My friends, meet my friends. This is Jen. Jen Hatmaker is the author of seven books, a nationally acclaimed speaker, a fierce advocate for orphans, a blogger, and the mother of five. When people ask me about my friend, Jen, they always say – “How does she do it all? She’s AMAZING.” And she IS. But like all AMAZING folks, she’s also afraid.
Jen’s afraid that her passion for her work will mess up her kids.
In the quiet of my real life, when I’m tucked away from all of your eyes, when my mind is still and I think my actual thoughts, I have a deep, shaky-limbed worry. It is so strong and real that I am petrified to share it with anyone, and in fact, haven’t. It’s too true, too important, and I think about it so often and it scares me so badly, that I’m afraid to tell you lest you use it against me or aren’t gentle with this vulnerable admission:
I am so scared that in my mission and ministry, in this travel and writing and work (because it is work, just like any job is), my kids will resent me, carry a grudge, and worst of all, be angry at God for taking up so much of me during their childhood.
As I type that, my hands are shaking.
I don’t want you to think I worry about this, because I’d rather come across as self-assured, carefully weighing the cost of this ministry and landing confidently where I have. I’d rather throw out casual comments my kids make like, “I didn’t even know you were gone” or “We had so much fun while you were in Seattle” because I don’t want you to know that my being gone is hard on us all.
I want my kids to love Jesus so desperately, but what if they resent Him for drawing their parents into such laborious ministry? Am I doing this well? Am I being obedient in all the ways, both at home and in the field? I don’t know. I don’t know how my kids will talk about my absences in ten years. I don’t know if they’ll ever understand how hard I tried to do everything God set in front of me, at home and not at home, especially when I’m not even sure how to do this. I know they won’t comprehend how much I worried about it all.
I don’t know if all working moms have this deep terror, but since mine has “God” attached to it, I’m afraid my kids will only see my divided time, not the Jesus I love. I love my family; my children are a gift and this time is short. I so want to be a good mom and good wife and good disciple and good leader, and balance is a lie and I can’t find it even if it is true, and it makes me so afraid.
And Lovies, meet my Kristen. Kristen Howerton is a psychology professor, an in-demand speaker, a blogger, and a businesswoman. She’s also the mama of four little ones- two are biological and two are adopted. She’s kind, brave, generous and wicked smart.
. . . And Kristen is afraid that her social anxiety is hurting her and her family.
I have so many general insecurities and hangups that it really is hard to narrow it down, but one that has been really difficult for me this year is my social anxiety. It’s a bit hard to explain because I am not necessarily a shy person. I could speak to a large room of people without getting nervous. In a group of people who know me well, I can be loud and silly. But I really struggle in everyday small-talk situations.
A part of this is because I’m extremely introverted. As an introvert, I’m much more comfortable talking about deeper issues than about the weather or how the soccer team is doing this season. Small talk is exhausting and painfully awkward for me. As a result, I have an awkward tendency of going WAY too deep in conversations with strangers as an attempt to avoid the chit-chat conversation and get to something meaningful. For example, at school pickup:
“Oh, hi. You must be Bella’s mom. (awkward pause) So what do you think happens when we die?”
Yeah. I am the queen of going too deep, too soon. It’s like a compulsion.
Coupled with the introversion, I am also a rather anxious person. I struggle with insecurity. After social situations with people outside my inner circle, I tend to replay every interaction over and over to try to figure out how I was perceived. It is not uncommon for me to lay awake for hours after a party, going over every conversation I had, and berating myself for where I went wrong in each situation. “Man, Kristen. You totally offended them with your sarcasm. And why are you so nosey with your questions? They must think you are obnoxious. They probably talked about you when you walked away.” Wash, rinse, repeat. I am my own worst critic, and my mind races after social interactions.
But here is the worst part: between the total hangover of exhaustion I get from new social interactions and the spiral of shame I tend to go into after the fact, it’s a struggle for me not to just avoid social interactions altogether. When I’m having a particularly stressful week, I will employ strategies to avoid as much social interaction as possible. I’ll skip church. I’ll pick up the kids in the car pick-up line to avoid casual conversations. I will make my husband accompany the kids to birthday parties with their peers. I won’t leave my house. I become trapped by my own social anxiety.
I hate this about myself. I hate it for my kids, because I see other moms making easy relationships and connections and playdates, and they have the mom who darts nervously in and out and always seems on the outside of “the club”. I hate it for my husband because I say no to things just to avoid that anxiety spiral. And I hate it for myself because inevitably, from the outside I come off as aloof and snotty . . . when really it’s about my own anxiety and lack of confidence. It effects my friendships, my marriage, my parenting, my ability to volunteer at school, my involvement at church . . . there are few aspects of my life untouched by my social anxiety.
I think this is why I was drawn to blogging. Despite my anxieties, I am still a social person. I do desire connection and community. Blogging allows me to communicate without all the emotional drama. I can edit what I say. I can delve into deeper topics. I can communicate my heart without all the baggage of social anxiety that burdens me in real life. But the blogging is a double-edged sword. In part, because it’s a false sense of intimacy. It doesn’t really replace the experience of in-person relationships. In addition, blogging allows me to present a version of myself that I can’t always replicate in person, when my anxiety wells up. The result is that many people feel that they know me, but in person I’m overwhelmed with the fear that I’m going to disappoint . . . that I won’t be able to be as funny or composed or personable as I am online. All of this works together to create a dynamic in which I’m more comfortable communicating through a computer screen than in person . . . and it’s isolating and embarrassing. It’s something that I have to work at every day.
PS. Friends: You’ll notice that each woman featured in this series sent a picture of herself without make-up. No masks. The sacred scared. Aren’t they just beautiful?