I hated high school dances.
It’s not what you think. I wasn’t fat, I had no braces, and I was fine with the way I looked. But even today, the memories still provoke a gnawing tightness in my stomach because I was a painfully shy kid.
My wife, naturally, is the opposite. She enters the room and knows half of the people there. By the end of the evening, she knows the rest: the names of their kids, where they grew up, and how their first cousin used to date her childhood friend. Luckily, this takes much of the social pressure off of me. I can simply act as wallpaper.
I’ve dealt with it. I now know that to be socially appropriate, I need to chat with other people at a party. While I would rather be at home reading a book, or yes, watching TV, I can smile, chat, and even make jokes. I’ve come a long way, but only because I’ve worked at it. To be honest, I kind of even like it.
My Kid is Shy Like Me
Unfortunately, my daughter got those shy genes from me (which are incidentally connected to the witty, intelligent, and charming genes). While my wife encourages her to call the other kids and jump into whatever plans they’ve made for the evening, I can see the terror in her eyes.
She would love to be part of the group, but she is frozen without the formal invitation that she needs.
One summer evening, my 16-year-old daughter was home, seemingly bored and irritated. When my wife “subtly” asked what her friends were doing, she replied with the standard, “I don’t know,” and stormed out. But her pain and frustration were easy to read.
Empathy Goes a Long Way
I went up to her room, and our subsequent conversation seemed to have a profound effect. Okay, so it was less of a conversation and more of me doing the majority of the talking. She was, after all, a teenager. But, she didn’t walk away and ignore me! I told her how I remembered being at a dance, standing by myself, with no one to talk to because my best friend had left me alone to go flirt with a girl. I also told her about being at summer camp, watching all of the kids having a great time and clowning around, but not knowing how to include myself.
Ultimately, I told her how hard it was to overcome being a shy kid. But most importantly, I just sat with her and understood. I’d like to think that this conversation changed her life, but I know it didn’t. Clearly, it was my wife’s prodding, encouragement and suggestions (irritating as they were) that allowed her to mature socially—after all, that’s what worked for me.
But I think our relationship changed that day. The bond and appreciation between us was dramatically strengthened. My kids usually think I’m old and out of touch. Ask them and they’ll tell you that I have no clue as to what’s going on today. But, without being judgmental or critical, I was able to break through that barrier and show my daughter that I really did understand.
My daughter graduated high school and went to college. While there might still be some difficult moments, she’s doing really great. I often wish I had her social life. She even jokes about those shy genes I gave her—but of course, in my unbiased opinion, she got the witty, intelligent, and charming ones as well.