All The Families At The Park Are “Complete”… All But Mine
I don’t know a single single parent who hasn’t had that moment.
You know which one I’m talking about.
The moment of utter loneliness and to be frank, jealousy that strikes when you’re at a park and a cute, “complete” family bounces onto the scene.
It happened to me recently. My kiddo was biking and I was “jogging” (ahem… walking with spurts of half-hearted pathetic skip jogs) behind her, panting heavily, until we reached the playground.
Despite my terrible excuse for a workout…Life was good! We found a moment of peace. I was completely satisfied with where we were. We were happy. We were together. The sun was shining and by word, we had made it to the park for a picnic.
And that’s all that mattered.
It’s all that mattered, that is, until comparison drove my joy away.
Jealousy as a Single Parent Is Emotionally Taxing
Here’s what went down-town.
This incredibly good-looking fellow walked into the mainframe. (I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was oogling him.)
I was lost in my own moment of sunshiny-gratitude to God for creating such a beautiful human.
And. Then. She arrived. She must have sensed competition because she came up and kissed him right in front of me. (Like, an awkward space in front of me? We’re talking 2 feet, maybe. Way into my bubble space.)
And. Then. She wanted a family selfie with their two (stunningly gorgeous, are you surprised) children. I almost felt like I had to offer to take the photo for them since we were in such close proximity! But, ha, no, I didn’t.
I just fake smiled.
Suddenly, my moment with my kiddo in our complete joy with our 2-person family was jolted.
The harsh reality struck me that we were “alone.” And it hurt.
It’s possible the family was having such a wonderful day they didn’t even realize I was there.
But, can I be frank? I was jealous of what they had and suddenly reminded of what I didn’t have.
That’s a pretty junky feeling!
- It makes you feel judgmental
- It makes you feel bitter
- It makes you feel “brushed aside” by society
- It makes you feel “less than”
- It makes you feel guilty that you feel #1-4 above
- It makes you feel shame that you feel guilty that you feel #1-4 above
I had no option but to combat this mindset. It simply wouldn’t serve me to have this thought every time I saw that “cute, perfect” family.
So, I needed to find a solution to this moment of loneliness and inadequacy.
Put bluntly, here’s what I’ve discovered:
The “Cute, Perfect Family” Is NOT Going Away
The “cute perfect family” will always exist. You’ll see them at the mall, at the restaurant, down the sidewalk, at your child’s school events, and plastered over your fridge during the holidays.
So, that “problem” isn’t going to go away.
Social Media Heightens Feelings of Inadequacy
Shortly after I became a single parent, someone advised me to get off of Facebook. It was some of the best advice I’ve ever received.
Why? Because Facebook has never brought me joy. It only breeds comparison and desire for what others have. (Now, this can be healthy in spurts, but not all the time).
If people post modified, beautiful versions of their perfect families, and you don’t see any of the issues behind the beautiful photos, you’re getting a distorted view of those individuals.
So. These families will always be around, and potentially “in our faces” on a regular basis, no matter where we go or what we do.
So, what’s to be done?
The variable that can change is your attitude toward these “cute perfect families.”
Gratitude as a Key Survival Component of Single Parenting
#1. Gratitude is the key to happiness.
Trust me on this one. You need to get to the point where you can look at these “happy” families and be happy for them. Genuinely happy for them. Because until you can be happy for them, you won’t be happy yourself. You’ll always see yourself and your family as “less than” or “insufficient.”
Then, you’ll always compare. And consequently, joy will feel elusive.
So, the next time you see that family at the park, be happy for them. Don’t be a jealous grump!
If you want to find joy in your single parenting journey, you need to find gratitude for other people’s joy.
#2. You don’t know what you don’t know.
Let’s assume they were a perfect family at the park.
If you were to see into their lives, or live in their shoes, I guarantee you would see what plagues many families: issues, disagreements, annoyances, grievances, etc. (If you know a family who claims they are perfect, I wouldn’t trust them!)
You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors in their home life.
Therefore, you cannot judge whether or not their happiness is greater than that of your own. (And, I would argue, that it’s OK for someone’s happiness to be greater than our own.)
Just because a family giggles and laughs and plays tag at a park, doesn’t mean they’re a happy family. When you let this sink in, it can be a sobering reality.
(Even if they’re not all happy… or perhaps especially if they’re not happy… we genuinely wish them a happy existence together).
Advice: Stay Out of the Negative Mind Loop
Many single parents (or at least I know of one person who did this…) spent a decent portion of her energy wishing she had what others had. Since single parenthood was a surprise in her life, and put her in a position she’d never thought she’d be in, she had some reconciling to do with her thoughts.
There’s the time spent in the “if only’s” and the lost dreams of a future “complete” family that become an inherent part of your mind loop if you allow them.
My recommendation is to practice gratitude for “complete” families, and wish them genuine blessings. Yes, even the ones who take selfies right in front of us.
Recognize that you and your family are also “complete,” as you are, and, equally important, blessed.
Don’t be discouraged when you see a happy family bouncing around at the park, or putting their arms around one another at a religious service, or posting their adorable fall photos on Facebook. If you’ve felt this way, you are certainly not alone.
I would encourage you, however, to try to maintain perspective, and to force yourself to be happy for the other people.
Embrace the family you have in front of you. Find gratitude for the people in your life.
Life is too brief to spend it wishing we had what someone else has, or feeling inadequate. My single-parent household is unapologetically complete. Period. And we lead good lives. Period.
And, even though sometimes we wish for something more, we are thankful that many people around us have found joy in their own parenting journey.