We have two children. Our daughter is 32 and our son is 29. Both are single. When they were both much younger, I felt like I was just like everyone else. Busy trying to find shidduchim for them, doing my best. I watched them date and occasionally have close calls of success, but some-how neither of them ever was able to find the right person.
This has been going on for a long while, as you can imagine. When most of my daughter’s friends were getting married, and I found myself attending countless vorts, weddings, and then other simchas, like a b’ris, I started getting more and more worried and frustrated, then angry, and finally kind of depressed about the whole thing.
It’s been many years of pain and stress. At this point, as it has become clear that soon I’ll be attending my friends’ grandchildren’s bar mitzvahs, I find this whole “circle of simchas” unbearable. I feel as though I have a huge sign hanging from my neck that says, “I’m Rivkah, and both of my children are unmarried.” As if when someone sees me, that’s all they see.
That this is what I’m all about — the mother of two children who never married. I feel self-conscious, different, and I want to hide. I get so upset, wondering how I became this person. We all started out the same, but here I am.
My husband and I have become more selective about which simchas we attend because it’s just so awful, but there are those simchas of family and friends that we must attend. I dread it for weeks, and I feel uncomfortable every minute I’m there, wondering when I can gracefully exit without being noticed.
The saddest part of all of this is the fact that I feel as though I don’t know who I am any-more, separate from being this sad mother. But even worse, I find myself sometimes forgetting what terrific children I have. They are both very kind, loving, and successful adults, living wonderful lives that I’m sure would be admired tremendously in a different type of community.
However, on rare occasions, I find myself looking at both of them as if they have a sign hanging from their necks saying something like “I am single and a failure.” I catch myself and remind myself how silly I am to think that way even for one moment. I love them so much and recognize everything that is terrific about them. But I have to wonder if other people see them that way.
It’s a sad state of affairs. I don’t know what the future holds, and I tell myself that things can change on a dime, but for now, how do I manage my life better? I feel like the way I’ve been feeling and living these past five years or so is insane and needs to be dealt with.
What do you suggest?
I agree with you that it’s a sad state of affairs. I understand how you feel singled out in our community that is hyper-focused on marriage, children, and grandchildren. Under the best of conditions, you may believe they are viewing you with pity (poor Rivkah — she has no nachas). And in the worst of situations you may feel they are viewing you with judgment (what did Rivkah and her husband do wrong to have raised two children who haven’t married?).
Sadly, so much of the conversation that exists seems to surround these topics. We’ve all experienced bumping people we haven’t seen since high school, knowing nothing about their lives since then, while they know nothing about our lives, and hearing them say, right off the bat, “So, how are your children?”
Do they even know if we ever got married, ever had children, and if we did, whether or not we care to talk about our children? But it’s the go-to, easy, family-centric way in which many of “our people” operate. It reflects their values, but also a certain lack of imagination; maybe there are wonderful people who happen to live meaningful lives but focus less on talking about their children and grand-children and more on self-fulfillment and their personal journeys.
In order for you to burn the imaginary signs that hang around your neck and the necks of your fantastic children, you need to go through a process of acceptance and self-exploration in which you can redefine your life as it applies to you, rather than how it reflects “group-think.”
You’re not alone in your disappointment in how your life played out thus far. Few people can honestly say that the life they hoped for is exactly the life they are living. Some disappointments are way larger than yours and some are smaller. But the details don’t matter. What matters is being able to get to a point where you can say to yourself that there is a greater plan you have no control over, and that you might as well get with the program and accept it with grace, because fighting the reality of your life doesn’t accomplish anything; it only leads to anger and depression.
The journey toward acceptance can be traveled on your own, by finding some friends with similar challenges with whom you can rant, share, laugh, and be inspired, or with a therapist. But make no mistake — it is a pilgrimage of sorts that takes time and commitment. However, it is something you can definitely achieve if you are motivated enough.
And when you success-fully arrive at a place of “acceptance,” you will find yourself breathing easier, feeling so much better about life in general, and having the ability to open up all sorts of doors leading to wonderful things.
Once you accept where your children are and that it doesn’t make them or you “less than” anyone else, you will project an entirely different aura. We all project different vibes, and others, whether they know it or not, respond to those vibes accordingly.
If in the past you attended a simcha feeling “shamefaced,” you were setting a tone that is downtrodden. That is so far from your reality. There is no reason why you shouldn’t walk into any simcha with your head held high and an ability to enjoy. Yes, it will trigger some sad feelings. That’s to be expected. But those feelings don’t have to dominate your experience and make you feel that you are any less OK or relevant than anyone else attending the simcha.
Next, who are you separate and distinct from your children? And who are your children, separate and distinct from providing you with Yiddishe nachas? I know nothing about your life. For all I know, you are a high-powered attorney who is viewed outside of our community with respect and awe. It’s time to reexamine your life, get in touch with your specialness, and if you haven’t yet figured out what a fulfilling life looks like without relying on others to define you — which is never a great life plan in the first place — it’s time to get busy.
Figure out what you can feel passionate about. It can be anything from pottery-making to volunteering in hospitals. But your life has to matter to you and in how you present to others, thereby setting the proper tone in which you are perceived.
Regarding your children, it sounds as though you adore them and are proud of their accomplishments and the people they have grown up to be. I admire your attitude and encourage you to continue treasuring them and being proud of them. They deserve it and you deserve it. The rest is just noise in our heads — and we have the right and ability to let go of it.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at email@example.com or 516-314-2295