In 8th grade, my friend group shifted. The girls who’d wanted to hang out with me in junior high didn’t seem interested anymore. I noticed they did things without me a lot on the weekends. I tried to insert myself into their plans to get brushed aside and was told it was just easier because they all played sports together and I didn’t.
I remember talking to my mom about it while she was washing the dishes. Her back was to me as I sat at the kitchen table, finally blurting out that I was so sad because I felt like I didn’t have any friends. It had taken me a while to muster the courage up to say something. I so badly wanted to talk to someone about it and get comforted by my mom. She didn’t even turn around, but simply said to me, “Oh, girls can be silly. You will find other friends.”
That may be true, and to her, it wasn’t a big deal at all. But to me, my world was ending. I’d been friends with those girls for so long and now I was losing them.
I wondered if it was because I didn’t play sports or because I’d put on some weight. Or maybe it was because I’d become friends with a girl from art class who wasn’t in the same crowd.
I never went to my mother about anything after that. It wasn’t that incident alone, but a few that had happened before, too. Her general vibe seemed to be that my problems were silly and trivial, and she never made me feel any better so I relied on other people.
Like my 11th grade English teacher when I was suffering from anorexia. Or my boyfriend when I had days in high school where I couldn’t get out of bed and stop crying.
When I went through a really hard breakup after college and wanted to come home, I was more of a nuisance to her than anything. She didn’t understand how sad I was, nor did it affect her daily life. She didn’t have the time or energy to check in with me or see if I needed to talk.
I learned to deal with things on my own because of this. Of course, this has its good qualities and its bad.
When I had kids of my own, I vowed I’d never not take them seriously. I was talking with a friend of mine while I was pregnant with my first and she told me something similar about her mother recalling a break up she’d had in high school. “Yeah, all my mom said was, ‘Let him go and move forward.’” It was as if she was made to feel like if she needed time to mourn the relationship and process the break up, she was weak.
Now, I have three teenagers who are smack dab in the time when anxiety and depression amongst teens is rising at scary rates. I realize there are times when we look at our kids and feel they have so much more than we had, they don’t have to worry about paying bills, or where their next meal is going to come from and we think, You have no real problems.
But I will never say this to any of my kids, regardless of how insignificant I think their problems are — and this is why:
They won’t tell you things.
Believe me, they will stop telling you things. Not just the bad, but the good too. If you don’t act like that fight with their friend matters to you, they are going to think nailing that project in school isn’t going to matter either.
Sometimes we get sad and we don’t have a reason.
Imagine if you were having a shit day and your partner told you your emotions were uncalled for and you should perk up because you have no real reason to be sad?
That’s called toxic positivity, and it helps no one.
I’ve had a few days a week when I feel off, unmotivated, or incredibly anxious and I can’t quite put my finger on it. We need to normalize this with our kids. It is okay to not be okay, even if you aren’t sure why.
Our hormones, the weather, sleep, our diet, all play a role. There doesn’t have to be something specific to make us feel sad or anxious. And one way to make it worse is to make someone feel like they don’t have a right to their feelings.
This is a way of shaming.
It’s so much easier to take their time to listen to someone about what they are going through than it is to make them feel like shit for being anxious about school work, trying something new, or for having these feelings for no reason.
Most people fake happiness, not sadness.
Think about that. It takes a lot of work for your child to act anxious or sad if they are not. That’s not what’s going on. They don’t need us to teach them to act happy when they aren’t, on top of ignoring their real feelings.
If you were a kid whose feelings got dismissed, you know how it feels — and you don’t want to make another person (especially your child) feel that way. Ignoring their feelings about being depressed, sad, or anxious won’t make them go away. It will likely just make them worse.
We need to acknowledge the pressure on teens these days. We need to make them feel like there is space for their feelings … all of their feelings … no matter what.