Yes, Motherhood Can be Lonely. Here’s How to Cope.
We don’t usually equate loneliness with new motherhood, but studies show loneliness has become a public health crisis, and social isolation is affecting mothers everywhere. Read below to find out how to cope with maternal loneliness, and how doing so can bolster your well-being.
“Motherhood can be lonely,” my mother’s helper had told me. Her words of caution were a public service announcement—one that had been missing from my parenting classes and new mom support groups.
As parents, we don’t often pair loneliness with motherhood, but the busyness of caring for a baby doesn’t stop feelings of isolation from getting the best of us. In fact, researchers have found that pregnancy and motherhood can be filled with lonely feelings.
A time of great transition, motherhood catapults women into a new phase of life. While becoming a mother brings joy, caring for a newborn also disrupts any sense of predictability, making it difficult for new moms to leave the house. Caught in the cycle of feeding the baby, changing diapers, and soothing the baby, mothers often have little time to tend to their needs–let alone connect with a partner, friend, or a family member. Unfortunately, this newfound isolation comes at a time when many mothers crave connection and validation from others.
How can women cope with loneliness? Psychology researchers have found that reaching out for support can mitigate motherhood isolation, which can ease the worries and unsettling feelings parenthood brings. The key, however, is to find communities where authenticity, openness, and vulnerability are welcome.
Here are some ideas:
New mom support groups, which are often held at hospitals and community centers offer women the chance to connect with other mothers. While these groups are helpful, these connections may disband when mothers return to work, or the group ends.
With that in mind, try to find a neighborhood group. These smaller groups can invite deeper intimacy because many moms feel more at ease opening up to a few friends, instead of sharing their story with many. Neighborhood groups also allow women to connect with local families, which fosters support for years to come.
Recognizing that it takes a village to raise children, these families may start ‘meal swaps,’ and ‘childcare swaps.’ They may also organize weekly play-dates and meet-ups, offering mothers the chance to connect in ‘real time,’ instead of talking via text or online.
Online support groups
While helpful, in-person support groups aren’t for everyone. Moms with hectic schedules, introverted moms, or those living in remote areas may benefit from finding support online.
Mother and writer, Alexis Barad-Cutler has created “NSFMG (not safe for mom group),”an online space and real-time community where moms can discuss the very vulnerable and nitty-gritty challenges of motherhood. Meant to provide moms a safe, filter-free space, NSFMG invites women to discuss their sex lives, the emotional load of motherhood, postpartum depression, and more.
Additional online groups can also be found via Postpartum Support International, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness about prenatal and postpartum mood concerns.
Most major cities also have private Facebook groups dedicated to supporting moms and families. In San Francisco, The Main Street Mamas offers parents a chance to connect online, as well as in real life.
Building a consistent social outing into your day can keep loneliness at bay. For many mothers, ‘mommy and me’ yoga and exercise classes provide an opportunity to meet fellow parents. Often these groups meet at local parks or recreation centers, which can be a useful way to tap into community resources, too.
Gyms like the YMCA may offer on-site childcare, which can be a convenient way to catch a breather in the middle of the day. Exercise studios may also offer on-site babysitting, depending on their availability.
Whether you join a ‘mommy and me’ class or work-out at the gym, make a point to engage with another person. Simply asking, “How is your day?” can go a long way, sparking a conversation that bolsters your emotional well-being, which is one way to fight off loneliness.
Phone a friend
Loneliness can arise at unexpected times, and feeling like no one understands can cause these upsetting emotions to fester. But reaching out to a close friend or family member–someone who will listen as you talk about your day–can make a world of difference.
At times, it’s helpful to let these loved ones know you may reach out or leave a message if you’re feeling down. Since even the most empathic friends aren’t mind readers, let them know what you need. Perhaps you just need them to listen. If this is the case, let them know. Or if you’d like advice, ask for what you need at the outset of the conversation.
Loneliness isn’t only a concern for new mothers. Studies show it’s become a public health crisis, one that’s deadlier than smoking and obesity. However, relationship researchers have found that building close connections with others can stop social isolation from taking a toll on our psychological and physical health.