Getting Real: Life Ain’t Always Pretty on the Playground

As a newly single mom, I had trouble feeling like I fit in on the playground. Here’s how I learned to get real and start making authentic connections with other moms.

Get Real at Play

Unless I was there with another single parent, the playground wasn’t a very happy place for me in the first year after divorce. On weekends I’d see couples with their children, and on weekdays I’d see moms with rings on their fingers. I used to blend right in. But after divorce, at least in my head, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Point in case: one afternoon I was chatting with another mom who was going through a traumatic breakup. Our conversation drifted toward s-e-x as our littles scooted around obliviously on their bikes and trikes. The group of moms seated one picnic table behind us was not so oblivious and threw wide-eyed stares in our direction before we realized anyone was tuning in. My instinct was to shrink into embarrassment, but my friend just rolled her eyes and got it right when she said “Hey, life ain’t always pretty.”

A Whole New World

As a newly single mom on the playground, I wasn’t so interested in talking about potty training, Pinterest crafts, or separation anxiety. Instead I was fretting over whether or not my ex would ask for more custody when he moved to town. I was wondering if I should be working harder at finding a job or if that would leave me less energy for running the show at home for my kids. I was trying to figure out what the next step was toward discovering how best to help my oldest with his behavior problems in school.

At one point, I was going to write a whole article about my “novel” playground issues, but then I remembered that Glennon Doyle, aka Momastery, sort of already did.

Embrace the Mess

In case you haven’t noticed, Glennon is one of my writing sheroes. When I became a mom, I stumbled onto her blog and got hooked on her brand of truth-telling—like going to the gym specifically for an hour of childcare, struggling to stay sane and thrive through mothering and mental health challenges, and mining the everyday drudgery of parenting for spiritual insights.

I read her first book Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life on the way to our family beach condo the summer before my divorce. When I got to the chapter where she spills what it was like to find out about her husband’s multiple affairs, something inside me knew that infidelity is what I was headed toward discovering. I closed the book immediately and didn’t picked it up again for another two years.

During that time, I became a single mom, and coincidently so did Glennon. What made me revisit her book was my self-perceived playground issues. In her Building a Life chapter, Glennon relays her visit to the playground with fellow mom Tess. Even as married moms, who seem to fit right into playground culture, the two ladies have trouble getting their conversation past soccer practice and into what’s actually going on in their lives at the moment, like marriage difficulties and recovery from addiction. “There were so many layers of my armor and her armor between us that we couldn’t touch each other,” writes Glennon.

Eventually Glennon takes a risk and spills her story. In return, Tess spills hers. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me with other women over coffee or lunch. So why not on the playground?

Back to Life

The last time I could remember getting real on the playground was the week my second son was born. My mom volunteered to watch him for an hour while I took my oldest son to the playground with our neighborhood friends. As he bounced around with the other kids, one of the moms asked me “so how is it going so far?” I burst into tears and confessed how much I missed one-on-one time with my oldest son. She gave me a big hug, we both laughed about postpartum hormones, and life went on.

So eventually I started to wonder, what would it look like if I was brave enough to get real on the playground again? Maybe I’d make more authentic connections with the other moms in my oldest son’s kindergarten class. Maybe I’d discover more “me too” single moms and start being more comfortable in my own skin in my present life circumstances.

I’ve always been down for getting messy and being real with others, and I was game for giving it a try on the playground because, as Glennon so eloquently writes, “Life without touching other people is boring as hell.”

What’s the most awkward playground experience you’ve ever had, and how did you handle it?

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