I was driving my daughter and her friend home after school and, when talking about weekend plans, I learned that her mom was going out of town for the weekend. When I pulled up to her house, I saw her mom and two other friends of mine talking in the driveway. I rolled down the window to talk to them and learned my three friends were waiting for a husband to get home so they could go away for the weekend. I commented I sure knew what it was like to wait for a late husband and told them to have a great time, waving and smiling as I backed out.
I drove toward our house, hot tears welling up in my lower lids. After a moment, my empathetic eleven-year-old quietly asked, “Mommy…did that hurt your feelings?”
Two big tears spilled over and I choked out an honest, “Yeah. I wish it didn’t, but it did.”
You see, I’m not part of the “in” mom group.
I like each of the women. They’re always nice to me. Our kids are friends. But, I don’t get invited to their gatherings.
And for a long time, it bothered me. I think it was partially because I felt like I missed out or I messed up. I used to get invited when the kids were young. So, I’d ask myself where I went wrong. I’d replay events from four or five years earlier, and I’d wonder if I would still be invited if I’d done something different. Most of all, though, it bothered me that it bothered me.
I’d learn that a couple of the moms were hanging out with each other when they’d pick up their kids from my house. And my husband would ask, “That doesn’t bother you, does it?” And I’d desperately want to say, “Pshh, of course not!” But it did. And then I’d get mad at myself for letting myself feel like a left out middle schooler when I have such an incredibly wonderful life. Plus, I’m the mother of middle schoolers. I lived through my own middle school years almost three decades ago. It seemed ridiculous that I’d feel this way, especially when I’m constantly trying to help my own girls navigate their middle school years without so much emphasis on being popular.
It’s been two years since the incident I mentioned above, and I still go through phases where it bothers me, but for the most part, I’m doing better.
So, what’s a full grown adult with kids of her own to do when feeling socially left out like a twelve-year-old?
Realize it’s not just you
Most important for me has been realizing it’s not just me feeling this way. I’m someone who loves intimate conversations…maybe one reason I’m not in the cool group? I’ve delved into this topic with several close friends in the last couple years, and I’ve learned that many women feel this way.
Consider your social media use
I cut way down on my social media use the last year or so. I found that I was feeling less happy when I was scrolling Facebook than before I’d went on. I finally deleted the app and only use it a few times a week for work related needs. I recently read a book that cited studies that found that for adolescents and teens, social media led to more unhappiness. Since I was feeling kind of adolescent-y myself, I guess that makes sense. But, really, pay attention to what you feel when you’re on social media. If you find it brings you connection, great, but if you find that it leaves you feeling more left out, consider limiting your use.
Let yourself feel it
I also realized that getting annoyed with myself for feeling upset wasn’t helping, so I let myself feel sad sometimes. It’s okay to feel a little bit left out when people you like are having fun without you. But, after letting myself feel sad a while, I’d find what brought me joy. A cuddle with one of my kids, a phone call with another friend, or taking the dogs for a walk.
The grass isn’t always greener
One more thing that helped was realizing that life isn’t quite as picture perfect as it might look, even in the “cool mom” group. I was talking to someone who I’d always considered one of the cool moms, and, after my own confession of how upset something had made me, she confessed to me her own feelings of being left out of within the group and fallings out she’d had with some of them. Of course, from the outside, I’d never have guessed.
Recognize (or find) your place
I know it sounds cliché, but it was key for me to stop focussing on where I didn’t fit in and focus on where I did. It started one day when my husband asked me, “Would you want to go out with them all the time?” I realized I wouldn’t. Yes, I like them, they’re tons of fun, but I really like being home with my kids in the evenings and on the weekends. I didn’t want to give up much of that time, even if I was invited. I also realize that I have people in my life who I dearly value. It doesn’t look as pretty as the cool mom group looked to me from the outside, but like we learned above, things don’t always look as pretty from the inside. So I’m learning to appreciate what I have and not feel like I need to be one of the “in” group.
The best part is, I’m finally practicing what I’m trying to tell my middle schoolers to do.
This post originally appeared on Milwaukee Mom.