Hakuna Matata: Why Unpopularity Shouldn’t Be a Worry

Mad Max... original anti-hero

Mad Max… original anti-hero

Being only three, my recollection of nursery is patchy at best. But one thing I am certain of: I wasn’t popular. It was the 80s and Sydney suburbia so it didn’t take much to be considered socially leftfield. My dad has on occasion alluded to the possibility that the way I dressed had something to do with it – my mother’s oversized skirts, my stage make-up, or Victorian lace gloves were perhaps a little too much, given the uniform of denim dungarees sported by most of my peers. These days, no one would bat an eyelid at such sartorial temerity, but in this context I think people just thought me weird. I had family friends outside of nursery though so my lack of popularity didn’t bother me too much.

Things were a bit different in primary school however. There, I felt the social ostracism more acutely. I was loud, boisterous and people seemed to follow me so I got the impression I had a number of friends. Yet when it came to parties and such, I remember learning some very painful lessons about exclusion.

This pattern continued throughout high school, university and even adulthood; me, hanging on the fringes, one toe in, but never really part of the gang.

Don’t get me wrong. This is as much my own design as it is circumstance. I’m not the most social of individuals and yet despite wanting to be included, I tend to fasten myself to a select few people who are rarely connected to one another. New situations frighten me and instead of rising to the challenge, I tend to remove myself from them altogether and then carp about it it later on.

The Doc is very similar in this sense. He too suffered some of the indignities of being a social outcast at school and in early adulthood (again, part design, part environment) and like me, demonstrates a somewhat paradoxical habit of wanting to be included yet having a default position that verges on misanthropic. Perhaps this is in part what drew us together, but it doesn’t make for the most socially dynamic of couples.

Against such a backdrop, it is worrying that my daughter already seems to exhibit similar problems. In the twelve months or more she has been at her nursery, she has only ever been invited to one birthday party, while other children seem to be at at least one every weekend. But is it something in her character or is it a product of the fact that her parents don’t assimilate into parent groups as much as they ought to? Should the Doc and I be doing more to ingratiate ourselves into these cliques?


But do we really want to? After all, there’s all that relentless outlay for other children’s birthday presents, the haribo mix, the forced chat. Unless the sort of people who are likely to make alcoholic provisions for the adults, these aren’t the sort of parties I want to be going to. Yet on the other hand, a small section of my heart begins to crumble when I hear about a get together where my daughter wasn’t included. Instagram doesn’t help, with it’s live feed of face painting and jumping castles; the carefully selected fabulousness folk do their best to visually articulate forcing me to pine for a lifestyle I never knew I wanted. My daughter may be relatively unaffected by it now, but what if this is the trajectory for her social future? She will be cognizant of her exclusion soon enough and then what words of wisdom will I have to impart to her? People are wankers? Not sure how helpful that is to the under 10s.

And yet it’s not other parents’ fault that they have no idea who my daughter is. Why would they when I make little effort to get to know any of them? Which in itself begs the question: is it about the parents or the children? Do we gravitate toward the parent and then hope the kids get along or do we get to know the parent as a result of the children getting along?

Most of the people I see with any regularity, those I would call my good friends, tend to be people I have a certain chemistry with and the chemistry between our children has followed. This is ideal for me, but it has certain limitations I suppose. Numbers are often important to children – that is, the direct correlation between knowing more people and thus being incorporated into more social activities. So in this sense, perhaps I should be more prolific as a parent. Conversely, children fairly rapidly become quite discerning with their friends, exercising a quality over quantity mentality. This is something I would like to foster. At the same time, I like the idea of my daughter being someone who is able to build relationships with a number of diverse people and groups; popular I suppose, for want of a better word, but without the narcissism.

Is this just one of those Circle of Life type things? For every Mufasa-Simba triumph, there is also the reality of Scar being torn apart by hyenas? I would like to think that not all social outliers are evil. Perhaps we need more children’s stories that celebrate the anti-hero.







  1. I absolsutely get this. The urge to want to be included and yet my default setting is shying away and living within the boundaries of my on social comfort. My son is seemingly outgoing and popular at nursery but already I have the nagging suspicion he will follow suit – perhaps this is more my fault than his. He doesn’t so much choose his friends at the age of three – he accepts what’s on offer and I guess, with me in charge it’s not always the richest of pickings! But I also think quality over quantity – I have great friends in small numbers. Yet a little part of me hopes he will just have friends in large numbers,

  2. The best thing you can do for your daughter is unclench a bit and stop looking down on other people.

    1. Stump Weasel · · Reply

      I guess it’s the way you read it – but I don’t feel Willow is looking down on people, she’s just more aware of her status in the group/society than most people. As a result of this awareness, she recognizes this in her daughter.

      I think we can all relate to this experience on some level. I had a good circle of friends in primary school but as I got older, I became more aware of cliques. I wasn’t in with the inmost, never have been, never will be. I am a sociable person but life’s little knocks and blows have made me more wary so I have a small circle of friends. Certainly I see myself in my older child, while my younger is more outgoing and popular, like my sister. It does hurt a little but bitterness will only make it worse so I don’t indulge in self pity.

      All Willow can do is be there to support and encourage her child.

      And as for looking down on people – find me a person who claims not to look down on anyone and I’ll show you a liar. We all have our little prejudices or preferences if you will. Tolerance is an essential part of being – and there’s all too little of it in today’s world.

  3. Yes, I get this. I can’t integrate myself with the other parents at my daughters nursery because I work full time and Granddad does nursery drop off/pickup. Does this mean my child will be a social outcast? I hope not.

  4. Jane Green · · Reply

    Interesting read, but I think more people identify with being out casts than don’t, I think whereever we are within a social group, more often than not we see ourselves as being on the outside looking in. Thats just life.

  5. I can relate to some of this! My daughter desperately wants to be included but coupled with initial reluctance basically shoots herself in the foot! It’s left her just at the periphery of the cliquey social circle and only gets to dip her toe in occasionally re parties. I have had to work pretty hard on her behalf for what I think she wants but have I got that right? I think it will change at school, at least it does from what I see with friends children – definitely quality over quantity ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Nicola · · Reply

    Aspergers, women and girls manifest differently to the men and boys.

  7. St. Albans mummy · · Reply

    I am so relived to hear another mum put it so well. My daughter is 9 and is rarely even invited to parties, in the past I have invited lots of children to our parties and really tried to make an effort with mums but to little avail . But she now has a just one close friend and seems quite happy with that. It doesn’t seem to worry her and I admire my daughter’s independence and ability to entertain herself. She isn’t afraid of being a bit different refuses to be dragged into the cruel ways of the girls in her class. I am never been one of the in crowd at school and this used reduce me to tears some mornings but as I rarely pick up is have obviously missed those opportunities. I work hard to give my family all they need and take succour from that.

  8. I was really scared that my kids might follow in my footsteps .. as a child I was selective mute for a good few years – and always the ‘shy’ or ‘quiet’ one. My oldest went through a similar stage – although for a much shorter time. This was heart-wrenching, but also deeply healing to observe. I realised that my children are their own people, with their own paths to walk. If this means they hold a similar pattern to me, then so be it. Ultimately that makes it a learning experience for us all.

    As for parties, I’ve noticed with my kids that up until a certain age they were invited to birthday parties more because the parents knew who I was. It seemed to have little to do with how much the kids played together at preschool. Once they hit 4 or 5, kids started to have much more of a say about who would be invited to their birthday parties .. but it has to be remembered here that those ‘chosen’ kids may differ from week to week. I get my kids to work out who they’d like to invite to their parties at least 6 or 7 times – simply because it often seems to depend on who they are playing with that week. My daughter is much more consistent than my son with this, but it is interesting to see the dynamics – and how their friendships change.

  9. Devon dumperling · · Reply

    Totally get this article. I have never been ‘in’ but people presume i’m off doing things with other people and now i have kids i have connected superficially with some parents but i’m in the wrong age bracket. I have one shy child and one outgoing. I also work so find it hard to find time to induct them into society!

  10. I can relate to this too! My son, now 13, was not invited to parties. The heartache came when he invited as many people as possible to his, only to rarely be invited back. I used to seethe at the mothers who allowed this to happen. But really, if their children didn’t like my son, why should they be forced to invite him to their party? My son is still learning how to be sociable, whilst to others it comes so naturally, and I can see that he doesn’t fit the mould. But if he can come to terms with this, I feel it’s to be celebrated. He knows his own mind and will not sway from it. He is driven, focused. So I guess what I’m saying is that there may be an upside to your daughter’s character; that perhaps, with the possible social ‘problems’, come upsides that she might not otherwise have had.

    Great post – thank you.

  11. this sounds like your typical introvert experience, and the best you can do is to help your daughter manage her disappointments but also help her to develop skills that go a little bit against nature so that she is able to hold her own in social settings. My natural instinct is to be an ‘outskirts’ person in social gathering, I have a small group of friends and I find social occasions with lots of people to be exhausting and uncomfortable but I know that with a little bit of extra work, I can make it easier on myself. I would recommend you check out the book from Susan Cain called ‘Quiet’. It has lots of tips on how to handle a society that requires people including children to be outgoing to be successful when it’s simply not everyone’s makeup to be that way.

  12. Wonderful Willow! How are you?! I can’t believe you’re 1. online, 2. a mother, and 3. in England!! Hit me up mate. Brendan (Immi – the phones, remember?)

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