New Parents May Not Be Alone, But Many Of Them Are Lonely
“I hate seeing people tag each other in best friend posts,” says one woman in the Scary Mommy Confessional. “I have absolutely no one that I could remotely call my friend, let alone best friend. I am so alone. Motherhood destroyed me.”
Another mom writes, “I don’t think I even know 6 people… I want friends … Why does loneliness have to accompany mom life???”
Yet another mom, from the anonymity of her computer, tells us: “I overshare with strangers almost every day and it is totally unintentional. I just have no other adult interaction so everything just falls out of my mouth like slop.”
They are not alone.
Well, they may be alone. But they are not alone in their loneliness. A British research study of 2,000 parents by Action for Children found that over half of new parents found themselves lonely after the birth of their child, says the Telegraph. A whopping 68% felt they had been “cut off” from family and friends. About an equal number said they had become more lonely since becoming a parent. Things like being out of work, maternity leave, and less money may contribute to these feelings, researchers speculated.
Raquel D’Apice, author of Welcome to the Club: 100 Baby Milestones You Never Saw Coming, tells Psychology Today that milestone #56 is: “First time you are completely overwhelmed by loneliness.” “There were days when being home alone with a baby felt like — you know that moment in a game of hide-and-seek,” she says, “when you realize that no one is looking for you? Like that but lonelier.”
Chances are you want to keep up friendship and relationships — desperately, in fact. But you’re too anxious to leave the baby, or too exhausted to manage it. Only someone else who’s tread the dark nighttime of new parenthood can understand the sleep deprivation that comes with it.
Go out to a movie with your girls? Sure, you can pump and leave the babes with your partner. But you’ll just pass out in that comfy-cushy armchair seat, sleep through the entire flick. That’s if you’re safe enough to drive.
When you say no too often, people start to fade away: people who don’t get what it’s like to have a tiny person completely dependent on you. Or they might not want to bother you in the first place, because they figure you’re nesting, and you’ll call them when you want to hang. Except you figure they’ll call you. And the friendship withers on the vine.
Everyone tells us to find new villages: parenting groups! But what if you’re suffering from the all-too-common (30% of us!) postpartum anxiety? A giant group of strangers won’t calm you down and make you feel welcomed; it’ll make you feel terrified. Plus, all the groups seem to have a focus you need to fit into: you have to breastfeed, or you have to babywear, or you have to want to get fit, or you have to want to drag your newborn to the library for storytime and spend that hour in rigid terror of what you’ll do if baby has to nurse: be an activist, use a cover, or run and hide?
There are so many reasons parents suffer from loneliness. We don’t have enough maternity leave. We don’t have adequate postpartum mental health screening. But most of all, we don’t have a village. On Extremely Good Parenting, Kara Carrero writes that the lack of a village — of people of all ages living in a caring community together — leads to burnout in new parents. There are no babysitters, which puts strain on marriages. It’s hard to ask for help. Our struggles seem unmanageable, because there’s no one to tell us that they’ve been there done that, gotten the trophy, and here’s how. We have to be more self-reliant, at the expense of our depleted energy levels and mental health, rather than reaching outward for help.
So how do we find our village? A lot of women turn online. This can be helpful — some of my best friends live in my computer (I’m looking at you, Sa’iyda). They go through the same parenting struggles, they have the same interests. I can call them and text them and they make me feel connected. But these online friends can’t take our kids when I have the flu. They can’t pop over for a last-minute playdate.
In a real-life sense? I was deeply lucky when my kids were born. I picked the attachment-parenting route, and those people are all about community. I La Leche’d and babywore and became buddies with like-minded mommies. But the baby years ended. And eventually so did those friendships, because we had nothing in common but breastfeeding and babywearing.
Now I’m trying desperately to cobble together some like-minded mommies to hang with. It’s hard. I spend most of my days alone except for my children. This is, I think, the fate of most American mothers. I text my faraway friends and wish they were here — all of us in one neighborhood, or at least close by, willing to take each other’s kids. Willing to cook together. Willing to help. To lift the deep and abiding loneliness.
Because while it’s good to be self-reliant, I’m learning that it’s better to live in a community.
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