Maybe you don’t need playgroups, but you do need connection: Why I craved community when I was a lonely new parent

Pamela DeGregorio, Contributing Writer

Being a parent can be lonely. There’s no two ways about it. Even though the new love of your life is with you all day long, dusk to dawn  and up for overnight feedings too  it’s easy to feel alone.

When I became a new parent, I had a lot of incredible people around me. My beautiful new baby. My awesome partner, with whom I was splitting as much of the parenting workload as biologically possible. (I was breastfeeding, so that my something my husband just couldn’t do, but he tackled most diaper changes, cooking, a heck of a lot). Family we love and who lent a hand, especially our parents, with everything from meals to laundry. Friends who checked in. But still, it was so, so lonely.

In my experience, I’ve found that being a parent is as beautiful  like, I’ve felt utterly split open with new love and a depth of experience I didn’t have prior, thinking, “How am I so lucky? How did I get here?”  as it is difficult. Like, weeping in the basement while doing laundry, exhausted — poopy onesies, bills, groceries to buy, my unwashed hair, to-dos, just everything feeling physically oppressive  sort of difficult, thinking, “How did I get here?”

Before I was pregnant, I learned what the experience of being a parent might be like from conversations with my mother and mother-in-law, aunts, and lots and lots of books and online resources. Essays, message boards, apps, you name it. I had one friend with school-age children and a decade’s worth of experience as a labor and delivery nurse under her belt, so I typically asked her about the weedier details of what the birth experience might be like. But I had no friends or peers, cousins or colleagues, no people immediately around me who were new parents.

I just wanted to be able to talk with close friends who really got it. Who, like me, were weeping in the basement. Who were in the thick of it.

I imagined what it could be like to have mom friends, parent friends. I pictured sunny play dates at home, kids stacking blocks on the rug, us drinking coffee, bonding over chapped nipples and sleep regressions. I pictured afternoons at the park or running errands in the city, pushing strollers over cobblestone. But I knew I wouldn’t have this.

One solution for this could have been to join a mother’s group and make friends  playdates would follow. But I just sort of knew that this wasn’t going to be for me. Part of it was that I wasn’t terribly keen on using what little emotional reserves I had as a new parent to seek out and make new friends. And part of it was practical. With my first child, I didn’t have maternity leave, and I was back to working part-time at five a half weeks postpartum (so, well, not even technically postpartum)  teaching a few days a week, and then home a few days a week. I know myself, and I knew I was going to want to just spend that time enjoying my baby in the comfort of my home, in the comfort of my milk-and-spit-up-covered leggings, with the comfort of knowing that at least a few days a week I didn’t need to anywhere or be anything that I wasn’t  as in, social, presentable, showered, pretending like I had it together  not anyone besides a mother to my baby.

And that was what I needed. As hard as it was, that time at home with my daughter felt so deliciously slow and sweet and magical. Even in the months that followed, my days at home with her were mostly just us  sleeping, snuggling, playing, nursing, taking walks with the dog, running errands, laundry, dishes. All day long  and the days were long  with my favorite little person. And, yet, lonely.

But it turns out I did have old friends who were new parents — they just weren’t close enough for playdates or trips to the park. They were available via screen and text and email, in my Facebook feed and Twitter threads. They were the dear friends I already had, many from college  all across the country, and spread out across the state  who, like me, were just embarking on this new adventure, all of us figuring it out as we go.

Some of them had children shortly before me, and when I was pregnant I had watched and read and followed along with curiously  knowing this would be my life soon  as they posted details about their birth experience, updates on their early days with a newborn, all the funny silly trials that follow as a child grows, and, of course, a million and one pictures. And several other distant friends had babies close in age to our own daughter. Once she was born, my husband and I started sharing much the same  the overwhelming feeling of love and awe and reverence once our daughter joined us; the frazzled-running-on-close-to-empty updates from the trenches when she was brand new or every time she had a sleep regression; silly videos and pictures and stories as she started babbling, playing, laughing, exploring, and really becoming her own little person; and pleas for practical advice and for people to promise us that it would get better when she started crawling out of her crib with scarily impressive ease at eighteen months.

This communication gave me the community I was so desperately craving. I just wanted to know  from real life people that I knew  that I wasn’t alone, that we were all in the same boat, that none of us had all the answers, that we really were doing an amazing job, that this new adventure was messy and beautiful and challenging and incredible and frustrating and rewarding and like nothing we had ever known. Even if I was having a rough day, I could reach out across virtual space to ask a question or even just express that sometimes things are really tough, and I would know that  even with miles and miles between us  we could connect. And it was amazing to see just how much this could connect us. Friends who I was just moderately close with in college but who had kids very close to my daughter’s age I now feel immensely close with  because I know we share so much. We’re all in this together.

Now that I have two children  my daughter just turned three and my son just turned one  I have more friends with children who actually live nearby, so we can get together often  but not just for playdates for the kids, but so that we as adults can see each other too. And more often than not we ask each other for advice, share our experiences, discuss how we manage certain challenges  because we know and trust each other, and that connection with people you know really does make a difference and make the whole endeavor feel more grounded.

My oldest child is three, so it’s going on three years running now that I’ve said things like, “Maybe when we make a trip out your way we can plan a visit,” to my parent friends who live far away. And though any such visit has yet to materialize  because, hey, life with kids is nothing if not busy  I know how to connect with them across a screen, and still do often. And I know, truly, the community that I’ve shared with them has been immensely valuable  and especially in those early days when I was only just starting to figure out who I was as a parent and a mother, finding my sea legs on this new journey, it was priceless.

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