A Healthy Stepmother . . . practices loneliness.

One day I took Pema Chodron’s, Comfortable with Uncertainty, off the shelf. I frequently take her book into my hands and open it to whatever page happens to open. On that day I opened it to page 167, Six Ways to Be Lonely.

What the heck? I suddenly remembered everything I’d learned in my first marriage but had subsequently forgotten. I suddenly realized that in the very early days of being in a remarriage to a man with children from his previous marriage that I could have expected to be lonely. I had forgotten that.

Six Ways to Be Lonely
p. 167, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chodron
Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we rest in the middle of it, we begin to have a non-threatening relationship with loneliness, a cooling loneliness that turns our usual fearful patterns upside down. There are six ways of describing this kind of cool loneliness:

1. Less desire is the willingness to be lonely without resolution when everything in us yearns for something to change our mood.
2. Contentment means that we no longer believe that escaping our loneliness is going to bring happiness or courage or strength.
3. Avoiding unnecessary activities means that we stop looking for something to entertain us or to save us.

Being lonely in a marriage is not a statement about likability. Being lonely in a remarriage with children from a previous marriage is not a commentary on who fits into the family and who doesn’t. Rather, being lonely in a remarriage is a part of what is true of any marriage and what is true about being human on the planet.

It might be worth noting that kids feel lonely. Your loving man will feel lonely sometimes, too. It is not your job to make sure they don’t. It’s a human necessity that each person figure out how to be alone. Each human needs to figure out how to be with the self when alone. Literally, we’re all practicing for the big day when we go out of here, alone.

Being alone is different from being lonely. But related. You can be lonely when you are not alone and you can feel an absence of loneliness when you are alone. In other words, they can be connected. Or not.

So, sit back and consider . . . the next time the kids show up and your husband is connecting with them and it’s the one time he’s seen them in a month, watch inside yourself. It might be that those irritations you feel are being caused by your feelings of loneliness. Of course you feel lonely in that moment, it’s naturally and there’s no way it could be any other way. That is your moment to practice.

You could stay there and feel bad or you could stay there and self-soothe. You could leave and feel bad and lonely, or you could leave and feel okay and self-soothe and learn to let it be okay that you are feeling lonely. There are dozens of variations on the theme, but you need to learn to be lonely, without judgments, without wishing it would go away. Being in a marriage means you’ll feel lonely sometimes. Being in a remarriage with children from the previous marriage means you’ll feel lonely more than sometimes.

4. Complete discipline means that at every opportunity, we’re willing to come back to the present moment with compassionate attention.
5. Not wandering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how things are, without trying to make them okay.
6. Not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts means no longer seeking the companionship of constant conversation with ourselves.

I wonder if learning to accept loneliness is what people mean when they say, well, you knew what you were getting into? I wonder if they are trying to say that you cannot always be the central figure in his attention? He had children before he met you and he needs the freedom and permission to be close to them. Which is not to say you won’t be loved. More than that, it’s that he has people and things that need to take up his attention and when he shifts his attention away from you, you might feel lonely and you’ll need some strategies to take care of yourself. If this is what they mean when they say you knew what you were getting into, then I accept.

I forgot all these things about loneliness. I knew them once and then I got remarried and they vanished from my mind like 10 thousand other things about me that I used to know and love about myself. As I’ve been reclaiming those things about myself in these couple of years, I’m thrilled to rediscover this aspect of my knowing and understanding of what it is to be lonely.

Learning to be lonely is worth every moment of practice. Learning to be lonely can be  so overwhelming at times that it’s tempting to call someone up and do all those avoidance things you know how to do. I’ll attest to the fact that learning to be lonely won’t kill you. And, honestly, learning to be lonely is much less painful than the ways you’ve already felt hurt in your stepfamily. Much less.

You might even find it’s a relief.

Follow-Up: If anyone would like to practice these strategies and have ongoing discussion about them, we could do that here. I am notified any time someone posts a comment, so I’ll respond as quickly as I can. I’ll also come back here and make note of some of my own internal observations. I love the idea of practicing being human, regardless of my role in my family or on the planet.

4 thoughts on “A Healthy Stepmother . . . practices loneliness.

  1. Pingback: A Healthy Stepmother . . . buys time. « A Healthy Stepmother

  2. I wonder if they are trying to say that you cannot always be the central figure in his attention? He had children before he met you and he needs the freedom and permission to be close to them. Which is not to say you won’t be loved. More than that, it’s that he has people and things that need to take up his attention and when he shifts his attention away from you, you might feel lonely and you’ll need some strategies to take care of yourself.

    I struggle with this so much. And I think it is because more of the time we are away from the kids than with the kids. And I love to have his kids around, but I have his undivided attention an awful lot of the time, so my world gets a little shaky when that happens, and I wish I could find a way to cope; because you’re right- it doesn’t mean I won’t be loved. It’s just different, I guess.

    • South Dakota, you’re right…..it doesn’t mean you won’t be loved. In fact, if you can stand beside him while he takes time to reconnect with his kids, he’ll be ever-loving grateful to you. It won’t necessarily mean that he condones their behavior toward you, it’s just that he can’t simultaneously bring them close and correct them at the same time. Wow, I wish I had understood that a few years ago. He can’t, he’s a human, not a saint.

      Bask in the times you have his undivided attention. Bask……as in roll, revel, relish, savor, and enjoy!!!!! What a gift.

      I do think Pema has some great ideas about what we can contemplate. I’ll be blogging more about some of them as time goes on. It’s a practice for all of us, one day at a time, one event at a time, one moment at a time. Thank you for commenting, it means a lot to me.

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