New moms, stay-at-home moms, working moms, single moms, empty nest moms -- we’ve all been touched by loneliness. Loneliness for a mom is an emotional response to the feeling of isolation. Loneliness affects moms in a unique way. For some moms, it is a feeling that lingers too long and rears it ugly face too often. For other moms, loneliness comes and goes in specific moments. It's rare to find a mom who has been able to escape its grip. Oddly enough, it is a relief to know that I am not the only type of mom that has experienced loneliness. Perhaps loneliness is a rite of passage of being a mom? Either way, I believe that it is our responsibility as a parent to educate ourselves. As mother’s we have a responsibility to our families to be self-aware.
My experience with PPD vs Loneliness
As a survivor of severe postpartum depression, I felt I was drowning in an ocean with no land in sight. I remember so vividly a recurring drowning feeling. It felt like we were drowning and I was trying to keep everyone afloat, but I kept being sucked back down by crashing waves. As a mom going through postpartum depression, I was barely able to come up for air and lift my kids up just enough for them to hold on to a raft while I sank back down. The exhaustion was overbearing. I remember the day my husband and I realized the severity of my postpartum depression. Together we sought out medical help. Once I was on an antidepressant and working with a clinician, I no longer felt like I was completely drowning. It finally felt like I was able to float on the surface of the water while my family sat safely in a lifeboat nearby. I wasn’t in survival mode anymore. For the longest time, even after I was working with a medical team, everything still sounded muffled as if my ears were still submerged in water. Even though at this point in my postpartum depression I physically had people around me supporting our family, the feeling of loneliness was stagnant. It took all my energy to be social. I wanted to withdraw and disconnect from everyone because it felt so much easier to be disconnected emotionally. My wellness dimensions were lopsided; therefore, I felt very vulnerable. My well-being was out of balance and it took a long time to get to the point I am at right now in my wellness journey. The choice had to come from me and me only.
Loneliness in motherhood was a difficult experience for me. I hope that by sharing my experience and some information about loneliness other moms will be empowered to overcome feelings of loneliness in their own motherhood journey.
What is loneliness?
Loneliness is a subjective state of mind. It’s a feeling you have sometimes and it’s not necessarily linked to being physically alone. For example, when I’m alone in my car after preschool drop off I’m not lonely, I’m just alone. Being physically alone isn’t the same as loneliness because loneliness is an emotional response to the perceived feeling of isolation(1). Even in a group setting, such as play-dates or school events, a mom might be physically present, but not be able to feel any type of connection to the other parents.
The 8 dimensions of wellness are also factors that can play into the psychological pain that stems from the feeling of loneliness.
When your wellness dimensions are out of balance, we subconsciously prioritize areas of life where we don’t feel vulnerable. We will lean heavily towards achievement in areas that we are already successful in order to avoid our emotional needs or social wellness. Achievement is best suited to be celebrated and shared with others though, so unless it is shared, it serves no purpose.
Why does loneliness affect moms?
There are so many types of moms out there in the world. For each type of mom, loneliness looks slightly different. One thing that is common among moms from every walk of life is that meaningful and intimate socialization is not typically a mother’s priority. Sure there are things like a “mom’s night out” once every quarter, but it’s not the same as being in the company of people who you share a deep connection with, like a best friend.
Mom’s put pressure on themselves to get everything done (cleaning, shopping, laundry, bills, extracurricular activities with the kids, etc.) before they allow themselves to enjoy friendships and conversation. When mom’s spend time just hanging out with friends doing what might appear to be nothing, they often feel guilty or may even be judged by themselves or others who may perceive them as lazy or unproductive. When moms operate on repeat and do the same routine day in and day out it is easy to let social wellness and emotional health fade into the background. The vicious cycle of chaos when the kids are home and complete loneliness when they are gone can feel suffocating and confusing.
Moms really need connection and closeness. Moms need to be truly seen, heard, felt, and understood by someone. Moms need to feel loved for who they are and not for what they can do or achieve as someone's mom or wife. In order to get this level of intimacy moms have to prioritize their relationships. Moms need to get comfortable being unguarded. Once we are able put down our shield of armor and let others into our perfectly imperfect selves we can end the cycles of loneliness.
I remember the uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability when I told my husband I was depressed. It took so much courage because I was so afraid. As many of my readers know my father committed suicide. The unwavering love he gave me in response to my openness helped me feel hope and freedom. His view of me and my view of myself were clearly different and in this tender moment our relationship and connection to each other grew in ways I never imagined possible. Nothing hard comes easy mama! You got this.
When we are able to create genuine connections with others, we are able to be our truest self without judgement, pity, or compromise. Even the worst version of yourself is loved, forgiven, and celebrated and with that deep connection the perception of isolation dissolves.
When to seek professional help because of loneliness?
A shocking number of people are affected by loneliness. It’s only gotten worse since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. A study conducted by Cigna insurance company in 2019 surveyed 10,000 adults and found that three in five Americans (61%) reported feeling lonely (2). According to the study the top four reasons adults are lonely are:
Not enough social support
Too few meaningful social interactions
Poor physical and mental health
Not enough balance in our lives (doing too much of one thing and not enough of another)
In an acute setting, loneliness is a catalyst for building and maintaining healthy relationships. However, when loneliness is a chronic state of mind, it can be detrimental to a mother’s mental health.
“Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver. And our world could stand to be a little kinder and braver.” -- Brene Brown
Consistent feelings that include any of the following might be a sign that you are experiencing chronic loneliness:
Overwhelmed sensation of isolation when in large groups of people
Consistently disconnect from intimacy within relationships
Social interactions leave you feeling overwhelmed and exhausted
Feeling that you have lots of friends but no real close friend
Strong feeling of self doubt or low self-worth
When the feelings of loneliness start to inhibit your daily activities it is a sign that loneliness is a symptom of a more serious mental health problem and you should seek professional medical counsel.
Top 3 things you can do starting today if you feel lonely?
Get your head on straight -- start the day with affirmation (Radical Accountability)
Set a doable goal for your mind, body, and spirit -- 10,000 steps a day.
Get in touch with someone -- build authentic connections with someone you trust
To the moms with no friends
I have felt the pain and the sadness of feeling friendless and lonely in motherhood. I had to take the initiative to step out of my comfort zone. I had to take responsibility for my social wellness. I had to become aware. I had to overcome the victim mentality. Sometimes it’s hard to admit that you are the one standing in the way of your life's happiness.
About the Author
Kelly Hater, owner of Mama Bear Domain, has over 15 years of coaching experience. She is a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and has a bachelor's degree in Health Promotion from the University of Cincinnati.
She specializes in helping clients overcome mom burnout by empowering them to stop existing and start living. Her clients no longer let mom guilt steal their identity and goals. Moms deserve to be happy and live a fulfilling life. She personally has overcome overwhelming mom struggles herself and has first hand experience. Kelly gives her clients the accountability and support they need to take action. Go Join NOW The Mom Coach™ “on demand” for the proven program, monthly challenges, journal entries and more.