As I read through the headline splashed across some of the newspapers this week – “A shocking 92 percent of mums feel lonely” –I can’t help but feel the need to say, “well duh!”
I guess I just find it hard to believe that with all the websites, blog posts, vloggers, Instagram dailies etc. etc. etc., out there currently talking (albeit in a very admirable honest voice) about the hardships of being a mum, that this fact is at all a surprise – let alone newsworthy.
Of course we’re lonely! We spend most of our days talking to babies or toddlers who spend most of their time screaming or crying at us. By its nature it’s going to be a bit lonely.
I also have read many articles saying we’re isolated and sad and anxiety-ridden. I have no doubt that we are. I know I have suffered after giving birth to my son (who is now almost 3) and most recently my twin girls, from a bit of the baby blues. There are days I don’t want to get out of bed, let alone leave the house.
But are we really the loneliest mums ever?
Let’s look at just a few of the differences between us and previous generations.
Difference number 1: We talk about it.
I remember coming home from school one day, I was probably about 5 years old. My mom hadn’t showed up to pick me up from my class so I walked home alone. I came into the house and saw her sitting in front of the record player, crying her eyes out to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. I sat beside her and started crying too. I didn’t know why my mum was crying but if she was unhappy, so was I.
What my 5 year old self didn’t know, and what my mom never spoke about, is that she had just given birth to my little sister and she was suffering from a solid bout of post-partum depression.
No one really spoke about it back then. That to me is a key reason why that headline wasn’t splashed across the newspapers of the 80s. Depression and loneliness after the birth of a baby was a dirty secret no one talked about, let alone tolerated.
Nowadays, a simple Google search can show you multiple charities and online forums dedicated to helping mums through the baby blues ranging from being a bit teary to serious long-term depression.
Is there still a stigma? Yes sadly. Do mums still feel unable to divulge this to their mum mates? Of course. However, it is part of a much more mainstream social conversation then it was 30 years ago.
In this case, I know my mum suffered isolation far greater than myself.
Difference 2: Social Media.
Oh the irony…
It was created to connect us and yet you could argue it’s driving a wedge between the human race far greater than we could have ever seen coming.
Why bother speaking to friends? You see what’s going on in their lives every day.
With a filter of course.
The perfect selfie-posed, well-lit lives are everywhere. Us mums are no better. We want our adorable kids (guilty!) in the most exciting situations with the best outfits of course. Anne Geddes be damned.
And yes there are always exceptions – those mums who post their kid crying with Santa are always welcome…however even that has become Christmas cliché.
All mums a generation ago had to worry about in terms of showing off their kids, was to their immediate circle of friends and family. Nowadays, we live in a constant state of stress akin to the panic our parents probably felt when their invitation to their 20-year high school reunion showed up.
We live through our high school reunion everyday on Facebook and Instagram. If we’re not the most gorgeous, put-together, wealthy and successful mums in our class, then we’re just….gasp…average. We’re extraordinary – without the extra. And that scares us more than we’d care to admit.
So for this point, yes, social media has made this generation more anxious and therefore lonely in our everyday lives. We’re trying to literally live picture-perfect lives – that, for most of us, are completely unrealistic to continue forever and although most of us know this, we’d never admit it.
Difference 3 – Higher Expectations
You could argue that this is a result of point 2, however I do think expectations of what a perfect mum should be has been steadily increasing over the past century.
My grandmother had six children and when I asked her how she managed to do that with very little help, she said expectations were different then.
The thought of your children going to university for example just wasn’t an option. Only the wealthy did that in the 50s/60s. So that was one less thing to save for. Flashy cars were rarely seen or if they were, it was driving down those few streets where the “rich people lived.” So no large monthly car payment to worry about. Although money was always tight, she said they got by on my grandfather’s meagre salary for years.
She would send the kids outside in the morning and sit on the steps outside the front door with one of the mothers from down the road. She said they would drink coffee and would generally make sure the kids would survive the day. That was a mum’s main job.
Life was fairly simple according to grandma. Hectic – yes, (she had 6 bloody kids!!) but it wasn’t fancy.
Today, the “keeping up with the Jones’” mentality is at a fever pitch. Your kids need to be in the best schools and preparing for the best universities pretty much from reception/kindergarten. You see the anxiety and worry across the parent’s faces as their kids get ready for exam time. A bad grade for our kid is a bad grade for us as parents.
Not that anyone would EVER say that out loud. No, our expectations of being the perfect mums and bringing up perfect children comes out in much more subtle ways. There is an undercurrent of competitiveness – sometimes with other mums; sometimes with a fictional standard of the perfect mum and sometimes, it’s ourselves who paint a picture in our head that is completely unattainable.
That’s where the loneliness creeps in. It’s those moments when you wake up in the morning without much spring in your step because you don’t want to face the other mums standing outside your kid’s school or at the toddler playgroup. If you’re really honest, you just want to plop your kid down infront of the iPad with a bad cartoon so you can zone out to the latest episode of your fav new show in Netflix. Am I right?
Maybe you and your husband fought the night before and you’re feeling raw that morning. Need more makeup to fix those puffy eyes.
Or your kid has been sick all night but you promised a playdate with another mum and don’t want to let her down, so while your kid is completely fine this morning, you still blame them to save face, instead of just telling that friend that you’re exhausted and won’t be getting out of your pjs until 3pm.
No you wouldn’t say that…that would get everyone talking. Those subtle “I’m concerned about her. I don’t think she’s coping very well” whispers in the mum groups.
Our expectations these days are to be superwomen, super-human mothers. We raise the kids, bring in money, run the house and look fabulous doing it too. We can put up a funny Instagram post about our hair being wonky today or comment about how our houses are a mess, but we can’t really be vulnerable. No, that would be admitting weakness.
So we keep living according to the Jones’…
I guess loneliness has reached an all-time high. I suspect, however, that sentiment won’t stop growing among mums until we start saying no to unrealistic expectations of what is humanly possible to get done in a lifetime. We can’t be all things to everyone all the time. Life is about waves of ups and downs and in-betweens. Sometimes we have it all together and sometimes we don’t. We need to give ourselves – and each other – the space to be vulnerable.
After all Rome wasn’t built in a day…unless you ask a mum and she’ll say she did it…with time to spare to pick up the kids from the sports club, while writing 3 blog posts, and completing a 2-hour yoga class.
Ugh. I need a hug.