Mother’s Day this year topped all the other years I can remember. My children attended church with me. My sons had never been to a service with me. It was so fun to introduce the kids to my friends. My friends had heard about my kiddos but now they could put faces and voices to the stories. One woman had taught my younger son nine years ago when he was a kindergartener. She oohed, aahed and fussed over him and how he’d changed. I think he liked it. Another church member commented that she was happy I got my wish to have my kids with me. It was special to be surrounded by family. I usually attend services by myself.
After church, we met up with my sweet boyfriend at a local restaurant for brunch. There was a light, comfortable and fairly talkative atmosphere at our round table conveniently near the lobster scrambled eggs, maple glazed bread pudding and bacon.
Each of my children gave me a thoughtful card with a unique handwritten message. I said thank you and gave each of them a loving hug.
The weather smiled on us that day too. Perfect golden sunshine with a gentle breeze. For dinner, we walked to a neighborhood pizza place. We walked through our neighborhood, chatting and reminiscing about old times. It felt so nice. Once at the pizza place, the soft-spoken and somewhat shy restaurant owner surprised us with a free plate of cheese toast for Mother’s Day.
I talked with my sister on the phone that night. We try to connect on days we especially miss our mom. Mother’s Day qualifies. This was our second one without her. Even though we did not talk about Mom much, her absence and memories were in the background of our conversation.
I foresee a lot of time alone and surprisingly, don’t like it
The next day, my high from the weekend, plummeted. Things went back to normal. I looked ahead to the summer’s schedule and saw a lot of time on my own. My kids will be gone with their dad for a good portion of it. My boyfriend is in the middle of two important work projects that take him out-of-state during the week. My extended family is all out-of-state. My friends are around but have their own plans and people. No one is intentionally absent or unavailable. It just works out that way.
I realized I’ve spent a lot of the last decade feeling lonely. I’d never associated myself with that word until now, but in truth even when I was married, I felt lonely. There was not a two way current of emotional safety and caring between my husband and me. Introverts supposedly like being alone, but I don’t think we like feeling alone or being alone all the time. We want to feel connected just as much as extroverts.
Kids are great companions but not the same as another adult
Last summer, I took the kids on three different trips — two of them road trips. By the end of the road trip to South Dakota in August, I was frazzled. We saw cool things and have interesting memories of Mount Rushmore, bison burgers and The Badlands, but being the only adult on the trip — no one to help make decisions, no one my age to share the experiences with and no one to giggle with at night about the day’s mishaps — took its toll. I vowed I would take fewer trips with the kids this year, especially if I didn’t have another adult with me. The fact is I can physically and financially plan and carry out the vacation with the kids. I’ve proven that many times. It’s the empty feeling that accompanies the trips that I don’t want to face again.
People need people
I’ve done a lot of research over the last two years regarding attachment theory and the human need for support and emotional safety. I’ve learned how other people help us heal emotionally, make us feel loved and calm our nervous systems. They can also have the exact opposite effects. Feeling isolated is a lethal threat to our well-being. It wreaks havoc on us physiologically. Our positive neural pathways flourish or atrophy depending on how much care and support we receive. Neuroscientist, Dr. Bruce Perry, says an isolated mother is a distressed mother. Infants perish if they do not get enough touch and care. The elderly suffer tremendously from lack of interaction and touch. People need people.
Looking back at my strong need for solitude during the last few years of my marriage, I see I used it to recharge and escape the loneliness. I was safe from conflict and pressure to be super mom/wife/woman. Physically alone, I could escape into the world of books, learning or my writing. I could connect with others there, if only in my head. I wanted to know and understand myself. If I knew myself maybe I could get someone in my home to know me. The more I learned about myself through reading and writing, the more obvious and painful the disconnection in my home. It was less uncomfortable to be alone or with supportive friends.
Besides solitude, I sought refuge from the loneliness by spending time with kind, perceptive, emotionally generous people who seemed to be interested in connecting with me and with life in general. Their presence filled me up.
This summer, like the last few summers, I will take my kids to Tennessee to stay with my dad and stepmom. We will see my brother and his family too. It’s ideal. We all love it there. The relaxed atmosphere is so fun and we feel the gift of connection with extended family. Bonus, there will be other adults there.
I do not feel lonely when with my boyfriend. I feel loved and loving. He’s the person I want to giggle with at the end of the day. Sometimes our schedules make it difficult to be together. The intellectual evolved part of my brain understands the responsibilities and time commitments we both have. The primitive involuntary part of my brain quickly registers absence as me by myself again. Luckily, my guy is very good at sensing when I’m feeling disconnected. He knows reassuring me with touch and words keeps the loneliness at bay.
Help someone feel supported
As I thought about loneliness and isolation, my mom kept coming to mind. I have much more empathy for her plight as a single mother and single empty-nester now. She did almost everything on her own once my sister and I were gone, and even when we were there. She had a few long-term boyfriends who occasionally abated, but mostly exacerbated, her loneliness. Her boyfriend choices were mostly out of desperation to escape being alone. She was a cat lover. Her cats kept her company the best they could. I wish I would/could have spent more time with her. She needed us to go to church with her, meet her friends and reminisce about old times. She needed a lot of reassurance, that she did not receive.
Still an introvert
I still need alone time to do deep work that requires concentration and the ability to mine my imagination. I still don’t like too much stimulation or a rush of forced socializing. I’m still an introvert but I also know I need people. I physically and emotionally need others. We all do.
When do you feel most lonely, when with others or when alone? How does solitude recharge you? How could you make someone else feel less lonely?
If you would like help understanding and healing your loneliness please contact me for personal coaching.