The Lone Wolf

A beautiful group of middle children

Not to toot my own horn, but I am an excellent mother to teenage girls. I have three adolescent daughters. And I am KILLING IT. They seem to like my company, and I like theirs. They tell me all the things (although sometimes I wish they wouldn’t). All three of them are making relatively good choices. Or at least not life-alternating or life-threatening bad choices. There are moments of disconnect, but all I have to do is invite one of them to chat with me while I make dinner, and that connection is back. So far raising teenage girls has been a relatively easy pleasure.

I also have a teenage son. And he is not easy for me. He lands right in the middle as the third born. And the only boy. And he is a lot. When he wants to connect with his siblings, he doesn’t ask his sisters how their day was. He bursts into their rooms without knocking, turns their lights on and off 20 times until they yell at him. Then he screams something like “chill out, you’re fine!” When he wants to have time with me, he waits until 10:30 at night. When his phone and the TV are no longer an option. When I am in pajamas. On the verge of sleep. He knocks on the door of my room and says he just wants to cuddle. Please. Two minutes, promise. As a sucker for cuddling with my kids, I always say yes. It takes approximately 30 seconds for our cuddle to turn into a wrestling match that I DO NOT WANT. I am a good sport for bit. And then I’m done. I send him out of my room, usually rather forcefully, as he once again yells “chill out, you’re fine!” This is not some nights. It’s all nights.

As a psychology undergrad who hasn’t cracked open a psych book in 20 years, and as the third child of 6, my under-informed opinion is there are two kinds of middle child. There is the spotlight-glue middle child. The child who is afraid of being overlooked almost as much as they are afraid of people not getting along. This sort of middle child spends half their time trying to distinguish themselves from their siblings, cousins, classmates, and co-workers. They make any and all efforts to be different. And noticeable. They don’t just seek the spotlight. They chase it. Alternately, they spend the other half of their time scheming ways to ensure everyone in their life gets along and loves each other always always always. Everyone must be happy with everyone else all the time, and they will stretch themselves to transparency if it means becoming a bridge between all the people in their world. This is the kind of middle child I was. And am still in a lot of ways.

Then there is the slips-through-the-cracks middle child. This type of middle child demands very little. They don’t need a chit-chat. They don’t need the spotlight. They don’t need anything at all. But they do not feel like they get the recognition and attention they seek from their family. They don’t get adequate validation that they are amazing and incredible and enough. They don’t get their family socializing with them on their terms. So they seek it elsewhere. From their friends, from books, from their rich imaginary world. Family slowly becomes less important. Their alternate lives become their world.

Carson is a slip-through-the-cracks middle child. He seems to be seeking validation from his social world. His friends are everything. He spends hours running around with his wolf pack, doing who knows what. I am lucky to see him for meals. My younger brother Chris is also the slip-through-the-cracks kind of middle child. His choice of validation as a child was books. And now it’s his own little precious family. Don’t get me wrong. He was loved. Roughly by me, fiercely by my parents. I called him this evening, a little to make sure he was ok with being discussed in this post, but a lot just to seek advice on how to make my only son feel loved. He did not underdeliver. He admitted, he never didn’t feel loved. But he did have some words for me. He said something akin to “Can I give you 30 seconds of advice? If you are at Costco, buy him something. Not because he asked. Just because. Take him to do something. Just because. Nothing big. Anything. And go to his games. It’s not enough that one parent is there. YOU need to be there.” This was good advice, and just what I needed.

I am worried my son will get to the point where his family is not his most important source of love and validation. He was already in a bind as the only boy in a group of very strong and vocal girls. I believe a crucial moment in all of this may have been the split between his dad and me. Carson was 8-years-old when we sat the kids down to announce our separation. After our announcement, we put the kids to bed, and their dad retired to the bedroom to pack his bags. At the time, Carson’s room was directly across from ours. I walked by to check on him, only to find him lying on the floor of his room staring at our closed bedroom door, with tears silently streaming down his face. He didn’t make a noise. He didn’t seem to notice I was there. He just silently wept. To this day, it is the single most heartbreaking moment I have experienced with my kids. His dad, his guy, his brother was leaving. He lost his buffer. He changed after this. Slowly he became less settled, less ok with just being here with me and with his sisters.

I am not sure how to fix or change this. I am a woman, and will always be naturally better at connecting with my girls. But I am willing to change my nature. I will take my brother’s advice to heart. I love this kid with everything I have. Yes, he is a lot. But he is also loving and kind and interesting. He cares about the people in his world. And I want him to know I see this. I cannot lose him.

I did have an epiphany the other day. His room is upstairs. The only upstairs room in the house. Which sometimes makes it feel like he is even more removed from the rest of us. Usually after a long day of work, I get home and call for him to come downstairs and talk to me. Usually I have something I want him to do… unload the dishwasher, clean up his mess from this or that… but it occurred to me the other day that maybe I should make an effort to come to him. So instead of calling him down, I go up. I sit on the couch, watch stupid YouTube vines with him for 5 minutes. Then I make him come down and participate. Will it make a difference? I hope so. It’s too early to tell.

I will keep trying to connect to this boy I love so fiercely. I love the lone wolf that he is. But I want him to be part of my pack. Desperately. My boy. My son.

One response to “The Lone Wolf”

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