Lonely Within The Mother
I once asked a good friend and mother of two young children how she was doing. Her answer surprised me a little. I’m a bit depressed but I think that’s normal for parents in our culture. Both her and her partner worked in order to cover the bills and she was finding that caring for Edith and Finlay plus working from home meant that she had virtually no time for herself. The exhaustion she was feeling affected her mood, creating an invisible barrier between her and the people around her.
A 2015 study found that 28% of new mothers experience loneliness (AXA Healthcare, 2015) this places them at higher risk of depression. A study called “Lonely Within the Mother” was carried out in the UK in 2019. Six new mothers with babies between 4 and 6 months old were interviewed. The mums reported finding the experience of motherhood more difficult than they had anticipated. Breastfeeding gave them an uncomfortable sense of being solely responsible for their child’s well being.
The women who took part all evaluated themselves negatively in relation to a perceived ideal of motherhood. For some of them this lead to more isolation: One of the women avoided social interactions because she was unable to breastfeed;
“I just felt very inadequate at that time I think and so, I just felt it was easier you know, to just, go for walks and things like that rather than, put myself through that”.
Having faced similar struggles as a new mum I decided to run a series of events called the “Nurture Lounge”. This was a place where mums could share their pain openly with others facing similar challenges and receive empathy and support. Research shows that the most effective way to overcome loneliness is to share your experience with others who are going through something similar. Feeling seen and cared for in our suffering can lead to feelings of acceptance and belonging. As Brene Brown explains, “Love, belonging, connection, and joy are irreducible needs for all of us”.
Finding Places To Belong
Finding places where we can be accepted as our full selves is crucial for our wellbeing. Look for places within your community where this is the case, faith groups, womens/sharing circles are often very accepting.
I have been reading recently about parenting across different times and cultures. According to evolutionary anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy we are by nature social and evolved to have at least six main caregivers. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of us are lonely. Some research indicates that we need a minimum of five high quality interactions per day in order to be well – this means interactions where we feel understood and cared for. Most cultures share childcare between several adults.
Amongst the Aka people of the Central African Republic each infant has around twenty main caregivers of varying age and sex – twenty pairs of hands to share the work, forty eyes to gaze lovingly. In Bali they have a beautiful tradition of passing a baby from one carer to another so that their little body does not touch the earth until they are three months old.
Back To The Village
My hope is that we find our way back to the village, back to each other. In the circus community which I have inhabited for much of my adult life children are a welcome and expected part of working life as they would have been for most of human history.
Futurist Zach Stein has a vision which I love, of creating intergenerational hubs which combine co-working with childcare and education. Managing the complex demands of working and parenthood can be tough when we are doing it alone or as a couple. Stein’s hubs would allow us to live less isolated and share skills and resources.
Please get in touch if you need help finding resources within your community. I will be running regular support groups in Bristol, UK from the autumn; reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org.