Compare & Despair

Our level of contentment is generally set by the gap between our expectation and our reality. The closer together they are, the more content we feel. When things fail to live up to our expectations, especially the big things, we tend to be less content or ‘happy’. One of the hardest parts about single parenthood is the gap between how families are typically portrayed, and how ours look in reality. The classic ‘happy family’ image of two parents at home with 2.4 children leaves a large gap between our expectation and reality of family life. But does this apply to other areas of life, too?

How do you stop comparing yourself to others?

The best way to banish comparison as a thief of joy is to learn to accept your circumstances and practice gratitude.

There’s a whole chapter on overcoming single parent stigma in How To Be A Happy Single Parent. Order your copy here.  

Step one: overcoming stigma

Overcoming the stigma and shame attached to single parent status is an enormous and important first step in finding happiness as a single mum. Part of this comes in accepting single parenthood and overcoming the ‘normal’ and ‘right’ images of family we are presented with culturally, via the traditional media and social spaces online and in the real world. 

Confirmation bias means we look for facts and scenarios that reaffirm what we already believe, so we find what we are looking for. This works in all areas of life, but in this instance, let’s take the family set-up. When you first become a single parent, if you believe that your situation is outside of the norm, you will look for information that confirms this. If you believe that families should consist of a mum, a dad and child/ren, when you go to the park on your own with your kids, you’ll see ‘happy’ family units all around you. You’ll go to a cafe with your kids and see mums and dads sitting together with their kids. They’ll be everywhere. And each one will add to your existing view that a ‘normal’ family has two parents. 

But the opposite is also true. When you start to accept your family status and realise that single parent families are very common (around 20% of all families, in fact), you’ll start seeing them everywhere too. They will be at the same parks and cafes previously packed with nuclear family units. When you see a mum with her kids, you won’t assume that there’s a man at home or at work waiting for them. You’ll learn to listen out for the hints in conversations that suggest you’ve just found a fellow single parent. ‘They’re at their dad’s’, ‘it’s their mum’s day’. You’ll start feeling comfortable and then proud of your single parent status, and soon you’ll be finding ways to work it into conversation and normalising your set-up for others so that they feel comfortable, too. You’ll also start noticing that every single family is unique, in ways other than the number of adults in it. And that they all have ups and downs and challenges that are unique to them. 

Step two: practising gratitude as a single parent

Once you become comfortable with your family set-up, the next step is learning to love it. Rather than thinking about the ways in which your family differs from the ‘norm’, and how this makes things harder (eg, economically, emotional support, logistically), think about ways it makes life better. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for, and you’ll find that some of them are unique to your life as a single mum. One on one time with your child. The calm and peaceful house. The evenings where you have sole charge of the remote. The freedom to make your own parenting decisions and set your own agenda. The freedom to rediscover yourself through dating and making new friends. The freedom, the freedom, the freedom. 

There are so many hardships to overcome, but there are so many things to be grateful for and celebrate, too. Constantly comparing yourself to others might just prevent you from noticing them. 

What are the hardest things about being a single mum? & What are the best things about being a single mum?!

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