It’s a great irony of parenthood. For the first time in your life you are never alone. And yet isolation and loneliness are real issues faced by so many mums and dads.
Mums are everywhere – at the park, baby and toddler groups, children’s centres and the school gates. I often hear people say that it’s easy to meet other mums when you have young children. This is true. Meeting other mums is easy, but often establishing deeper connections with those you meet is not.
Firstly, just because someone has a child the same age as you, it doesn’t automatically follow that you’ll have lots in common. And secondly, even if you do have lots in common, you’ll both have to make a lot of effort to build a meaningful friendship.
I consider my closest friends to be the ones I made at school (with the exception of some of my mum friends). We saw each other almost every day for seven years. We navigated the turbulent teenage years as a unit – crying, laughing and learning together as we went. We shared all our secrets with each other and, because we naturally saw each other every day at school, we didn’t have to make an effort to meet up. Our friendships were built on solid foundations and have lasted a lifetime. While we don’t see each other every day anymore, it really doesn’t matter. Even if months pass by, when we do finally get together we can just pick up where we left off.
Whether you’re a stay at home mum or a working mum, you won’t see the same mums with your children every single day. You may even struggle to meet up with your mum friends once a week. There are so many obstacles in the way – illnesses, tantrums, appointments – trying to be in the right place at the right time as the parent of a young child is difficult.
It is possible to be surrounded by people all the time and yet still feel isolated. When I had my first child, I was incredibly lonely. I was the first of my friends to have a baby and went from working full time and having an active social life to spending my days alone with my baby.
Making friends as an adult is hard, especially when you don’t see the same people every day. Once I had found them, my mum friends became a lifeline to me. I was so much happier with these incredible women in my life to share every stage of my motherhood journey with. But it took time and effort. I had to put myself out there and let myself be vulnerable. It meant making a real effort to make sure I saw the same mums on a regular basis and opened up to them.
When I first joined a meet a mum board and wrote a post asking if any other mums would like to meet up, I felt incredibly vulnerable and I didn’t expect anyone to reply. I had never actively tried to make friends before; all of my friendships had come about through school and work. But people did reply and, with time, I incorporated the ones I connected with into my life.
If you’re feeling lonely right now, please know these two things: it’s nothing to be ashamed of and you can do something about it. Being shy, I know how difficult it can be to put yourself out there. I’m not someone who can breeze into a room full of strangers and chat to them all. I think it’s about finding a way of meeting new people that works for you (be it online, baby groups, classes etc) and sticking to it.
There will be knock backs and frustrations (they don’t call it ‘mum dating’ for no reason!) but if you persevere there is so much to gain. If you feel isolated at the moment please reach out and don’t stop reaching out until you find the network you need to thrive.
Aimee Foster is a mum, freelance writer and social media manager, bookworm and sea lover. Find more of her ramblings over on her blog, New Forest Mum.