Loneliness and parenting
Research commissioned at the end of last year by the Co-Op and the Red Cross identified six life events that can lead to someone becoming lonely. The study met with surprise in some quarters as one of the life events was becoming a mum for the first time. How could having a baby make you lonely, some people asked. Surely you have a whole new person to keep you company, a ready-made companion? Plus, we see mums and children out together in groups all the time: don’t you get a brand new social circle, a gang of ‘mum friends’, when you have a baby?
Of course it doesn’t work like this for everyone. Looking after young children can be a lonely experience. Adorable though babies and toddlers are, they aren’t big on empathy, so conversation is unlikely to come round to how you are, and whether or not you are having a good day. And as for a ready-made gang of new friends, well, the reality is that you often find yourself cut off from the friends you had before you had a baby, as your life has changed in a way that they can’t necessarily understand. You’re often spending a lot more time at home and as a result don’t find time to keep up with work colleagues and friends you may have made through sports and other hobbies.
If all of this sounds all too familiar, follow our tips to help you through this difficult time.
Don’t think you’re the only one
It may help to realise that this is a really common feeling among parents of young children; you are certainly not the only one feeling lonely and isolated while the rest of the world is having a wonderfully sociable time. Research like the Red Cross study shows that this is something that happens to a huge number of people when they have a young family. Part of the problem is that there is still some stigma attached to admitting that we feel lonely, so it’s not something that people talk about openly.
Don’t believe everything you see on social media
If you’re feeling isolated and alone, social media can make you feel worse, as you compare yourself to the seemingly perfect lives of friends and acquaintances on social media. We all see lots of images of smiling mums with adorable toddlers and beautiful babies, but it’s rare to see a post from someone dealing with a baby that won’t stop crying or a toddler who’s just had a tantrum in a supermarket. While social media can be a great way of staying in touch with friends who don’t live close by, it is no replacement for getting out and about and having real social contact. If going on Facebook is making you feel lonelier rather than more connected, consider having a total break from it for a while, and staying in touch by phone or text instead.
Give yourself a little push
It can be easy to convince yourself that you actually like being at home on your own with your children. After all, it feels safe and comfortable. But getting out and about and trying new things, such as going along to groups and activities, while they may seem scary and daunting at first, can reap rewards that make the scary feeling worthwhile in the long run. Try and get out with your little ones at least once a day, and not just to the shops, but to a library story time or a mums-and-children swimming session where you know there will be other mums.
Take up activities
If you don’t fancy the idea of a toddler group – and it can be hard to focus on making friends while chasing your children round the room – going to an organised activity such as a music group or children’s gymnastics can be a good way to meet other mums. You’ll have the activity you’re doing as a conversational starting point, plus it’s at a regular time and place so faces soon become familiar.
Make the first move
If you’re feeling lonely, the chances are that other mums are too, especially as all the research suggests it’s a growing problem. So be brave and make the first move, striking up conversation, or asking another mum you meet if they fancy meeting up for a cuppa. The worst that can happen is that they’ll make a polite excuse, but the chances are they will be delighted and you’ll make a new friend.
Use local resources
Keep an eye out on notice boards and in the library or community centre where you live for activities for mums with young children. Also, some parenting sites, such as Netmums, have local groups that organise regular get togethers specifically to help mums in specific areas get to know each other and feel less isolated.
Make the most of the friends you already have
If you have even just one friend or acquaintance who’s home with young children too, make the effort to meet up at regular intervals. It can also work really well to go along to toddler groups or activities together; it helps you feel less under pressure and more relaxed, as if you know you have one person you can talk to, you’ll often feel braver about striking up a conversation with new people.
Don’t expect miracles
It can be daunting to walk into a new group or activity when you don’t know anyone, but mums often pluck up the courage to do it once, then can’t face it again because no one talked to them. But often with these things you have to go a few times, and start to become a familiar face, before people will start to chat to you. Don’t give up going to a group after one try, and remember that these things take time.
Read more about the Red Cross and Co-op's study on loneliness here
There is also further information on this topic, including how to access professional counselling support, on the Counselling Directory website here
Written for the Pre-school Learning Alliance by Siobhan Godwood.