mother guilt

I Can’t Stop Projecting My Elementary School Loneliness Onto My Kids

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Lonely kid at schoolI didn’t have a great time in school (What? An overweight, handicapped girl with horrible acne? I don’t believe it!) I was never very good at making friends, and was often lonely. Now, my kids have reached the stage I have been dreading since the day they were born — elementary school. And even though they are both fine, I can’t stop projecting my school experience onto them.

My kids are in first grade at public school and so far have had very few problems socially. They both have friends and play well with others. And the crazy thing is, they behave in opposite ways when it comes to making friends and yet I worry about them equally.

Since they started being able to make friends with other children, my kids have acted in two different ways. My son will plop himself down into a group of kids he doesn’t know and say, “Hi. What are we doing?” Twenty minutes later he has a new best friend. My daughter stays away from groups and usually plays by herself. Occasionally she’ll join up with one or two other girls, but she is perfectly content to be alone.

My knee-jerk reaction to my daughter is: she’s alone and she’s lonely and she doesn’t have any friends and she has been shunned. Shunned, I say. Why? Because that’s how school was for me most of the time. With my son, on the other hand, I think, Oh no. They’re going to reject him. Someone is going to tell him they don’t want him to play with them, and it will break his little heart. Why? Again, because that was the experience I had.

Now, it’s not that I expect my kids to soar through adolescence without having any nightmarish social experiences. They will, and they need to; it’s good for them. But when I think about how they behave naturally around their peers, I get worried even though I have had no reason to. Why is it so hard for me imagine that whatever my kids are doing is working out just fine for them? Why do I assume disaster? Part of that is because I grew up with a mother who wants to be the first to hear about whatever the latest deadly disease is and then diagnose her children with it. But most of it is because I had no experience with social ease myself, and I cannot even imagine it.

Am I alone in this? Do other parents ask about their kid’s day expecting to hear misery, and when their kids says that everything is good, they feel glad but are convinced their kids aren’t telling them something awful?

(Photo: Kitty / Shutterstock)