Have you ever felt ignored, undervalued, or forgotten about? Did you grow up feeling unimportant compared to your siblings and never got the attention and support you needed? I know I didn’t. Every time someone overlooks me, I feel like I’m 8 years old again. Every time someone talks over me, or leaves me behind, I feel like the wounded child I still am and always have been.
If these words brought back painful experiences from your childhood, then you might be a glass child. Hi, my name’s Emma and this isn’t just my story of how it was like growing up a glass child — it’s an open letter to everyone else who ever felt invisible and unimportant in their families.
Understanding The Glass Child
When the term first emerged, a “glass child” simply referred to those who grew up with a sibling with special needs. But now the phrase is often used to describe anyone who felt overshadowed by and neglected in favor of their siblings. Most often the middle child, the term “glass child” is meant to convey the painful feeling of having people just look right through you, as if you were translucent, and never actually see you.
Learning about this for the first time impacted me a lot, because it helped me put into words my painful childhood experiences and understand myself better. I never said anything, but it really hurt to be treated that way, whether or not my parents meant to. It hurt to always be overlooked, no matter how hard I tried, and to always be the last priority for my own family.
I know my siblings had a hard time growing up. They had bad grades, bad friends, and were constantly getting into trouble at school, so my parents had to keep a careful eye on them. Everything they deprived me of — their time, support, and attention — they showered my siblings with. And it hurt me because, even though I wasn’t the one who needed them the most, I still needed them. I was growing up, too. I had problems, too. I was still just a child, too. Wasn’t that enough?
To everyone else who feels the way I do, I’m sorry and I’m here for you. I see you and empathize with you. Easily overlooked, dismissed, and misunderstood, this sense of being invisible can have a profound impact on our identity, self-esteem, and relationships. And I know for myself that growing up a glass child can leave us with emotional wounds that can take years to heal.
Conceal, Don’t Feel
On the surface we may appear strong and silent to those around us, beneath our exertior lies a yearning to be seen, accepted, and understood, to feel that we are wanted and enough. Tthese are the hidden struggles of a glass child that we carry with us no matter how old we get.
It’s made us adept at hiding behind a mask and putting on a brave face for everyone else’s sake, because we don’t want to be a burden. We feel guilty about wanting things for ourselves and about wanting to prioritize ourselves the way no one ever has before, so we downplay our struggles and emotions like we were raised to, but it makes us feel lonely and afraid of never being truly known or valued by others.
How It Taught Me Empathy
Growing up a glass child can be a difficult journey but there are times when I feel gratefu to have gone through what I went through. Because those experiences, no matter how painful, made me the person that I am today. Being a glass child taught me the value of independence and self-sufficiency. But most importantly, it gave me a deeper sense of empathy.
Those childhood memories I mentioned earlier may all be in the past, but the feelings they bring out continue to resurface still, and I sometimes feel frozen in time with my pain. But contrary to the misconception that glass children are fragile beyond repair, there’s a hidden strength in our vulnerability. I feel the emotions of others intensely and empathize with those who are treated unfairly or don’t have a voice. That’s why I never want anyone else to feel as bad as I do sometimes, and I go out of my way to make sure everyone feels valued, appreciated, and taken care of.
While it’s a path that comes with its challenges, being a glass child helped me to become more resilient and channel my sensitivity into creative pursuits, advocacies, and fostering connections with people who have similar experiences. Because for glass children like us, finding support and understanding is essential for their emotional well-being. And I’m thankful to have found people who genuinely care for, appreciate, and understand me. Their support and acceptance changed my life and how I saw myself, so I know without a doubt that the same thing can happen to you, too.
You’re not alone in this experience, and your value isn’t defined by your past. Your uniqueness, your dreams, and your journey deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated. So, dear one, here’s to healing those wounds, to embracing your worth, and to realizing that you were never insignificant. Your presence has left an indelible mark on the lives you’ve touched, and you have the potential to create ripples of change far beyond what you can imagine.
With unwavering belief,