I get what it feels like to be a lonely mom. Having moved house an average of almost once per year for the first six years of my child's life, I've spent a lot of time trying to make new mom friends. Or any new friends at all, really, regardless of whether or not they're mothers. Some days I'd have settled for a friendly looking giraffe on a cereal box.
Truth be told, besides being lonely, I also spent a good percentage of time back then feeling really discouraged, often alone in a house with a child who was mostly too young to carry on a conversation. Unless you wanted to talk dinosaurs. She had that covered.
My husband was working ridiculous hours at the time. He was often out of the country, so I was married, but largely living a single parent life. (Yes, I realize it's not the same as actually being a single person, and I'm not suggesting it is. I was raised by a single mom and know that life well.)
It didn't help that we had no family within roughly 1000 miles.
Living in a big city, I was surrounded by other humans, but I had no sense of community. My loneliness was fairly profound nearly all the time for those early years.
I knew that many moms feel lonely sometimes, but after having moved and "starting over" so frequently, there was no Ethel to my Lucille Ball; no Betty to my Wilma Flintstone. Where was the magical next door neighbor (with playdate-compatible kids) who I was supposed to find, anyway?
As a stay-at-home mom, was I supposed to walk up to random parents in the grocery store and offer, say, a good looking lemon in exchange for an hour of coffee together? I'd be lying if I said I hadn't considered it.
The more we moved house, not to mention moves to new cities, the more tired I was of feeling "empty," longing for someone to hang out with who was, ideally, more than two feet tall.
An unspoken, but very real, part of motherhood is that it can be one of the loneliest times in our life.
As it turns out, I wasn't alone in my emotional isolation. Being a lonely mom is common. Whether your children are newborns or older, loneliness can affect moms at different times of our lives. Let's explore what's going on here---and then continue with a message of hope and encouragement.
Research demonstrates that motherhood can be lonely:
...28% of new mothers experience loneliness after giving birth to their first child (AXA Healthcare, 2015). Given that becoming a mother is typically characterised as a time of positive emotions, it is perhaps surprising that this figure is in line with the highest estimates for the percentage of adults of childbearing age experiencing more than occasional loneliness (Qualter et al., 2015). (source)
Further, research demonstrates that exhaustion and self-inflicted pressure to be a "good mom" can add to our feelings of being a lonely mom (source). We try so hard to be everything we can be to our baby, child, and husband or partner (if we have one), yet aside from endless games of peek-a-boo, there's often little fun to offset the difficult and ever-present feelings of loneliness.
Stay at home moms or moms without regular support may be particularly vulnerable, although it can affect anyone lacking meaningful social connections. As of 2021, approximately one-third of parents reported feeling lonely (source).
New moms, in particular, often struggle with feeling lonely in the brave new world of motherhood. It's all foreign to us, and lacking a so-called "mom tribe" can feel especially isolating while we're figuring out ALL the things.
Especially in new motherhood, mental well-being can suffer significantly.
It goes without saying that there's a tremendous physical toll the early days of parenting on the body (after all, if your child is biologically related to you, you're recovering from having birthed something the size of a watermelon).
On top of this, most new moms report feeling the "baby blues." A notable percentage thereof go on to experience postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety (PPA) (17.9% and 13.8%, respectively) (source).
I was a lonely mom, and I was also a mom with PPA.
No one tells us these things about motherhood before we sign up for it; at least, not in terms that seem meaningful at the time. Even if we're told we may feel isolated, it really doesn't hit home until new mothers are spending entire days (and nights) in a continuum of changing, feeding, rocking, and supporting our babies' physical and emotional development.
Although PPD and PPA don't cause the loneliness many moms feel, they certainly wouldn't make new life with baby feel any easier.
Of course, if you're living with PPD or PPA, it's important to address it with a professional and allow yourself to heal. You don't have to (and shouldn't) "tough it out." Help is available, and these days, many treatments are available that may not require medications, if that's a concern.
It can truly be exhausting and overwhelming. Anxiety for the lonely mom is commonplace when it's all so new.
Loneliness in "middle age," once the children are bigger, is common, as well. This is due to a number of factors, not the least among them is that we're often so busy keeping up with our children's busy-all-the-time lives that we simply lose track of our own needs.
We may be surrounded by family and have plenty of people to talk to at home or otherwise, but we may be lacking deeper connections (source). Talking with the parent of a child's friend in passing at a soccer game simply isn't the same as talking with a person who's deeply invested in your well-being.
Without at least one friend on whom we can regularly rely to remind us that we're fun, interesting, and amazing can take a toll on our self-worth. Self-care may go out the window, too, so we're often left feeling pretty empty. As many as 78% of moms say we put off taking care of themselves because we're too busy caring for others (source).
In such a state, who has free time to start connecting with a group of women who magically happen to be in the same life stage?
Even if you're lacking energy, know-how, or confidence, the most important thing to know as a lonely mom is that there are ways to come out of loneliness. You're not wrong for having invested in your family. It's just that you get to matter, too.
Know that everyone feels lonely sometimes. That's normal. Staying a lonely mom, however, isn't healthy, so we can do some productive and specific things to combat loneliness.
I get it. "Self-care" feels cliché at best these days. As stressed and/or lonely moms, we're tired of being told we're wrong for not prioritizing ourselves, and yet, the very idea of exerting more energy is mentally draining.
Fortunately, there are many ways we can take care of ourselves that are within the realm of what we're already doing...just with a few tweaks.
Using social media for the sake of "connectedness" actually caused me to feel like more of a lonely mom than I already was. Although the rational side of me knew it wouldn't work, I felt tempted to trust it to fill my isolation.
To the degree that it sucked me in without any promise of connecting with other adults in real life (much less those who'd spawned children my highly sensitive child would enjoy), I now wish for most of those hours back.
Screen addiction is real. And it's not only debilitating, it also puts us at risk for feeling even more lonely than before.
Scrolling Facebook and Instagram weren't as fulfilling as they were made out to be. I learned that the key to connecting online was to use the tools to see where the (real! 3D!) moms would be. I joined Facebook groups of stay-at-home moms in my area, and based on my specific interests.
I still haven't found the perfect group for "natural health-focused but with occasional ice cream eating, open-minded, gentle parenting moms who are introverts but who really want to hang out, but skip small talk and show up in yoga pants even if we haven't been to a yoga studio in three years."
Working on it.
The point was that I found groups that were close enough to what I wanted that I didn't feel like a total goon when I went. There were lots of those.
Then, I mustered up the courage to actually go to the events that my "good enough" FB groups scheduled. Occasionally, another mama and I would click into an instant friendship.
More often than not, though, I experienced the unfortunate reality that is Mommy Cliques, even on social media: troupes of women already committed to one another, not necessarily looking to "adopt" a free-standing and secretly lonely mom into their conversations.
What helped here was to go into these groups not looking for friends, but rather, to seek acquaintances. It's simply good to know people; to know familiar faces.
For me, that was the first step out of loneliness. In that way, social media was helpful. It just wasn't the full antidote to feeling lonely.
Social media isn't the only place a mother can feel a sense of connection with other moms. If you feel better knowing others are lonely sometimes, too, the Loneliness Project may be worth a look.
Here, many people have shared their stories of loneliness, so you know you're not alone.
Being a fairly unassuming person raising an introverted child who was also highly sensitive, gently elbowing my way into group conversations wasn't particularly productive. So, I found a better way.
I learned to look for the other parents who looked like they might feel lonely.
Search for the moms who are standing alone at the playground.
Avoid the ones who are engrossed on their phones; seek out those who are warmly engaging with their children. Walk up and say hi. If "hi" isn't your thing (it takes guts!), smile.
Pay them a compliment. Say something nice about their child.
Sometimes the lonely mom is an introvert, too, and it's not easy to make friends with strangers!
The following tips should help no matter your personality. They're all quick exchanges that don't involve much emotional investment.
The worst that can happen is that someone is impolite in response. That's happened to me only a couple of times. Mostly, people are kind. I've never regretted trying.
In my experience, you do need to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Unfortunately, it's unlikely that anyone will seek you out if you're not actively making yourself available to meet them. These icebreakers worked best for me.
Notice that I'm being direct about my intentions:
If you're wondering if these are essentially pick-up lines, the answer is yes. They're shameless but effective conversation starters to make friends.
When you feel like you need to connect with other people to be happy, you're right. No one should spend any considerable amount of time feeling like they don't "belong."
For me, however, I realized that I was making my loneliness about my own desire for happiness, rather than about what I could be doing to bring others joy.
No one talks about this part of being a lonely mom, but I'll risk it: my own feelings of "Hey, people should be embracing me" were, well, all about me.
Here's the funny part, though.
All sorts of studies show that when we serve others, we're happier. That's a form of true connection. It helps give meaning and purpose to otherwise solitary days---and helps shift our focus outward.
Involving kids in serving others is beneficial, too.
Related post: 25 Acts of Kindness for Kids
It helps teach them their impact on society and broadens their horizons.
Your efforts don't need to be big. Start by smiling at others as you walk down the street. It might be exactly the gift someone needs that day.
And you just might happen to meet someone you like.
As a lonely mom, I realized two things: "I really want to connect with others," and "My mental health suffers when I don't."
I also realized that connecting didn't always need to come in the form of new friends.
Indeed, it's great to connect with people in person. What still works surprisingly well is to talk on the phone with my best friend from junior high or a friend I knew from graduate school.
We don't have kids who are the same age. We can't have playdates. But they know me. They love me. And no matter how far we live from one another, every time we speak, we pick up right where we left off.
That, more than anything else, is often what my heart needs.
If we keep "putting ourselves out there," one of the new mamas we meet might someday turn into exactly that kind of friend, too.
In an ideal world, mom friends just "pop up" when we need them. However, reality is that we have to put in some effort into connecting in our community if we expect to climb out of the loneliness hole.
It's possible, though, one step at a time. And most moms in the world really do "get it," and many who've been there sincerely want to help.
Meeting other women is helpful, but connecting with just one single mom friend can reduce feelings of social isolation.
From there, you'll connect with more like-minded people---whether you're still living in your hometown or you've moved a million miles away.