Since late last year, I’ve had the privilege of looking after my stepdaughter’s beautiful baby girl once a week. It’s a pretty fortunate position to be in; I get to enjoy all the cuddles, smiles and fun, and build a lovely connection with her, but then (providing my own son sleeps well) I get a good night’s sleep!
What has been interesting though, is that this year, my son has started school, leaving me to enjoy baby time on my own. The silence in the house is deafening at times and one sided conversations are a stark contrast to the constant chattering of my 5 year old.
It’s helped me really remember what it was like to be at home with a baby in those early days of new motherhood. As someone who thrives on connecting with others, I found being at home alone with a baby so much quite lonely, no matter how much I loved him and wanted to be home with him. And lack of sleep makes everything feel more challenging! Fortunately, my stepdaughter was still living at home at that stage, and usually returned from work by mid-afternoon. I often watched the clock from lunchtime to the moment she burst in through the door, all smiles and loving energy.
Later, my other stepdaughter also lived with us and returned home just in time to have breakfast with us after working night shift. I loved this little routine.
Loneliness in motherhood: an unexpected contradiction
The loneliness in motherhood is an unexpected contradiction that many mothers experience. It’s not something we’re warned about before we become a mother. It’s hard to even comprehend that you might feel lonely when you’re dreaming about spending your days doting on your baby.
It seems ironic that you could feel lonely when you’re actually never physically alone. But feelings of loneliness don’t depend on you being by yourself. You can feel very lonely even when in a crowded room or surrounded by your family. Or you can have just 1 or 2 people in your life who you really connect with and never feel lonely. It’s a very personal experience.
Loneliness is a state of mind which happens when your social connections or relationships are perceived to be less than you desire. Less in number, or less in quality or depth.
The quality of your relationships is really important. If the emotional connection is missing, you’re more likely to feel lonely.
Not just for new mothers
Loneliness is not reserved for new mothers. It can occur at any stage of motherhood and also be triggered by other major transitions in life. You may experience feelings of loneliness when:
- Moving to a new location
- Changing jobs
- Your relationship breaks down (experiencing separation, divorce and then solo parenting), or
- You lose someone close to you.
A lack of family support, or geographical distance from family can lead to feelings of loneliness, particularly around times when families tend to gather together, such as birthdays and holidays.
Having children changes our relationship with our partner. If you aren’t really connecting, your partner works away a lot or you feel like passing ships in the night, you can feel really lonely within your family.
Once children become older and want to spend more time with their friends, it can make mums feel left out. The house feels so empty and they may not come to you first when they need someone to talk to (I know it might be hard to imagine this when you can’t even go to the toilet without someone sitting on your lap).
Our friends are an important source of connection and support, but many friendships are seasonal and loneliness can hit when we find our friendships aren’t transitioning with the rest of our lives. Perhaps it becomes hard to align schedules for catch ups when your children are at different stages, or have different routines. Or maybe you just don’t feel you have much in common any more.
Mums in paid employment can feel lonely too. They might find it hard to make connections with people at work because they spend less time there or work remotely. They may forgo social get togethers to attend to their family. Many mums feel judged at work for being less committed or professional and therefore find it hard to connect and may sacrifice the social chit chat to be more productive in the hours they are at work.
Loneliness can also happen when we’re going through a particular challenge, that we feel no one around us can relate to, or that we feel we can’t talk candidly about.
People in general can feel lonely when they lack confidence in themselves, believing that they are unworthy of attention or relationships. Constantly comparing yourself unfavourably against others, can contribute to this and social media provides us with endless things to compare. You might look at the other mothers at your children’s activities or at school and think that they all seem to know each other so well. Perhaps it feels like a clique you’re not part of.
We’re doing so much, and putting so much pressure on ourselves to get it “right” that we may struggle to find the time for connecting in a deeper way. We definitely don’t have the village that mothers once had to support them, and so many mums take everything on themselves. Then, when we start to feel lonely, we don’t feel that we can tell anyone, lest it be interpreted as being ungrateful for what we have, not loving our children enough, not coping, or for being a “bad mum” (you’re not!).
Instead, we pretend there’s nothing wrong. We tell people we’re “fine” and “just busy”. We put on our brave face and keep on pushing through, keeping people at a safe distance.
I want you to know that it’s actually possible to be grateful and happy with most of your life AND feel lonely at the same time.
If you feel lonely often, you may notice you’ve built some habitual ways of thinking and acting that contribute to feelings of loneliness. Even though you crave contact and connection with others, you might find it difficult to follow through with creating this.
- Not letting people see the real you and know what’s really going on for you.
- Not letting people get too close to you for fear of rejection.
- Expecting others to initiate connection.
- Spending more time on social media than connecting in person.
- Comparing your connections and friendships to those of other people.
- Not accepting help or invitations to connect. (maybe you accept invitation but them cancel because you’re afraid of showing up)
- Avoiding trying new things or meeting new people.
Lovely, I know that once you’ve done everything that needs to be done, you’re exhausted. You might feel guilty about going out and doing something for yourself, or you may not have any idea what you will have to talk about. Maybe it’s just plain terrifying to meet new people.
But we all need connection. We all deserve connection.
It has a significant impact on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and even impacts the way we parent.
These habits that you’ve built, can be dismantled and replaced with new habits.
How to ease loneliness in motherhood
Here are some practical actions you can take to help you ease your loneliness in motherhood:
- Make a call
- Send a text
- Send a voicemail
- Have a facetime/skype date
- Journal about your emotions
- Join a group online or in person
- Invite someone for coffee
- Chat on social media with a mum you’ve met in person
- Chat to people while you’re out and about – at the park, the shops, waiting at school pick up.
- Ask for and accept offers of help
- Tell someone you trust how you are feeling
- Start an activity, or help out at school, at playgroup or somewhere else that interests you
- When you are with people, put down your phone and be present with them.
For lasting change…look within
Then, if you really want to see lasting change and deeper connections in your life, take a look at those habits you’ve built and what’s going on inside you. Our thoughts and interpretations, play a huge part in how lonely we feel.
We need to be vulnerable and seek connection, even though we fear rejection.
What’s the story that’s holding you back from being vulnerable?
Is it “people don’t like me”, “people always reject me” or “I’m hopeless at small talk”?
That isn’t your truth. That’s your interpretation.
What’s a more empowering story that will support you in making connections?
Perhaps it’s “My people are out there and I will find them”, “I am loveable and worthy of connection”, or “being me is more than enough”.
We need to know that people aren’t rejecting us personally.
When someone declines your invitation, do you automatically assume it’s because they don’t want to spend time with you?
That’s unlikely to be the truth. What if, instead, you believed that they genuinely weren’t able to make it and you tried again?
We need to share what’s really going on.
When someone asks you how you are, do you say “fine” and avoid sharing the truth?
What if, instead, you told said something like “things have been a challenge lately”, or “we’ve been finding starting school really emotional”?
Vulnerability breeds connection and you might just find someone who says “me too!”.
If you’re experiencing loneliness in motherhood, it may help to tell someone. Not being able to talk to anyone about your loneliness is even lonelier.
Start with one thing
Even though you feel alone, lovely, you’re not. There are countless other mums out there also longing for deeper connections in their very full lives. But nothing in your life will change if you don’t change. Make connection a priority in your life, so that it gets the attention and energy it deserves.
What’s one thing you can do today to ease your loneliness in motherhood?
Or, if you aren’t experiencing loneliness in motherhood right now, what’s one thing you can do to support another mum who might be feeling lonely?
P.S. If you would like to belong to a beautiful, supportive community of mums, I would love to welcome you to my Facebook group. We explore important, relevant topics like this one in more depth, share experiences, encourage and validate each other and most importantly, accept and welcome you exactly as you are. Click below to join.