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 friends. I've spent an equal percentage of time feeling discouraged, often alone in a house with a child who was too young to carry on a conversation. 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?
Further, 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.
Meeting new people can feel entirely awkward---whether you're still living in your hometown or you've moved a million miles away. Sometimes even the connections we do have, including those in our own homes, just don't fill the loneliness void. We can have 1000 friends nearby and still feel lonely.
(I'm using lonely "mom" throughout this article because that's what I was, but this could apply to any caregiver.)
Research underscores just how real loneliness is for many of us:
A recent survey indicated that 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).
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.
These tips can help you feel less lonely even when you're surrounded by kids. Of course, if you're living with postpartum depression or anxiety, it's critical that you address the underlying cause and allow yourself to heal.
All of these tips can help your emotional wellbeing.
Using social media for the sake of "connectedness" actually caused me to feel like more of a lonely mom than I already was. As if it were a wolf in sheep's clothing, 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 kiddo would enjoy), I now wish for most of those hours back.
I learned that the key to connecting online was to use the tools to see where the (real! 3D!) moms would be. I joined groups of likeminded moms based on my interests. Then, I mustered up the courage to actually go to the events they 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: troupes of women already committed to one another, not necessarily looking to "adopt" a free-standing and secretly lonely parent 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.
Being a fairly unassuming person raising an introverted child, gently elbowing my way into 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.
But what about the introverted parents? We feel lonely, 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. It helps teach them their impact on society and broadens their horizons. All the better if they are, but 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.
Sarah R. Moore is an internationally published writer and the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. She’s currently worldschooling her family. Her glass is half full.