"Children are our entrée into the future," says therapist Kathleen Galvin, who is a mother of three. They're also a way to extend our youth, as anyone who has played hide-and-seek or shared Goldfish crackers with a toddler knows.
The urge to connect to a child meshes nicely with what is, fundamentally, a duty, according to Rebekah Miles, PhD, an associate professor of ethics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who is writing a book about morality and child rearing. "In my opinion, there are no childless people," she says. "We all have responsibility for children." No one, even if he or she wishes it, can be disconnected from the next generation. We leave our marks, direct or subtle, on our children, our neighbors' children, and our nation's children.
"But there are other ways to leave something behind," says Galvin. "The wish to project oneself into the unseen future, to outlast mortality, is fundamental to human nature and prompts many of our most lasting endeavors. Artists are often motivated by this impulse. Those who command the building of skyscrapers—especially those who attach their own names to them—know the feeling of generativity."
So take up painting, woodworking, or quilting. Or get involved with other people's children. "You can volunteer at a library or the Boys and Girls Club," says Galvin. "Or tutor. I have students who have remained a part of my life for decades." And if, after all of this, you still need more interaction with children, Miles, the mother of two young girls, has a suggestion. "Call me," she says. "I can always use babysitting help."
You're in high school, the girl with no date to the prom. Only it's now and the neighbors are the ones having parties and not inviting you. Or your colleagues are going to lunch while you sit alone at your desk. You feel excluded.
It doesn't take much for most women to start fretting about being unlikable. "There's a little voice inside each of us that is constantly judging and finding us inadequate," says psychologist Lisa Firestone, who has spent her career studying that phenomenon. This self-hectoring tape, your hypercritical inner parent, is extremely difficult to ignore, she says. It guides many of us into behavior that reinforces our own harsh internal judgments and distances us from people who might offer a more positive opinion. The voice whispers that your coworkers would never enjoy your company anyway.
"When I have a patient who complains about being snubbed," Firestone says, "I ask her to look back to the moment just before. Did she do anything to provoke the other person?" For instance, when the women at the office were gathering to go out for lunch, were you hunched over your desk, looking defensive? Or if a neighbor passes you on the street, do you barely just nod before hurrying on your way?
To change the dynamics, you must be active, courageous, and willing to risk rejection. Go up and talk to a neighbor or colleague, says Firestone. "Your inner voice may scream at you to stop, but you have to persevere." Invite the very person who seemed to reject you to lunch, to a party, on a walk. People are generally kinder than we suppose.
And if not, shrug, smile, and move on, remembering that rude people have intimacy issues, too—there are plenty of others who would definitely appreciate your company.