Thank you for writing. I think there are two issues here. One is your difficult family. The other is your loneliness. So let me take them one at a time.
Your family: What a huge group! You can take distance without cutting them off entirely. Total cut offs in families tend to feel terrible. According to Murray Bowen, one of the “founding fathers” of family therapy, cutting off the family of origin can lead to too much pressure being placed on a person’s partner to fill the emotional hole. Ironically, it is not uncommon for people to find friends and lovers who are much like their family members. It’s as if our unconscious is trying to give us a chance to do it differently this time.
When possible, it is better to find a way to maintain some healthy boundaries instead of cutting off completely. Your worth does not depend on how your family members treat you. You don’t have to be your most genuine and authentic self when you are with them. Save that for other, healthy, relationships. There is nothing wrong with being an “entertainer” and only talking about safe topics like the weather if you know it has nothing to do with who you really are. You don’t need your family to “see” you and your son. You only may need to keep a thread of connection in order not to feel like an orphan.
Breaking out of Isolation: That will only work, though, if you find relationships that are mutually supportive and caring to fill your needs for love and friendship. Isolation won’t do that for you — or for your son. People do need people. At our most basic level, we are pack animals who are most happy when we feel we belong.
No one is going to knock on your door and declare they are your new best friend. You are going to have to start taking some steps toward finding a group of people who share your values and interests.
The way to do that is to just start. If you take your son to a playground, you can start by chatting with other parents who are there with their kids. If your son is in daycare or preschool, hang out for a bit and chat with other moms when you pick him up. Parents of same aged kids are often very comfortable, at least on a surface level, from the start. There’s no need to talk about anything more than how marvelous the kids are.
Look for activities where you can participate without needing a baby sitter. Start attending a local church if you are religious. Volunteer at a program that offers some childcare for people who participate.
Did you know that 1 in 4 kids in the UK have a single parent? You are not at all alone. Many of those parents are also trying to figure out how to make time for making friends. Find out if there is a support group for single parents in your area — or start one. It’s not hard to do. Just find 3 other moms with kids the same age as your son and invite them (and their children) over for a couple of hours. Moms can talk while the kids play. Rotate who hosts so you are only having to do it once a month.
Yes, finding friends is a project that will take some effort for awhile. But if you don’t make the effort, you will still be friendless and lonely a few months from now. Give yourself whatever pep talk you need to hear in order to start taking small steps back into the social world. You deserve to have friends and to be happier. Your son deserve to have a happier mother.
I wish you well.