‘Have you tried talking about this in your mum’s group?’ I asked, Sonya, a mum who was struggling with an unsettled baby, a partner who worked long hours and no family close by. It turned out that Sonya felt very isolated, even though she lived in the city, within walking distance of cafes and her child health centre. She was anxious about admitting how tough mothering was right now because she believed everyone else was so ‘together’. Sadly, this conspiracy of silence perpetuates the loneliness of mothers – with everyone pretending they have it ‘all sorted’ there becomes an impenetrable wall that keeps mothers from reaching out to each other and becoming allies.
There can be many reasons for mummy isolation – and you don’t have to be a new mother to feel like ‘the only one’:
Being single, but not single: You don’t have to be separated or divorced to be parenting alone most of the time. Many partners travel for work, leaving you making all the big decisions and managing the day to day stuff of babies and small children without any relief for days at a time. As Jessica , a mum of two toddlers says, “ I cant do things with my married friends at night because their partners are home and I feel I can’t be supportive to single friends because when my husband is home, I will ‘drop’ them because I cherish the short time we do have together.” Jessica’s solution is to enjoy playgroup and children’s activities during the day and ‘socialise’ on face-book at night when her partner is away. She says,” at least I feel connected to the outside world, I can talk to adults, even though it’s not really in person, physically. And when Ben is at home, I switch off technology to be with him.”
Geography: You live in the country with no close neighbours. The scenery is pretty but you can’t talk to the cows. It may seem like a major effort to bundle your baby in the car and get out but you could be pleasantly surprised how much fun it can be – and who you might meet. Genna, a country mum says, “I drove an hour to my nearest ABA group. I am so glad I made the effort, I now know two other mums who live close to me and we are meeting up for coffee next week.”
Your parenting style: You don’t gel with your mums’ group because your parenting style varies. Alice says, “ my baby sleeps less than the other babies but if I dare mention I am feeling tired, all the talk turns to sleep school. That’s not something I want to do. I don’t even want advice, just a bit of understanding without being told I am doing everything wrong.” Instead of torturing yourself, try seeking out a different group where you can vent safely and keep the conversation at your mums group neutral such as what toys the babies are enjoying or great places to go with a baby. Or, look for another quiet mum who is probably feeling ‘different’ too and invite her to meet up outside of the group.
Your routines: Having a routine can be a source of sanity for many mums and babies but if it works out that your baby is sleeping when it’s playgroup time, you miss out on the interaction with other mums. It’s a trade-off between the sanity of sleep and a calm household or the sanity of connection with other grown-ups – only you know whether to consider that as a short term sacrifice or whether your need for company trumps your baby’s routine occasionally.
Money: Let’s face it. If you had a bucket load of money, you could join a class with childcare thrown in or you could hire a personal trainer and a nanny and you could meet up with other mums at the gym. But don’t let that stop you – why not start a mum and bubs walking group? Put up a notice in your baby health centre or the local supermarket notice board to gather some other mums and babies to join you.
Different aged kids: You are the first person in your pre-baby best friendship group to have a baby and your childless girl-friends just don’t get that you can’t spontaneously drop everything and go for a drink at 5pm. Or, you are the last person in your group to have a baby, their kids are older and they are busy with activities so catching up is much more difficult that you had expected. It’s time to connect with a new group with little ones the same ages as yours. Organize catch-ups with old friends during school holidays when most preschooler activities are on holiday too or plan a girl friends’ get together without kids.
You aren’t a ‘social butterfly’: You enjoy meaningful conversations, you hate rowdy girls’ nights out or you aren’t ready to leave your baby yet. Relax, there are all kinds of personalities among mothers, just as there are among people in general. You may have to start at a mother’s group to find your ‘kindreds’ but you can branch out from there – when you ‘gel’ with another mum, invite her for a coffee. Don’t judge any mother’s intelligence because so much of the group conversation revolves around completely banal discussions about nappies and sleep (or lack of it). When you chat ‘one on one’, you can extend the discussion –and this can be where the longest lasting friendships begin.
Pinky McKay is a best-selling author, lactation consultant and mum of five . Check out Pinky’s Parenting by Heart Mummy Meet-ups – these are free informal meet up groups of mums, babies and small children who share and support gentle parenting.