It is an odd feeling to watch your child be invisible to others.
She goes to a big school, is an honor student, and runs cross country, but she doesn’t have many friends.
She’s well-liked, I suppose. She doesn’t complain about being bullied by her classmates or threatening messages don’t come through her phone. I will see other students give her a wave from afar or return a text about an assignment.
But when it comes to making plans on the weekend or catching a ride to an event, she’s rarely included. In fact, I think she’s rarely thought of at all.
She is an introvert at heart, but I know she is lonely. I know she craves a relationship with a peer, to be invited, to be noticed.
But as the days creep by, and the pandemic makes it even harder to connect, her loneliness is palpable, sitting like a thick film on her presence.
I saw this coming many years ago, but hoped for a different outcome. My daughter overcame many developmental delays and can be socially awkward. Although she seems “typical” today, her social situation hasn’t changed much.
It was easier back then, when she was younger and I could help her navigate social situations. I set up playdates, sleepovers, and outings to help her connect. Sometimes friendships would develop, but the next year they would be in different classes or the girl would change schools, and we started all over.
It’s different in high school. When I pick her up from practice or an activity, I see packs of girls walking to cars in groups, while my daughter walks slowly behind them. She moves at a different pace than her peers, and she struggles to keep up, but she often looks like she is alone on an island while the rest of the group is partying it up on the mainland.
My husband says he understands her plight. He tells me he was an invisible teen, too. “It’s not that they told me they didn’t want me there,” he explains, “it’s just that they didn’t care if I wasn’t there, either.” It’s harder for me, an extrovert who has never had a problem making friends, but I set my own expectations aside many years ago. I don’t need her to be popular, but I do hope she finds a trustworthy friend.
Of all the parenting challenges I’ve faced, and there’s been many, this one weighs on my heart the heaviest.
It is difficult to know that my hands are tied to fix this problem for her, and that there is no end in sight.
We encourage her to put herself out there and try to invite others to join her, but it is painful to be rejected and humiliating to feel constantly excluded.
On the rare occasions she goes out in a group, we see the elation on her face and hope that this is the turning point; but unfortunately, the next weekend we seem to be back in the same position.
Most of the time she handles the situation with grace. She fills her time with music and crafts and books. Her dad often reminds her that she may not find her people in high school, as was the case with him. “I found my people in college,” he tells her, and then goes on to repeat the same story he’s told a thousand times, and she nods her head and listens.
As her mom, I try to fill the cracks. We watch movies and go get coffee. We cook and play cards. I limit her social media.
Most of the time we laugh and have a great time.
But in those spaces I can’t fill, where the loneliness sits like a dark cloud over her narrow frame, that’s when my mom heart nearly breaks in two.
To the moms of lonely teenagers, I know your pain. I understand the weight you carry around with you and the hope that often gets dashed.
I know you worry that your child is eating lunch alone or didn’t get invited to the party or spends too much time in her room.
It’s not too much to want your child to be seen. It’s not too much to want your child to feel included and accepted and loved.
But what gives me solace is that while I can’t cure my daughter’s loneliness, I can make sure she never feels alone in this world.
And hope that there are brighter days ahead.