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Loneliness and parenthood

Managing feelings of loneliness as a parent

Becoming a mother or father is a life-changing event. And while it can be one of life’s most rewarding experiences, it can also be an incredibly lonely time for parents. 

Research shows that more than eight in 10 mothers (83%) experienced loneliness some of the time, while 43% said they felt lonely all the time. Another survey found that 90% of new mothers felt lonely since giving birth, with over half feeling that they had no friends at all. More research is needed to understand more about loneliness in fatherhood.

One of the paradoxes of parenthood is the intense feeling of loneliness while never actually being alone. Much of your day as a parent is spent entirely occupied, talking endlessly, physically close to another person. While you may physically never have a moment to yourself, the isolation and seperation you feel from friends, family and life in general can hang on your shoulders. Martha Lane calls parenthood the “busiest loneliness where you’re never actually alone”. 

Just a quick Google of ‘loneliness and parenting’  brings up endless posts and threads from parents questioning if how they’re feeling is okay; describing that while they love their new baby they can’t shake feelings of loneliness and are often overwhelmed by parenthood - feelings that cause them much guilt. 

The important thing to remember is that loneliness is a normal human emotion, and there is nothing to feel ashamed or guilty about. Loneliness is a bit like feeling hungry and thirsty. Much the same as when our bodies are telling us that we need to eat or drink something, loneliness is a sign that we need to pay attention to the amount of social contact we’re having. For parents, feelings of loneliness can often stem from lacking quality adult conversation, comparing ourselves to others online, or a lack of a wider social network of friends, family or neighbours. 

“For me, it sounded silly saying I felt alone when I have a baby with me 24/7. But sometimes you crave adult company and conversation, there is nothing silly about it I have realised.” - Emma

Image by Bruno Nascimento
Ideas for managing feelings of loneliness as a parent

Acknowledge your feelings 
By identifying what you’re feeling as loneliness you can start to address it and work through it. Remember you’re not alone - many parents feel this way. Loneliness is a very normal human emotion. As human beings, we are biologically wired for connection, and loneliness is simply our signal that we need more. 

Take care of your own needs

It’s hard when your baby needs so much attention but doing simple, pleasurable activities like catching up on your favourite TV shows, listening to podcasts or taking gentle walks can make a big difference. If you have a hobby, something that's just for you, try to keep it up. Journaling your thoughts and feelings can be helpful too. Be kind to yourself and make sure you spend some time every day doing something that makes you feel good, whether that's a nice bath, a meditation, an exercise class, or cooking your favourite dinner. 

Book in virtual connection
Scheduling video chats with friends and family can be a really useful way to keep in touch when the miles keep you apart. “I tried to book in video calls with family members, like my Dad or my Nan. I don’t get to see them often as we live a few hours apart, so it is nice to catch up and have an adult conversation at home. There’s no pressure to get dressed and meet in a cafe which can be tricky. My son can play, listen to the conversation or join in. Plus - you can leave whenever you need to!” - Charlotte

Share how you feel

Tell people you trust about how you’re feeling. It can be scary to be open and honest at times. But it’s normal to experience feelings of loneliness from time to time. Your friends and family can’t help you if they don’t know – they might assume you are feeling happy based on any texts or social media posts. It can mean that they don’t recognise when you’re low. Reach out to the people you trust and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your friends and family members might want to help but not know how to. So, it can be positive if you can be clear about what you need.


Find your support system

Think of people you can turn to and activities that help you feel less lonely. It can help to know where or who to go to when you’re struggling with those feelings. Try writing a list so you don’t have to do the thinking when you feel down.

Be mindful of the social media you use. 

Remember, we only see what other people want us to see on social media, and this can make us feel lonely and excluded. If you find yourself feeling down after scrolling on social media, you could try unfollowing certain people turning off notifications or limiting the time you spend online. Taking a break from our screens can give us more time to focus on ourselves and our relationships. “I got into listening to podcasts on long walks with my baby in the sling. Hearing other people talking made me feel less lonely.” - Harrison

Get outside
Fresh air and sunshine can work wonders for how we feel - so try to grab it while you can - even if it’s just half an hour pottering around the garden, or doing a loop of the local park. “When you’re out for a walk say ‘hi’ to people you walk past, it cheers you up no end” – Alex

Take care of your mental health
Loneliness isn't a mental health problem. If left unchecked, loneliness can start to affect our mental and physical health but it’s important to know that first and foremost, it’s a normal and natural feeling. If you feel like your mental health is suffering due to loneliness, it may be worth speaking to your GP. You can also get in touch with services such as Shout, Mind or a local support group if you need to talk about your feelings of loneliness. Remember that it is normal to need help sometimes – and healthy to reach out to others when you do. 

Meeting other parents

What's on near you

A quick Google search of “mum/dad groups near me” should show you a few options, along with local bulletin boards, school newsletters, and libraries. And if you join a mum group and don’t like it, you don’t have to stay in it. Some groups may have regular meetups, playdates, or hangouts, which can make it easier to break the ice. In most towns and cities, there are parent-and-me classes, for newborns, babies, and toddlers. They give you a chance to offload or ask questions to people in a similar situation to you, and your child gets to socialise too! Sometimes there is a cost associated with classes, but you can often find toddler groups at local churches that are either free or only a small charge – normally including coffee and cake! 

“Babies are the best opener. If you’re not sure what to say to a potential mum friend, just ask how old their kid is, tell them how old yours is, and you’d be surprised how quickly you just start chatting.” ‒ Alison

Chat at the gates

If you do school drop-off or pick-up, take a little extra time to make small talk with the other parents. You can also try getting involved with a bake sale, the PTA, or another school organisation. “I just reach out to people and be friendly. I’ve made some decent connections by just putting myself out there and reaching out to new people!” ‒ John

Join a local Facebook or WhatsApp group

A lot of local areas now have their own Facebook groups where people share local news and events. You might find something to go to, or you might start chatting to new people in comments and discussions. There might even be someone to virtually keep you company during night time feeds. "I found a local WhatsApp group parents in my postcode, and it's honestly been brilliant. I've asked all sorts of questions but I have really enjoyed answering others questions too. Great for finding ideas for things to do locally as well." 


Be the first one to say ‘Hi’

Forget what your own parents told you - it's good to talk to strangers! It might feel awkward, but someone has to make the first move to become friends. Start smiling or saying hello to any parents you meet in the park or at a coffee shop. You might not click, and that’s okay, but at least you’ll know you tried. "I went to a local playgroup where kids play in the middle and parents sit around the edge. I felt bold and just said to another parent 'which one is your little one?'. We started chatting and now we meet at the same group each week!' 

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When I became a parent for the first, second and third time I experienced loneliness.  Waking up through the night to look after the baby when it was dark outside and everyone else was sleeping, watching the clock turn each hour until the sun rose was intense for me.  Loneliness was an uncomfortable feeling that at times, one I couldn’t imagine would end.  During these nights I felt like the only person in the world up and awake.  I felt distanced from everyone.

One way I managed these feelings of loneliness was to connect to podcasts. Also, to rest when our baby slept and then force myself to go to baby groups where other parents were in a similar position. Calling out that I felt lonely also helped.  People around me were kind and other friends who had babies would text me during night feeds.  To this day we connect about this and those babies are nearly 12 years old now!

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