“In solitude the mind gains strength and learns to lean upon itself.” Lawrence Sterne
“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” Blaise Pascal
“I restore myself when I’m alone.” Marilyn Monroe
In the last few years, several moms have approached me, almost furtively, and confessed in low voices, “My son doesn’t really have a lot of friends. He stays home on the weekends. I’m worried.”
I worried too. For years. But I’ve learned almost everyone goes through a lonely time and as parents, we should be grateful.
My poor older boys– how they suffered through my nagging, my perception of how their teen years were “supposed to be.” As Hans said, “I was so grateful when you stopped bugging me to call a friend.”
When Ben entered fifth grade, a neighbor told me, “Be prepared. Boys go through a complete changeover of friends at this age.”
But he didn’t. Ben sailed through fifth, and sixth grades. Even seventh, at a new junior high in a new neighborhood, started off well. But midway through the year, I noticed Ben wasn’t ‘hanging out’ with anyone after school. I’m sorry to admit, I nagged him mercilessly. “Call so-and-so.” “Maybe you should plan a party?” The poor kid.
For a year or so, he was pretty lonely. And I’ve learned that’s normal. For some, it’s fifth grade, others face isolation earlier or later. But learning to enjoy your own company guards against the temptation to join any social circle, no matter their standards. So many kids (and adults) who get involved with underage drinking, abusive relationships, drug use and promiscuity are there because they didn’t want to be lonely– they wanted someone, anyone to help fill their hours.
By ninth grade (still jr. high around here), Ben found his people. And in 10th, when he started high school, the circle of like-minded kids simply expanded.
When Stefan faced the same loneliness in junior high, you’d think I would have learned my lesson. Alas, no. I fretted over his lack of invitations and felt frustrated at the boys in our new neighborhood who– buddies since kindergarten– wouldn’t give the new kid a chance. Running through the canyon trails one day, I prayed angrily, “Why can’t our neighbors be kind to him?”
My answer came loud and clear, “Stop worrying about how other people are treating your children and worry more about how they treat other people.”
I realized I’d been missing a beautiful opportunity; I had more time with my children.
The next Friday night, instead of nagging Stefan to call a friend, I set up a game of Ticket-to-Ride. I quickly learned Stefan’s sadness wasn’t from his lack of close friends, it was from my acting like something was wrong with him. Erik and I determined to be his social life (and you’d better believe the younger kids were thrilled). We played games, hiked, watched movies, made pizza etc. If Erik got tickets to a basketball game or a movie, he took Stefan and I stayed home with the little ones. We turned down most outings and dinners with friends in favor of time with our kids or a quick dinner out with just the two of us.
Our efforts paid off with close relationships with all of our kids. And despite what nay-sayers might think, our marriage flourished. We were (and are) working toward a common goal.
By high school, Stefan’s social calendar was full. But his friendships with his siblings remained strong. I now thank those years of loneliness for the strong, skilled, intelligent men both Ben and Stefan have become. Because they know how to fill their time, they are never bored, and they draw people to them because they are interesting and kind.
Hans, Xander– they both experienced a year of loneliness. And I expect Gabe and Mary will too. Today, with their endless stream of elementary friends coursing through the house, it seems impossible to imagine the phone and doorbell not ringing. But I couldn’t imagine that silence for the other boys either.
Though my parenting experience lies primarily with boys, through the Young Women’s group at church, I learned the vast majority of teenage girls feel some degree of loneliness. I remember interviewing nineteen girls in one day, and all but two felt like they had no close friends.
Perhaps these feelings of isolation are tied to our modern texting/facebook/gaming habits, perhaps not? The cause hardly matters. But I believe forging strong family relationships aids our children in forming friendships later in life.
Most importantly, my children call each other friends. Despite the BFF* moniker, friends come and go– families are eternal.
*best friends forever