A divorced mom recently shared with me that she and her two children have spent a glorious summer practically living on the beach of their small coastal town. Day after day, they build sand castles, chase crabs on the sand, and cat nap while listening to the sounds of the surf and seagulls. As much of a postcard image as her family’s summer has been, she finds herself envious of the “perfect families” who come to their beach to collect shells, picnic, and enjoy flawless days together.
I’ve been there. I know what she’s talking about.
I, too, have experienced “perfect family envy.”
I’ve been that single mom taking my kids to the pumpkin patch in the fall –by myself– while other happy and intact families followed the same ritual, only with wedding bands, a loving mother and father together watching their beautiful children frolic in crisp autumn leaves, and chatting about what they will do later that evening when they go home as a family.
I’ve been that single mom perusing my friend’s pages on social media as their catalog-like family portraits, holiday photos, and tales of family bliss fill my newsfeed.
I’ve attended the school events, scout meetings, and others and sat by myself while feeling mournful that my kids don’t have a mother and a father both escorting them to these activities, and resentful of the fact that they (and I) had to stand out as the oddball in a sea of happy, “perfect” families.
The pain and disappointment are legit. None of us wanted to have a marriage that fell apart or to have our attempts at a picture perfect family crumble before our eyes!
Perhaps I have taken a few steps beyond those feelings in my divorce recovery process, because I am now able to see a different angle when I reflect on these experiences, and I find myself sad for a slightly different reason.
I now remember trips to pumpkin farms, holidays, and many events over the past seven years of our post-divorce life, and I realize that we, just the three of us, have had the gift of a lovely life and many memorable experiences! As most moms do, I have toiled endlessly to give my kids all that I can and help them to see and do as many wonderful things as our time, budget, and imaginations can handle.
We are, by no means, perfect; but, we are happy and we have much to be thankful for in our lives!
This brings me back around to my point: beauty is all around us, and time in this life and with the ones we love is fleeting! I have wasted far too much of that precious time wishing I had something that I didn’t instead of appreciating the amazing gifts that I have!
Those “perfect” families are just as flawed as yours or mine, they are just better at color-coordinating, posing for pictures, and putting on a good show in front of the rest of us! For all you know, the perfect couple’s children fought in their minivan all the way to the beach while the wife quietly texted her lover and the husband drove while mentally replaying his conversation with the divorce attorney earlier in the day…
We just never know what’s going on behind the lovely front doors of “perfect” houses in “perfect” neighborhoods!
Me? I’d rather take authentic over rehearsed and robotic. I would rather enjoy my kids by myself then have to paste on a fake smile and endure a cold and scripted exchange with a spouse who is unloving and makes me feel lonelier than any sentence in Siberia ever could! I’ve been on that family vacation, and trust me that it was no fun!
All of us want to give our children as close to perfection as possible! I realize now that I wasted my time (and theirs) fretting because we didn’t look like the families in TV commercials or the ones sharing space with us on our many adventures. But, you know what? We had a good time! We love each other! We’re healthy, we’re safe, we have all of our basic needs met!
We’re no less and no better than any other family. Our value is not measured by the numbers of members in our family or the titles assigned to the members of our tribe!
We’re as “normal” as any other family out there! Think about how many children are raised by grandparents, extended family members, adoptive parents, same sex partners, single parents, blended families, and so on. The only ingredient needed for a happy family is love; so, why do we get caught up on feeling like there has to be a biological mom and dad present to fit the definition of “family?”
When we’re feeling insecure or sad about our life, for any number of reasons (e.g. age, weight, level of income), we tend to scrutinize what others have more and allow ourselves to become awash with feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. Chances are that others are watching you and your family and thinking nice things about you and making comparisons of their life against yours!
My message is to love what you have, no matter what it is! If you spend all your time wishing that your life was a toothpaste ad’s version of the perfect family, you will miss out on the fact that you already have something precious of your very own! Don’t allow the blessing of your children and time you have together to be tarnished by “what if’s” and “if only’s!”
Make magic in your own sandbox with the ingredients you have bestowed upon you. Comparisons to mirages will rob you of the satisfaction you could be enjoying with the ones you love! Go ahead and grieve the loss of your marriage and the dreams you had for that life…then, go on to live life to the fullest!