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Loneliness in Parents: Searching for Belonging in a Disconnected World

I have been feeling lonely often since becoming a mum eleven years ago. I always thought that it was probably because I moved away from my support system but recently I have been talking with my friends about loneliness and was surprised to find out, that they were feeling the same way, even though they are in very different circumstances.


And then I started wondering, could it be that it is not “just me” because I am living away from “home” but rather that it is a situation which lots of mums (and parents in general) find themselves in? Are we so disconnected and isolated in our modern lives that more people than we might think are feeling lonely often?


In this article I am describing

  • my own experience with loneliness,

  • the experiences of loneliness my friends shared with me,

  • statistics and evidence about loneliness in parents and

  • one suggestion for reducing perceived loneliness in parents.


Parents are almost never alone but feel lonely often
Parents are almost never alone but feel lonely often

My own experience with Loneliness as a Mum


Loneliness feels heavy and to be quite honest, shameful. I feel shame to admit that I am feeling lonely often. It is icky to admit because it implies, that there is something wrong with me. There is a part of me that tells me things like: "Why do people not want to hang out with you? Why have you not been able to establish sturdy friendships, yet - you must be doing something wrong."

This part is shaming me into not admitting that I am lonely AND makes me push away the feeling of loneliness and it makes me pretend everything is fine. That is hard work. And I appreciate this part for looking out for me and trying to protect me from this heavy and sad and scary feeling: being alone in the world.

Being alone in the world could mean death. Especially when you are very young. So it is an extremely scary situation that has to be avoided at all cost. I get that.


Recently I have overcome the shame around feeling lonely and started sharing with my friends that I am feeling like this. Surprisingly they told me that they are feeling the same way. On the one hand this made me sad, as I don't want my friends to suffer - but on the other hand it made me feel a little bit better because I didn't feel so alone with this feeling of loneliness anymore.


Here is what my friends have shared


Karla* is in her 40s and has two children, one teenager and one adult child who has moved out of home. She has never moved away from her birth place. You'd assume she has plenty of close friends that she feels connected to. But she told me "No, I don't. I do have a couple of friends close by who I get to see every now and then but they are really busy because they have younger kids and our schedules don't really match up. I am working full time - it's really difficult to find time." Apart from that Karla* is very creative, happy and outgoing person who loves networking and bringing people together. Not your typical lone wolf at all!


Another friend, Talia*, has just become a mum. She has been living far away form home for many years now and has felt lonely many times before. "But right now it is extreme", she shares. "Since becoming a mum I feel like I am bound to our flat. I can't really venture out much because of feeding and nap times." Talia* is open minded and adventurous. She is the type of person that gives nearly anything a go. She is attending different types of groups and workshops regularly. She loves connecting with people and is naturally very curious and inquisitive.


And lastly, Sarah*, who also moved far away from home, has two young children under 3 and describes moments of profound loneliness. "Sometimes I take the kids to the beach on my own and I see other mums hanging out and being there together. Then I wonder "Why can't I have that? What am I doing wrong?" Sarah* is an incredibly sweet woman. She is caring and funny and lovely to be around. She has joined local mother's groups and activities with her children and she reflects: "I made some friends since moving here but we often catch up as families and I would really like to have that one on one time with a girlfriend like I used to before I had kids."


My conclusion: making friends as an adult and as a parent is really difficult and it has nothing to do with who we are, what kind of person we are. There is nothing wrong with us, when we are finding it hard to find friends or feel like we don't belong.


Interesting facts about Loneliness in Parents


Loneliness in parents is more prevalent than you might think

Loneliness is a growing concern among parents in Australia. In fact, a recent study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that one in four parents reported feeling lonely at least once a week. This is a significant increase from just a few years ago, when the rate was closer to one in five.


There are a number of factors that contribute to loneliness in parents. One factor is the changing nature of work and family life. Many parents are now working longer hours and have less time for socialising and relaxing. In addition to this longer commutes can diminish the time we have available to spend with others.


Some literature describe the trend of loneliness starting with more households being able to watch TV. This would keep families from socialising in groups. If this is true, and I can imagine it would be, then we are in strive today. Because we now have TV on demand and social media to keep us occupied and separate. Which makes it easy to assume that things have gotten more dire.


Here are some statistics about loneliness in parents:

  • One in four parents in Australia report feeling lonely at least once a week.

  • Parents are more likely to experience loneliness than non-parents.

  • Single parents are more likely to experience loneliness than married parents.

  • Parents of young children are more likely to experience loneliness than parents of older children.

  • Parents who live in rural areas are more likely to experience loneliness than parents who live in urban areas.

And here is some evidence to support this:

  • A study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that parents who are lonely are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and stress.

  • A study by the University of Queensland found that lonely parents are more likely to have difficulty coping with the demands of parenthood.

  • A study by the University of Melbourne found that lonely parents are more likely to have problems with their relationships with their children.


What can be done about it?


If you asked Google it would probably tell you to seek a support group... This is something that can be helpful of course - but I have some other suggestions.


I want to acknowledge that not everybody finds the antidote of loneliness being open and vulnerable with other people. Some simply want to socialise in a fun setting without going into too much depth and that is 100% valid and I support you! However, it is easier to find a group or a club with similar interest for an entertaining time than finding emotionally safe people you can talk with about your feelings. And to me personally this is the way to more belonging.


Lisa Quinney is a counsellor who helps lonely parents

I know from my days working at Lifeline, that most people who called were ultimately feeling incredibly lonely. They had no one they could talk to about what was going on in their lives. Some did, but they chose not to burden the people in their lives because they were afraid they would be “too much” and then they "would lose them, too". And I hear this from my clients all the time. “I can’t talk to my friends about this. It is too heavy, I don’t want to put this on anyone. I'd rather pay you to listen to me.” I mean – that’s fair… BUT wouldn’t it be so much more supportive to our systems if we were able to openly share with our friends and (chosen) family what we are going through?!

In a client – therapist relationship it takes a while to get to know each other and build trust, naturally, because we are human. If we were able to talk to people we already trusted we would not only safe money and time but also strengthen the relationships that are already there, plus create a sense of connection and belonging, and increase our self-worth.


There are so many reasons why we feel we can’t do that.


1.) It is scary. Opening up and being vulnerable with other people is incredibly scary. Here is what I experienced: The more you do it and the more you experience a positive response, the easier it is next time. People didn’t just drop me, they didn’t ghost me. They made me feel safe and understood. And that gave me reassurance, that I wasn’t alone, it made me feel connected and it helped me to ground myself again.

Please try this with a safe person and try it slowly, baby steps. Don't divulge all your trauma in one catch up - test the waters by disclosing a little bit at a time to see how they react. A counsellor or therapist would be great at supporting you while you are trying this.


2.) We have low self-worth. It is important to examine the beliefs we hold about ourselves. "I have nothing important to say.", "No one is interested in my drama.", "I don't want to make it all about me.", "This is too much to put on somebody else." These might be thoughts that we tell ourselves to keep us from sharing with a friend what is going on. But what these thoughts are really trying to do is to protect us from getting hurt. Because we might have learned that being vulnerable, having big emotions is not ok. We might have learned that other people can not tolerate us when we are "not ok". We might have internalised that we are not worthy to take up space and to be listened to.

And I am telling you now, that you are worthy! You are allowed to take up space and cry and scream and feel all the feelings and you are worthy of being held by people who love you. You are worthy of compassion and belonging and community. You are allowed to fully be you! You can learn how to belief this.


3.) It has become habit. You might not hold any of the negative self-beliefs I described above, you might not even think it is scary to be vulnerable - you might simply not share with others how you are feeling, because you have never done it.

Breaking habits like this is not as simple as it might look like at first glance. You can change if you really want to and if you believe that the benefits of changing outweigh the loss. Again, a therapist, coach or counsellor can be very supportive when we want to change our habits.


 

The feeling of loneliness is heavy and sometimes it comes crushing down on us. It is difficult to talk about because we might feel ashamed. But really - loneliness is a feeling like any other feeling. It is allowed to be there. We don't have to be scared of it. We can get curious about it and learn what it is trying to tell us. It is there to motivate us to reach out to people and to connect with others. It is a very helpful feeling. Maybe if we can shed more light on it, stop pushing it away, it will make space for some curiosity, compassion and courage when connecting with other people.


In case you have been feeling lonely please know that you are IN FACT not alone! So many other parents are feeling the same way. It is very difficult to talk about loneliness and that is one of the reasons why we don't really hear about it. It is not easy for me to share this with you either, but I genuinely feel like this might help people in a similar situation.


I am here if you want to talk.


Lisa


@walk.with.lisa

0493755709


Additional Resources:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14 https://www.lifeline.org.au/

  • Relationships Australia: https://relationships.org.au/

  • Australian Institute of Family Studies: https://aifs.gov.au/

  • University of Queensland: https://www.uq.edu.au/

  • University of Melbourne: https://unimelb.edu.au/


*names changed for privacy reasons

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