Editor’s note: My son wanted you to know that I am an empathetic person. He found the introduction to be quite emotional and insisted that I inform you about my sensitivity to my surroundings.
The dark, green seat on the school bus was almost as stiff as I remembered from my childhood.
As I slid onto it from the aisle, I found the seat unforgiving and inflexible; its unyielding back forced me to sit upright and observe those conversing and sitting around me.
The insufficient legroom between my seat and the one in front only added to my discomfort.
This seat was not made for an adult with long limbs and achy joints; it was made for a child with a young body and boundless energy.
Yet here I sat among nearly 30 first-graders and several other parents who, like myself, had agreed to chaperone a school trip to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD.
On this excursion, I experienced loneliness.
The bus’s constrained accommodations and the social isolation I later endured made me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. I felt awkward and disconnected from the other parents; I had no stories about my spouse to share and no plans to make with other married couples.
Instead, I followed my son and his friend as they explored the aquatic life that was as trapped and confined as I felt.
Lingering memory of loneliness
Nearly 10 years later, I still remember this awful day trip. Eating lunch alone because I knew no one. Watching other parents’ children so those parents could go off together. Listening to the laughter of other adults as they loudly discussed the good times they shared together.
Through these subtle social jabs, they alienated me, but their cruelty could never compare to my own fears of abandonment and rejection.
The loneliness emerging from this disconnection from each other and ourselves is real, but not unique to this era. The word “loneliness” did not exist until the late 19th century as people were deciphering their purpose in a rapidly changing world. The Industrial Revolution was “crashing” people into each other in cities and factories, causing them to feel uncertain, scared, angry, threatened, sad and alone.
As a single parent, I find myself analyzing my place in this world, especially when I slip into a bout of loneliness, what my mother affectionately describes as a “bad patch.” Sometimes, I just don’t have the emotional and spiritual stamina to contemplate this question and so I asked some single parents in my Facebook groups how they deal with loneliness.
These responses revealed parents in the early stages of loneliness where the pain is acute:
“Sometimes I feel awful because I have my daughter all the time, so I’m not supposed to feel lonely, right? They say I should be grateful — I am 100 percent — but I still can’t shake this feeling. And I’m a very social and outgoing person and feel I need to go out and dance like at least once a month to feel like my free spirit self.”
“It’s hard. I cry a lot. Because I realize my child’s father is moving on and it hurts. I talk to God and ask him so many questions about my failed relationship … I know I will have the answers one day.”
“I started struggling with this earlier this year. It has been two years since my kids have seen their dad, and a year since he has even contacted them. So, before now, things [were] always so chaotic; there was never time to think about it. I am really happy on my own, but once in a while, especially lately, I kind of miss having a companion. I think it just occurred to me that when these kids leave home, it will just be me.”
Other parents, who had, in some way, moved on from the initial pain, offered suggestions on how they fight the awful nasty:
“Arguing on moms groups.”
“Comcast, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu … going out with friends.”
“I’ve started to read novels again, forgot how much I enjoy it. Family’s not always there to entertain one. It’s encouraged my son to also read more and [watch] less TV.”
“I stay busy, and if I start to feel lonely, I clean.”
“I think the main thing is to not to be afraid to do things by yourself. Want to go for supper? Go. Want to see a movie? Go. It’s much worse sitting home day after day. Being out in public helps I find on bad days.”
These parents turned a corner in how they perceived this emotional monster:
“When my daughter is home, I never feel lonely. When I know she will be at dad’s [house], I usually schedule something to do with a friend or family member. I need both quiet time to recharge and connection to fuel.”
“Loneliness is for you to work on you until the One comes along.”
“Better yourself mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Once you do, you will appreciate your time alone.”
“Befriend the loneliness. See it; let it be there. It comes and goes like every other feeling.”
“It’s called freedom. That’s how I look at it when I start feeling it. It helps a bit.”
Finding this freedom, as the last parent mentioned, begins when we realize we are not with a partner who does not care for or love us.
Finding freedom and hope
Being alone, in this case, does not immediately need to translate into loneliness.
We don’t need to feel constrained by stiff cultural norms and societal expectations or alienated by others because of our decision to raise our children as single parents.
We don’t need to sink into despair because we believe we failed where others seem to have succeeded.
Instead, being alone can allow us to embark on a journey of self-discovery that only solitude can provide.
We can find our voices, understand our feelings, address our problems and strengthen our relationships.
We can be better, stronger people for ourselves and for our children.
Are you ready to make that choice?
On Thursdays, I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.