“I hate school,” my 15-year-old daughter says as she snuggles up next to me on any given Sunday night. “It just sucks because I loved school last year.”
I’ve heard it all before, and I have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. What I’ve learned about teenagers is it’s never about just one thing, but rather a combination of things. However, usually buried within the rubble of those small things, is one big thing. The one big thing that would make all the difference. This year, it’s her increased workload due to AP and honors classes, and the fact that she had a boyfriend last year, and with such a small school, no foreseeable prospects for one this year. But the big thing at the heart of all of this is a profound feeling of loneliness.
It’s not the boyfriend thing either, it’s the friendships. “I’m actually pretty popular,” she tells me, a hint of surprise in her voice. And yet, here she is with tears in her eyes, confessing her lonely feelings. “All of my friends are coupling up, and I mean, I know they care about me, but it’s so hard because I can’t have a meaningful conversation with any of them. I put on a smile and when they come to me with their problems, I listen, but they never ask me how I am, or what’s wrong if I’m feeling sad.”
My own feelings on this subject are conflicted. On the one hand, I am so grateful that we have a relationship where she feels able to come to me with any questions she has, her worries, her fears, and in general to open her heart up to me. On the other hand, I feel for her loneliness, I want to solve this problem for her as I have solved so many others for her in the past. I want to shake those “friends” and make them care more. But I can’t. The days of mom swooping in are gone, (and kid shaking was never an option anyway). I’m sure it’s not that her friends don’t care, it’s that they are so absorbed in their own lives, in their own dramas, that they simply aren’t aware. Now all I can do is give her my thoughts, my guidance, and my ears. I must speak to her woman to woman, as a mother, and as a friend. Sometimes, all I can do is listen, and well, it just sucks.
“You have your big sister, you have me,” I tell her. Her big sister isn’t her sister by blood, but she’s a tutor turned big sister that comes and hangs out with her once a week since she was 12.
“Yeah, and I have that one teacher at school, but it’s not the same. I don’t have anyone my own age.”
I think back to my own high school days. I had a big group of friends, and life was fun and drama all the time, with not much in-between. But did I have a friend to hang out at school with who “got me” and cared about me? Not really. I had my best friend who lived an ocean away. I had my brother who is fourteen years older than me. He was one of my best friends. Still is. But someone my own age? Nope.
And now, I have six friends who I consider a part of my circle of close friends. Six. I tell her about them. One is my mom, a few are my sisters, by blood and by marriage. One is my childhood friend, and another is a friend I’ve just made over the past three years. The truth is, I don’t think I could handle any more than this. I have other friends, but it’s not the same. It’s not quite superficial, but it’s not the open-hearted, say-anything kind of friendships.
Two of these friends are my age. And that’s OK. I tell her that in high school, most kids are self-absorbed, it’s just where they’re at. Not all of them, but most. I tell her that it will get better, that she will get older, and they will get older. I tell her that age doesn’t matter when it comes to friendships, especially as she leaves the high school years behind. I council her to talk with her friends about her feelings, to give them a chance to be better. If nothing else, I ask her to change her perspective, to choose to see it in a different light.
She gives me a small smile and says, “Yeah.”
It’s not enough. This motherhood thing, it’s never quite enough. I wonder how many other mothers hear this in their homes, how many other mothers ache for their children to find that “kindred spirit” like Anne Shirley and Dianna Barry. I know I can’t make her get it, I can’t change her mind for her, or fill the hole in her heart. But I hope, and I have faith that with time, it will come. I know that one day she will have that friend she so wishes for, and I hope that she will learn to be ok for now, with what is.