Sometimes when I see my son playing by himself in his room on a Saturday afternoon, I stand in the doorway and ask him a very complex question:
Are you lonely?
I ask this for several reasons. First of all, he is an only child with no siblings to boss around. So, if my husband and I are not doing an activity with him, he is usually playing by himself. (Which I encourage - everyone should learn how to occupy their own time without dependence on another person.)
Secondly, he has parents who both spend time doing solitary activities, providing him with examples of grown-ups being alone.
Finally, he is a boy. And studies show that men traditionally spend more time alone - either through time in their own spaces or at the end of their lives when they have fewer social options. There are evidently few opportunities for men to feel comfortable bonding together in older age.
To the men out there: Why is that? Why are the things that bond you together when you are younger (sports or hobbies or whatever) not seem relevant when you are older?
Most times when I ask my son if he is lonely, he shakes his head and tells me no. If he tells me yes, then we talk about what would make him feel less lonely and then I give him the time/attention he needs. (This is how I've amassed all my dinosaur and construction truck knowledge.)
But there are times when I don't ask the question, but I can tell that he is lonely. Those are the times he will randomly appear by my side and tell me, "I just want to be in whatever room you are in." And I hug him and tell him that he is more than welcome to be with me, even though we are doing different activities. He is here with me now as I type this, building a complex train track and when he is done, I will watch him play conductor. We are each doing something solitary, but we are not alone.
And maybe that is a good compromise for us.
Do your children ever vocalize their loneliness? How do you help them with it? Share with me in the comments.