I remember as a child my dad going to a conference in America. It was such a huge idea for me back then for him to be so far away from us. America was still this shiny, sparkly land that I knew from films such as Grease, so we were all really excited to hear from him when he got back. He brought some lovely clothes with him so, for my two sisters and I, the trip had been a huge success. What I also remember though, is him saying how much he had missed us. I remember it because I found it strange. I mean we were right here doing our daily life and he was in this exciting, multicolored country. How could he have missed us? Since then, I have learnt a lot about missing people and living abroad so I know that it is not always easy to be so far away on your own. In that moment though, as a child, I had to ask him to explain how he could miss us when it was all so exciting. I remember his reply “Because I missed having you three and your mum to share things with. I’d see something really typical from a film, like a fat policeman sat on his motorbike eating a donut, and there was no-one there to share that moment with”. I think for an eight year old I grasped it as much as I could, but it stayed with me and has been something that I have remembered often when I have been in a similar situation.
Having no-one to share moments in your life is, for me, the worst part of feeling lonely. Feeling heard and understood can make a really positive difference to your day. You do not have to be alone though to feel lonely, sometimes I feel the most lonely when I am surrounded by other people. It is hard to know that although I love my husband and we are very happy together, we cannot always understand what the other one is going through. When I had my first child I was overwhelmed being alone all day with a mostly-mute baby. I was so used to being surrounded by my children in class, my colleagues, friends for drinks after work, sports classes in the evening. It was a huge adjustment and the source of many arguments with my husband, who sometimes wanted to go out to play football in the evening and couldn’t understand why it was suddenly so hard for me. I met up with other mums every day and did every course under the sun, but that too left me tired and a little frustrated because a lot of our meetings felt like competitions to win the Baby of the Year Award. It was a huge relief to go back to work, but the feelings started coming back while I was pregnant with my second baby and I knew I needed to deal a little more pro-actively with these emotions to not feel so lonely. Looking back over the last nine months, here are some of the things that have helped this time for me, maybe they can help others not feel too lonely either.
- Tell people you are lonely. Sometimes we think only of lonely, sad old people and although this is true, this is only a very small portion of people who are lonely. Be honest with your friends and family; being lonely is not something to be ashamed of and can be tackled if you are ready to admit it.
- Join an online community which reflects your personality. I am part of Skinny Mom, an American blog which helps mums live healthily. I write for them and am in contact with a lot of other mums from there. I enjoy this because my online communities are based on my own goals and hobbies. I am so grateful to have found groups like Skinny Mom and Mummy’s Gin Fund where mums can be honest about difficulties they are having in their mum and other life and be there for each other.
- Be picky about who you meet up with. Sometimes there seems to be a bit of peer-pressure to keep meeting up with the people you met when you were pregnant. Often, having a child is the only thing that you have in common with these people, so these are possibly not people you would normally come into contact with. Meeting up with people who are really not your cup of tea just so the baby has social contact can make you feel even lonelier than before. There are so many things out there to try out and maybe find people who are like-minded.
- Use your loneliness empathy to help others. When I was doing my PGCE, I went to the local hospital once a month to visit elderly people who had no visitors. I was in a team of visitors organized by the hospital chaplaincy (but was for all religions) and they even trained us on our beside manner! This hour once a week became really special to me because you met incredible people who all have a story and who just loved being there to chat with you.
- Facebook groups (like Mummy’s Gin Fund), Instagram, Twitter – all of these places are full of people oversharing the latest news from their children. It might seem obvious, but sometimes just reading about someone else’s crazy day can make you feel a little bit better about yours. It is also nice to have a place where you can shamelessly brag about your kids and not feel bad about this. As long as there is a nicely taken picture to go with it, no-one will mind too much!
- Be willing to admit to your mum failures. My best friend and I have a much deeper relationship now that we have both been able to drop the “Perfect Mum” mask. We actually are able to feel sorry for our old selves who tried to be and do everything possible to look perfect. We phone each other almost daily and are just honest about the good, bad and ugly. You need these really painfully honest friendships to feel fully understood. She will also listen to the mundane for much longer than my husband has capacity for.
- Okay this last idea is for the time when our little ones leave home. I stumbled on this while thinking about the whole feeling of being lonely. Bookmark it for later: Get some chickens. Ok, this idea is not meant for busy mums of small children. We have a dog and a rabbit and they can drive me crazy. I have read though about the benefits of raising ex-battery hens and how they can help people overcome anxiety and also loneliness. Maybe one for when we have empty nests (no pun intended). Visit www.bhwt.org.uk to register and find out more. They also have a Hen of the Month page!
This time around I have been much more relaxed with my baby, which I think happens to a lot of people. I have done fewer courses and been more protective of my time with my baby girl and I have enjoyed it a lot more than the first time around. I love my online mummy friends and have discovered that I also really enjoy writing. Being able to understand myself and put my needs forward have helped with this. My time at home is drawing to an end, and I am really sad to be going back to work this time. I am finding it easier to be me as a mum and not be lonely, and that is thanks to so many wonderful women, like you, out there.