There are many levels of loneliness. The loneliness where you’re alone and wish you weren’t. Then there’s loneliness in the presence of others – where you don’t have much in common with someone or can’t communicate with them. Finally there is a kind of loneliness of the soul. A feeling you are a stranger from yourself. I think that is the worst kind of loneliness.
Early parenthood is ripe with potential for any or all of these types of loneliness.
I remember being shocked by how lonely I could feel in my precious baby’s company.
I have a distinct memory of sitting down and telling Leo (my first child) about myself much in the way you’d introduce yourself to a stranger in a bar. “My name is Beth and I was born in New Zealand…” I had no idea how to talk to my beautiful boy.
Of course this got better with time. I honed my non-verbal communication, and baby Leo learnt to talk with body language and later with words.
Another source of loneliness was that I wasn’t working for the first time in my adult life. You don’t realise how social work is until you’re not there anymore. No incidental chats in the hallway or catch ups at lunchtime. I found it hard to get out to socialise with friends (especially those without kids). It was easier to stay home that fitting in around sleeping and feeding times, plus I felt so exhausted I wasn’t a great conversationalist and didn’t feel like I had any news when asked what I had been up to. What on Earth did I do all day anyway?!
I met other mums out and about, but our conversations were fleeting and sometimes you didn’t have anything in common except that you both had a child. When I was a new mum I wanted desperately to meet my doppelgänger – someone who I had a lot in common with who also parented like me. I burned with the desire to mother alongside other mothers (much like we would have done in earlier human history). I think that this impulse was also to do with me feeling like I’d lost touch with who I was since becoming a Mum.
There is an opening in You’re Doing Great, Baby that shows the mum sitting on the couch holding her sleeping baby and staring out the window forlornly at passersby (I’m working on the painting in the top image). I remember doing this myself – feeling trapped inside stuck in a cycle of feed, play, sleep (repeat).
Jeff was away at work from eight in the morning until six or seven o’clock each night and I was desperate for his company and envious of his freedom.
Mothers groups and playgroups are great for meeting new people. It can also be very comforting (and make you feel less alone) to talk to mothers of similar aged babies who may be going through similar phases with their sleeping, feeding etc. I was lucky with my mothers’ group and have made some lasting friendships. It’s so cool to think that the kids have known each other from when they were tiny. We had moved to our area right before having Leo and I didn’t know anyone at first, so it was awesome to see familiar faces walking the streets. I’ve written more about this in my post on community.
I didn’t have a smart phone when Leo was little, but I remember what a revelation it was when I got an Ipod and could check my Facebook or email if I was sat holding him while he napped. This simultaneously made me feel more and less lonely.
Second time around with baby Clem I found it much easier to adjust to having a friend who used crying as his main form of communication. From the start I felt like we understood one another.
Clem’s birth coincided with a golden era of podcasts: notably the three S’s: Startup, Strangers and Serial. I credit podcasts with making me feel so much less lonely in that early time.
I’ve also become a lot happier in my own company in recent years and don’t feel the need to leave the house for lots of social input. However I was happily telling my friend Tamie this and she laughed because she pointed out that I’ve made my own company so I’m never alone – Leo is amazing company and we can happily have a day at home playing boardgames and chatting. Clem and I sing nursery rhymes (he claps along) and sit out in the garden or sort the laundry together.
What were your experiences of loneliness in parenthood? Please leave a comment below, and subscribe to our newsletter so we can keep you in the loop with the project.