’m missing it. I’m missing the gene that emboldens people and renders them easy friend-makers.
For some reason, when bonding over exams and broken hearts in uni, or late nights and deadlines in an office environment, I was able to get past that lacking gene. Now as a stay-at-home parent, I’m just not. I want to be bonding over the stress of potty-training, sitting on the verandah sucking down iced coffees with an awesome toddler-mum from the down the street while our kids race around. But even though those mums exist, I can’t seem to make the connection. And it makes me sad.
Back in the day, families tended to live closer. Stay-at-homers often had the support of a family or tight-knit friend community that stopped by, helped out, loaned sugar and swapped secrets. In this era where the nuclear family is hailed as the holy grail, where the world is made smaller by technology and opportunities mean that families more frequently, some of us are getting lost. The stay-at-home parents are the ones who have to create a daily life with no built-in social support system. And for those of us who are shy by nature, it’s tough.
I would love for this piece to end like a lot of mine do, with some glowing revelation or quick-witted action plan that has solved my big problem. Sadly, it doesn’t. I joined a community centre with free daycare where I can take exercise classes and my little girl is thriving in her two hours there each morning. But so far her mama hasn’t latched on to anyone there. I keep thinking I’m going at the wrong times, I’m not smiling big enough, it’s me, it has to be me.
My friends — yes, I do have great ones, but they mostly live far away, including the good friend I made at mother’s group — are baffled when I bring it up. They all tell me I’m funny, cool, and actually quite outgoing. But they’ve known me too long. They all forget how awkward I was in the beginning, and that nine times out of ten, they were the ones who started the friendship. The bold part of me comes out in my writing, or on the third hangout. Not soon enough to meet other new mums, I guess.
I’m still at it. I won’t give up until I have even that one cool mum to hang out with and share our struggles, our secrets, and a slew of inside jokes over coffees and mini-dramas with our kids. I’ll admit that even writing this makes me feel like even more of a socially awkward dork than I am, but I’m doing it for all the other stay-at-home parents out there — or anyone, really — who feels the same way. I know I’m not alone, and you aren’t, either.
It’s okay to be shy. It’s okay to be missing the gene that lets you make friends easily. It’s okay to be afraid to talk to other people because you might sound weird and get rejected. But you have to keep saying hi. You have to be creative. My attempts might have failed me so far in this new town, but it’s only been a few months. I won’t give up, even though sometimes it feels like the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
More about friendship:
- How to Make New Friends When You’re Shy
- Why Hanging with My Mum Friends Is Just Easier
- To My Mean Mum Friend: We Need to Break Up