Loneliness in early parenthood
One of the challenges that many new parents face is a feeling of isolation and loneliness. For many, this feeling is unexpected as it is often not discussed in the lead up to birth.
Why do new parents feel lonely?
Loneliness in new parenthood can arise for a number of reasons. The lead up to birth and the first few weeks after birth are often filled with build-up, preparation and focus. Once things quiet down and you settle into life with a baby, that focus disappears and this can be when a feeling of loneliness can begin.
In the early weeks (after birth) it was busy. Everything was new and I was constantly learning and adapting. But weeks into my maternity leave I found myself feeling quite lonely.
For many new parents, there is also a large contrast between what pre-baby life looks like compared to what post-baby life looks like in terms of mental and emotional stimulation.
Prior to having a baby, many parents today lead busy lives filled with work, friends, hobbies and more. Once baby arrives, the opportunities for stimulation and interaction with others often decreases significantly. Many new parents – both stay-at-home mums and dads, find themselves at home for extended periods of time, especially in the first few months. Having long stretches of time at home without adult company can certainly increase a sense of loneliness.
I would watch the clock then listen closely for the key in the door later in the day to know that my partner was home. At last – someone to talk to, some connection with the world, someone who could take the baby and give me some time to myself.
This sense of loneliness for stay-at-home fathers is often compounded by the fact that they don’t feel that they fit into mothers’ groups. Whilst the proportion of fathers taking on the parenting role is increasing, society hasn’t quite caught up with this growing trend, leaving many fathers feeling excluded and even patronised.
When you have classes and groups with both mum and dad present, the mums take precedence, fathers still feel looked down upon as stupid.
Another reason why many parents feel alone at this time of life may be associated with the ongoing responsibility that comes with parenthood. When you become a parent, you see just how dependent your baby is on you and you are always considering their needs. You are constantly giving to this small person who never once can ask you in return about yourself or do something for you. That’s a lot of giving, and it is not uncommon for a new parents needs to go unmet for a large part of the day.
I feel alone because by deciding to have a child I took on ultimate responsibility for another human being, and that means I no longer have the luxury (or was it the illusion?) of letting somebody else be in charge — my parents, my husband, a group of good friends on a weekend away.
Furthermore, as your priorities shift and lifestyle adapts, your own sense of independence and freedom changes too. You may feel less a part of a group – be it at work or friends – than ever before. This too can contribute to a sense of isolation and loneliness.
If you are the first of your friends to have a baby, this can also increase a sense of being alone. As your friends continue on with the lives that they always had, your schedules and priorities may not align as much as they did before. It can feel like you are living in a totally different world from your closest friends.
Whilst there was a flurry of activity when my baby was born, soon enough everyone got on with their busy lives, whilst I remained home. This left me feeling alone and lonely.
How to combat loneliness as a new parent
There are a number of ways that you can put things in place to help combat the loneliness and feelings of isolation that can come with motherhood and fatherhood.
- Listen to the radio, music, podcasts or audiobooks: It might seem strange but your ears can be a life saver when your alone taking care of a baby. Being able to listen to music or interesting lectures, books or reports can give you a sense of connection with the world around you and provide an opportunity for mental and emotional stimulation and growth.
- Schedule a daily outing: Scheduling an outing each day or so can do wonders for reducing your sense of loneliness. Whether it is going to the shops to buy one item or going for a walk to the park, these outings can help you connect and communicate with surrounding your community. Best of all, you may meet others and share experiences that can lead to ongoing companionship and friendship.
- Say yes to offers of help: If somebody offers to do something for you, say yes. Don’t say ‘Oh no I’m fine’, out of politeness. Say: ‘Yes, that would be great I could really do with that help and it would be great to see you.’
- Tell others how you are feeling: Feeling lonely is completely understandable when we consider the reality of having and caring for a baby. But it is not something that others are likely to think about – particularly if they haven’t had children themselves. Even if your friends have had children, it is likely to be something they forget as they move on to the next stage of their child’s life. Speak up and let them know how you are feeling. They can not read your mind, but good friends will be proactive about catching up once they know how you are feeling.
- Join groups and activities: Many new parents make close and even lifelong new friends at this stage as going through the experience of new parenthood together can be a great way to bond. So get out there and be a joiner! Organised playgroups and mum meet-ups with activities such as yoga, swimming or music classes provide a great opportunity to connect with others, share stories and establish friendships.
- Strike up a conversation: Whether you are at the local park or in the baby aisle of the supermarket, strike up a conversation with the mums and dads around you. A simple conversation starter such as simply asking how old their baby is can create a valuable connection.
- Consider embarking on a project or activity that you can pick up or leave: Believe it or not having a hobby or an activity can give you a sense of ‘you’ time. Whether its doing a challenging jigsaw, learning to sew or researching a business idea – this can give you a sense of ‘you’ time to replenish your needs for a sense of self.
Whilst loneliness can be hard there are steps you can take to increase your sense of connection to others and your community, and reduce the feelings of loneliness that can come with becoming a parent.