Most big events in life go differently than we were expecting them to, and some of these differences are easier to deal with than others. Parenthood is a particularly tricky issue. What happens when someone becomes a parent, but then things don’t quite go the way they anticipated?
From a parent’s perspective, the first 6 months or so of their baby’s life are a blur of sleepless nights and diaper changes. Life with a newborn is different from what many people expect, and these early months require some major mental adjustments. From the outside, it might seem like it should be easy for parents to adapt to this new lifestyle, but in reality, many parents find this time period very difficult, often in unexpected ways.
Why do some new parents feel lonely?
A lot of things change when a baby enters the picture. Many of them are good things, but it’s important to acknowledge that some aspects of people’s lives can become more difficult, too.
- Social isolation: Taking care of a baby means being alone with an infant for a large part of every day. New parents can’t spontaneously meet up with friends or go out and do things by themselves, and they can’t have a conversation with their babies the same way they can talk to someone their own age.
- Distance from their partner: Having a new baby can put a significant strain on romantic relationships. If one person works and the other stays at home, tensions can come up if, at the end of the day, one partner needs space and the other wants to spend time together, or if one feels less valued in their new role in this newly-grown family.
- Career: In many cases, one parent takes time off of work to care for the new baby. It’s not uncommon for this parent to miss their job, the relationships and support they have with their coworkers, and the independence they had in their daily life.
- Doubts: A new parent might begin to question whether or not they’re doing a good job with their baby. This can cause parents to feel isolated and lonely in their feelings of self-doubt or shame.
- Lack of close familial support: New parents who don’t have family or friends nearby to help with the baby or provide emotional support, or who are the first of their friends to have children, can start to feel lonely and overwhelmed.
- Financial constraints: Social activities often take a little extra money, and the costs of having a baby can make it difficult for new parents to spend time with their friends in the ways that they used to. Financial limits can also get in the way of relaxing activities that can help relieve stress, and financial struggles are pretty common causes of stress, too, as things like medical bills and childcare can cost more than new parents were expecting.
- Afraid to ask for help: Many new parents worry that their feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, and discontent aren’t acceptable to talk about, especially at a time when people are congratulating them on a new baby. They can feel like they have to keep up a certain face or meet expectations, which can make a sense of isolation or stress worse.
Dealing with loneliness
How a new parent handles the first few months with their newborn varies widely, and it depends in part on their individual circumstances. But there are a couple of things that new parents may want to try if they start to feel lonely caring for their baby – and the odds are good that they will feel this way, at least for a little while.
- Parent groups: These groups can help new parents who are feeling overwhelmed or lost in their new parenting responsibilities, or who just want to connect with other new parents in the area.
- Check for postpartum depression: Almost 15% of new mothers experience postpartum depression, a mood disorder that can have negative effects if left untreated. New mothers who feel the ‘baby blues’ for more than 2 weeks should always see a healthcare provider to rule out the possibility of postpartum depression.
- Be sure to make time for your partner: This isn’t easy, but it’s important, especially now, when you’re still working out how your new family’s dynamic is going to work. Making time to connect can help new parents feel more connected to one another, more supported, less isolated, and can help them work out ways to share responsibilities in the way that works best for everyone’s happiness.
- Maintain different kinds of friendships: Not all friendships need to be, or even should be, with other parents. Maintaining a variety of different friendships can help to keep a family’s social life varied and healthy, especially because friends with kids will have less time and energy to be social than friends who don’t have kids. On the other hand, new parents who are the first of their friends to have children can get a lot out of getting to know a few people with babies and toddlers of their own.
- Be wary of social media: Social media can be great for new parents, but it definitely can also cause a lot of parents to feel like they’re missing out or not living up to certain parenting standards. Like so many things about figuring out how to navigate being home with a newborn, it’s can help new parents out a lot to resist making comparisons based on social media posts.
- Go outside every so often: Many parents claim that going outside helped them clear their heads and feel better when they’re at home with newborns, and even just a walk around the block can be a refreshing change of scenery when you’ve been cooped up with the littlest member of your family for a while.
A final thought on loneliness
No piece of advice is guaranteed to cure loneliness, but it’s important for new parents to realize that the first 6 months or so of a newborn’s life is a phase, and that it definitely won’t last forever. Babies keep growing, and living with them starts to feel more natural, and before long, life will feel a little bit more normal. There’s no point in trying to force enjoyment of this time if it’s not happening. Instead, it’s important to focus on what’s ahead, to find ways to counter feelings of loneliness, and to know that in time, things will be easier.
- Malia Jacobson. “Home Alone: Beating New-Parent Isolation.” ParentMap. ParentMap, Feb 1 2015. Web.
- Sharron S. Humenick. “Overcoming Isolation of the New Mother.” J Perinat Educ. 12(4):iv-v. Web. 2003.
- Katherine Stone. “On The Dark & Lonely Months of Postpartum Depression.” PostpartumProgress. Postpartum Progress, May 8 2011. Web.
- Rose Coates, Susan Ayers, Richard de Visser. “Women’s experiences of postnatal distress: a qualitiative study.” BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 14:359. Web. Oct 14 2014.