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That Snobby Parent Might Not Be a Snob at All

Photograph by Twenty20

The parent who refuses to make eye contact at preschool pick-up.

The mom from your group play dates who never says hello to you.

The dad with whom you’ve spoken many times before, but never goes out of his way to talk to you on his own.

To the naked eye (and the snap-judging mind), these people might seem stand-offish. They can even seem like snobs.

But snobbery isn’t the only reason another person might refrain from interacting with you. They might just be shy. They might even have social anxiety disorder. And I should know. I'm one of them.

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My own experience is one of relatively mild social anxiety. Since I was little, I’ve had difficulty striking up a conversation, not only with strangers but also with familiar and friendly faces. The problem is not that I dislike chatting with people. In fact, I love having deep, meaningful conversations with others. I even excel at—and enjoy—public speaking. But the thought of initiating conversations with anyone but a close friend or family member fills me with intense fear: fear of embarrassment, fear of saying something wrong, fear of offending someone. And then if I do make some sort of conversational gaffe, I end up obsessing about it for days.

But not every parent who looks away from you is looking down on you.

It’s a vicious cycle. I’ve learned how to cope with it over the years—many people can’t even tell how anxious I am in many social situations—but that doesn’t mean that social anxiety isn’t a constant battle for me.

And so I hesitate before saying hello to an acquaintance whom I spot at the grocery store. I smile awkwardly (and rarely say a word to anyone else) when I sit in a crowd for a school event. I often hang toward the back of the room in a gathering of fellow parents, or any people, for that matter.

Thus, I’m often misread as a snob.

I don’t fault people for correlating social avoidance with snobbery. People who are snobs do often avoid speaking to others whom they see as less-than-worthy individuals. What’s more, there are surely snobby parents in nearly every place where parents gather: At group play dates, at schools, at the library or even down the street. There are probably parents who have social anxiety and are snobs, too.

But not every parent who looks away from you is looking down on you.

They might just be looking for a way to cope.

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So if you see that parent who refuses to make eye contact at preschool pick-up, try catching their eye for a brief second and offering them a big smile. They might not want to talk, but they’ll probably appreciate your nonverbal kindness.

If you see that mom who never says hello to you, or that dad who never goes out of his way to interact with you, try saying hello to them first. Ask them how their day is going. They might be desperate for adult interaction, but only if someone else initiates the conversation.

Though I can only speak from my own experience, I will say this: The people who have helped me cope, the ones who have helped me deal with my anxieties, are the ones who offered up those simple smiles and the ones who started up those difficult-for-me conversations.

And I can only hope they soon learned that I was anything but a snob.

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