A lot (too much) has been said about how motherhood changes you. Not enough could ever be said about how motherhood makes you lonely.
I’m often lonely. I’m lonely in a crowded room. I’m lonely here, writing, the fridge humming and the dog mouth-breathing like a fat gibbon. I’m lonely at work. But I’m not alone. And, I’m not ashamed, or particularly troubled by feeling lonely, because I’m not alone. One half-smiling WhatsApp message thread from friends, one silly joke on Skype from colleagues, one stream of kisses on a text from my husband, and I’m ok. Many sticky hands, school-smelling hair strokes, or that damp, post-nap heaviness nestled next to me, and I’m ok.
Are Bristolian Mothers Lonely?
Recently, I asked Bristol Parent readers to tell me how loneliness was affecting them. How motherhood, and belonging, or not belonging, made them feel.
96%, of the huge amount of women who responded, say they have felt lonely since becoming a mother
Ninety six percent. 96 lonely women, pushing pushchairs through Bristol, drinking coffee, shouting into towels at bedtime, making those Maltesers last in the evening. That makes me bloody sad.
38% of Bristol mums, when they are feeling lonely, say the thing or person they miss the most is their old self
That makes me sadder still. I miss my old self. The one with the handbags, shoes, unflinching focus on work, capacity for romance and listening. I miss her friends. I miss her husband too. The latter two are hanging in there thank god. The others, they’ll be back.
27% of Bristol mums say they miss someone with kids the same age as them who ‘just gets it’
God, we all need those people in our lives. This blog is kind of a mission to help people find ways to meet those people. I love my people that are those people.
When are we loneliest?
31% of respondents say the most lonely time of the day is between 4-7pm, well, that’s when they are most likely to reach for their phone. That’s pretty true for me. I’ll do anything to avoid listening to Doc McStuffins. Evenings in by oneself come in next for the loneliest time, which says a lot about how parenting is making the mother in the couple feel!
Although making friends at baby groups was the most popular way to make friends, there’s the biggest gap between the percentage of those it worked for and those it didn’t. It worked for about 40%, but didn’t work for about 30%.
Baby groups are loneliness marmite fodder. You go, you sit, you go home. It’s so hard to reach out and kick the conversation above ‘sorry, I am TRYING to teach her to share’ or ‘has your little one finished with that?’
A quarter of Bristol mums that responded have never tried making friends at the school gates, which is quite interesting. I am failing SO hard at this. It’s torturous. Probably tortuous to watch, too!
Crisis in Bristolian Maternal Mental Health?
Looking at these results, maybe there is a Maternal Mental Health crisis in Bristol. There were just over 400 mothers’ responses to this survey, so that’s ten maternity wards full, or one primary school full, or maybe four years of NCT mums, or 40 book clubs, or probably everybody at Ashton Court on a Saturday morning.
- Over 70% feel that loneliness contributed negatively to their mental health following the birth of child/children
- Over 50% say they have felt like they have nobody to talk to about how being a parent makes them feel
- 67% have found peer support more valuable than professional to combat these feelings, in Bristol
- 49% say becoming a mother has made them LESS confident
Are we solving the loneliness issue online, or making it worse?
Over half of respondents have never tried making friends online, but 25% say they have more friends online than they do in real life. Neither of those things are surprising. I found my husband, my dog, my job, and some friends online. But I had to do a lot of things to a lot of metaphorical frogs in all those areas to find success at it.
Facebook makes 1 in 4 mums in Bristol feel more lonely and more insecure. A quarter of us, scrolling through our friends’ news and all the events we could be at, are making ourselves feel worse. And it’s getting harder and harder to stop using Facebook.
However, 31% of Bristol mothers say mum forums make them feel happy or happier. That’s pretty cool. I’ve not done much Mumsnetting since my youngest was small, but the AIBU section is always addictive. As is the name testing section.
WhatsApp is the most life changing social media, with 67% saying it made them more happy and positive. I 100% agree with this, it’s changed the way I communicate with so many people. I love getting the voicemails on it from people, and I love sharing little videos of the kids with my sister so the cousins can see each other.
How can we change this?
Individually? Talk to other women. Make it happen. Offer that biscuit. Strike up that bus conversation. Ask that friend how they are. Ring someone. Make someone laugh.
As a group? Ask someone new to join your group. Bring a friend. Go on a blind mum date. Get an app like Mush or ask to join a Facebook Group where people you might have something in common with are. Lurk. Advise. Rage. Ask someone you admire for coffee, ask them about their career. Join a running club, a choir, anything where people who might be mothers but like doing other stuff hang out.
If you’re reading this, and you’re lonely, I’m sorry, and I know how you feel sometimes, I do. Tell me what we can all do to make you feel better, because you’re not alone. Not at all.