My Lifelong Social Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Belong to My Daughter

by ParentCo. August 31, 2017

Father Swaddling His Newborn Baby on the couch

In the week leading up to my daughter’s first sleepover at our house, I mobilized. First, I cleaned the common areas in the house and admonished my daughter to tidy her room. Then, I made an extra trip to the grocery store for snacks and drafted a breakfast menu. With 24 hours to go, I cajoled my husband into erecting a tent in the living room – the tent that sleeps eight adults and has multiple rooms. If you have visited Costco this spring, maybe you’ve seen it hanging from the ceiling above the seasonal items.
Naturally, having a gigantic tent erected in our living room made me think of s’mores, so I headed back to the store to get marshmallows, Graham crackers, and chocolate.
If they gave out prizes for sleepover hosting, I’d surely be on the podium for a medal.
Somewhere between my trips to the store and looking up recipes for Dutch pancakes, I had a moment of self-awareness. Why was I working so hard to ensure that a sweet, well-mannered eight-year-old had an epic time at our house? I had no evidence to suggest she expected heroic measures and expert-level party planning for the twenty hours she would be a guest in our home. In fact, when my daughter spent the night at her house, they went out for barbecue and then made ice cream sundaes at home.
So why was there a 20-foot tent in my living room?
Anxiety has long been a part of my emotional make-up and having people in my space has stressed me out since my first sleepover over three decades ago. As a kid, I would invite friends over because they had hosted me and my mom said we had to reciprocate. But as soon as one of them would arrive with her Holly Hobby bedroll tucked under her arm, I would be flooded with anxiety. What were we supposed to do? Like, literally, what were we going to do in my room or in the back yard until dinner time? And then after that? We didn’t have a rec room or a basement. We didn’t have closet stuffed with board games or a pool. We could watch a movie, but that only took up and hour and a half.
I didn’t know how to relax and let time unfold in the company of friends while on my turf.
As a kid, I never thought of telling my parents how I felt. As an adult, I suspect my parents had their own social anxieties that they managed by not inviting people over very often.
But now I’m the parent. I’ve slowly learned how to manage the family playdate where we (actually, my husband) invite over a whole family so the parents can visit while the children play. Anxiety over what we will talk about, or whether they will stay too late, or judge our house for not having a playroom or bucolic backyard still plagues me, but I diffuse it ahead of time by scrubbing the toilets and shoving errant Legos in the toy box.
Before the doorbell rings, I say to my husband, “Why do we have to do this?”
He says, “Because this is part of being in a community. And it’s fun!”
Easy for him to say.
A sleepover lasts roughly five more waking hours than a regular old playdate. The night before my daughter’s, I reminded myself that after a few of these, I’ll just have baseline anxiety, not the turbo jitters that coursed through my veins as I watched my husband erect the tent.
My husband reminded me that my daughter is the host, not me. He was right, of course. It wasn’t the first time – or the last – I blurred the lines between me and my daughter. I had just enough clarity to understand that I needed to make mental space for possibility that she might not be anxious about hosting at all.
The story of her life may not be the same as mine.
Still, I told my husband that if I saw my daughter floundering, I would throw her a lifeline. And by lifeline, I meant I'd take the girls to see Hamilton or to get their nails done at the Ritz. You know, just a little something to help pass the time.
The sleepover started with dinner, and we took the girls to a restaurant where my daughter whipped out a deck of cards so they could play Uno while waiting for their food. She didn’t seem anxious – she seemed giddy. On the way home, the girls chattered in the back of the mini-van about what they would do when they got back to our house. Once at home, they disappeared into the tent, where they watched a movie and ate s’mores. The next morning, they slept in, ate breakfast, and went to the park. By 11 a.m. her friend was gone and my daughter was genuinely sad to see her go.
It appears that my daughter is thus far free of the social anxiety that has ensnared me for most of my life. She didn’t need a lifeline on Friday night, because she wasn’t drowning.
Did we need to erect a living-room-sized tent to help my daughter entertain her first overnight guest? Definitely not. The girls would have been happy with some generic microwave popcorn and an extra blanket. All those bells and whistles were for the sole purpose of allaying my lifelong anxiety that hovers like a ghost at the edges of my parenting, always tempting me to manage my overwhelming feelings by overcompensating, which is bad for my daughter, me, my marriage, and my finances.
I’ve passed plenty of traits onto my daughter, including my blood type, the shape of my feet, and the ability to curl my tongue. But maybe a life riddled with anxiety isn’t her destiny. Maybe it stops right here in my own trembling, untrusting heart. This would be welcome news. As is the notion that maybe I won’t have to work so hard on the next sleepover.



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