Humans are social beings. Our connections make us tick. When social connections change, reduce or distance, loneliness can creep in. To me, lop-sided connections are a feature of parenthood. You have 24/7 intense bonding with your baby and toddlers, reduced space to relax and connect meaningfully with your partner, and limited or no space for friends and everyone else. As a result, the early stages of parenthood can get lonely for the primary carer.
Loneliness triggers in parenting
Here are some key triggers for loneliness and parenting:
1. Old friendships change
If existing friends have families, then it creates close bonds. But if you are out of sync with your group by having a baby earlier than them, that can be uncomfortable. Gone are the days when you could go out for late nights, early cocktails, or bottomless brunches. It’s not so easy to join your friends for their hen do, their engagement or wedding if you have no one to leave the baby with for a time, which often upsets them and causes tension in the relationship.
2. Rushed, new ‘mummy friendships’
New friends are great, but the focus is on getting a word in when you can and are not disrupted by a hungry baby, a playful toddler, or a grizzly infant. Rushed friendships are not very satisfying and can leave you feeling lonely for those meaningful and supportive chats you once had.
3. Free time? What’s that?
Your days are packed and there’s little rest at night. It’s hard to believe there will ever be time for you to have a relaxed candle-lit bath, eat a leisurely meal, cuddle up on the sofa with a loved one or get time to watch even one episode of your favourite series on Netflix. Tiredness zaps effort to say yes to invitations or to initiate contact.
4. There’s a lot of giving and not a huge amount of getting
Mothers are needed! Whether it’s to feed, change a nappy, lull a tired and grizzly baby to sleep, or cook a batch of meals. A whole lot of giving can leave you with zero energy, can make you feel depleted, and sometimes, as a result, overlooked, resentful and lonely.
5. Who am I?
Whilst the role of mother is a wonderful one, it’s hard to adjust to the loss of identity that comes with it. You can end up feeling unnoticed for who you are and there’s nothing more lonely than feeling invisible.
6. Everyone is an expert
Everyone seems to have a view on what you should be doing, how you should be enjoying your time and what motherhood is like. Their view makes you feel lonely because it’s so different to how you are. This can make you feel inept at adjusting to the new role.
7. The need to be perfect
Scrolling through social media and news feeds can set unrealistic expectations of how you should be in comparison to what is promoted. Feeling inadequate in comparison or setting unrealistic standard to surpass the ones you see can make you vulnerable to loneliness.
10 ways to combat loneliness in parenthood
- Accept changes in friendships. Make the first move in connecting with old friends and including them in your new stage in life. Sometimes they hold back because they don’t want to get in the way of this new stage of life you are embarking on or don’t know what the changed you wants, rather than because they don’t want to include you.
- Cut yourself some slack, delegate some tasks and watch that movie, have that bath or even go on that date night.
- Learn to ask. Rather than expecting your partner to ‘mind-read’ how empty or overlooked you feel, ask them to help out or make a specific request such as for example, to give you a shoulder massage.
- Join a ‘mummy group’ with a purpose such as an exercise class. This takes the pressure of making the best of rushed time and provides a common task that everyone can focus on in varying ways.
- Notice changes in your mood. If it’s consistently low, flat, or disengaged, don’t be afraid to reach out to discuss this or ask for help. Supportive partner, family members, health visitor or GP are all good ports of call.
- Rather than longing for who you were, start working towards who you are now. Start with making a list of things that you enjoy and make sure you include at least one of these every day. Focus on the strengths that you have discovered in yourself, patience, tolerance, the appreciation of small things and start to define the new you whilst also reminding yourself that the old you is not lost, but on hold until you are ready to make change.
- Do things that make you feel strong, for example, a new form of exercise, talking to a close friend about your innermost fears, making time for yourself, rest.
- Have breaks from social media and remember that what’s there are the best moments, curated.
- The legacy of the pandemic can contribute to feelings of loneliness if your family or friends still live somewhere with quarantine rules or have missed out on important milestones or the process of supporting you during pregnancy. Keep connections going with virtual meetings and regular check-ins. Make plans for future catch ups.
- Most importantly, see this time as temporary, that it’s a loneliness brought on by transition.