I read an interesting article* today, that talks about countries that measure happiness and receive a high ranking, and how that can actually increase mental distress. In brief, it said that if you are told you should be happy (because you live in one of the happiest countries in the world, for example) but you are not, then your level of isolation and mental distress is going to be higher.
Effectively, it seems that this is the old equation whereby Satisfaction = Performance less Expectation. If you expect to be happy and are told that you should be, but you're not happy (for whatever reason), you are going to feel even worse. Your expectations have been raised, and by not achieving them, you feel even more deficient. The article noted of course that social media can accentuate this, because of the pressure to show only the beautiful parts of our lives, or only the best photos, implies that everyone else is living a wonderful life, except us.
When reading the article, it immediately made me think of those of us who are Not Kidding. We have been (or still are) surrounded by people telling us that parenthood is the ultimate goal (as it may have been for us at one time too), and that we won't know true meaning, love, and happiness if we are not parents. It is no wonder that, fighting against that paradigm, we find it so hard to deal with the world sometimes, and find our isolation and otherness to be distressing. But of course, that's because the difficulties and stresses of of being a parent, and the regret that some parents may feel, are not given equal air-time, or equal validity. Most parents, even if they do want to scream in disappointment, anger, and/or frustration, won't do it on social media because they want to protect their children from those emotions too, and (like us) they want to avoid the judgement that they know will result. Both those are very understandable reasons. But what it means is that they perpetuate the idea that parenthood is everything, and we continue to be bombarded with just one side of the story.
This brought me also to thinking about my blogs about embracing our new lives. I know I've expressed this concern before. I worry that by talking about the positives of life without children - which are varied and many - I might make people who are struggling feel worse. Having been there, I would never want to do that. It is a fine line between acknowledging the true joys of our lives with the losses that brought us here, and the difficulties that we might face. It's a fine line between emphasising the good times and denying the pain that we have felt or occasionally feel. I'm often torn. I want and need to let people know that life without children (not by choice) can be and is wonderful. I don't want pity, or condescension. I am not lesser, and I do not want to convey that.
But at the same time, I don't want any of us to be ignored either. We face discrimination, we face bias, and we are often ignored or invisible. Our feelings are not often considered. Our isolation is dismissed. Our lives are joked about, even if at the same time, our lives might be envied. So I guess what I am saying is that if you are struggling, I recognise that, and have written about it, and will continue to write about it here. I would never want you to think that I ignore the tough parts of our life. Life is not perfect, and no-one has the perfect life. But life isn't all doom and gloom either. That is not our fate. Far from it. There is so much to celebrate. So much to hope for, even in the dark days. Hope that your life will be good, that you will find peace and joy again. That your growth will be extraordinary, even if you can't see it at the moment. That you will find gifts from this life that you would never have expected.
I'm not kidding. It really does get easier.
* I can't find the exact link, apologies!