In the last few months, we've been isolated in ways that have stretched our patience, our souls and our sanities. We've been secluded and distanced, mitigated and isolated, and lonelier in many ways than we ever have been before. Still, looking at motherhood in general, loneliness seems to be a pervasive theme and we have to ask--has motherhood always been this way?
To say these days are weird seems like the biggest understatement of the decade. They're weird and they're not looking likely that they'll get less weird anytime soon and we've been challenged as mothers in ways that no other generation before us has.
Of course, each generation of mothers has had their own crosses to bear. But this time in life is one where though we all may be struggling, we're doing it pretty much alone. We can't get a hug from our best friend or even go to the neighbor's down the street because of social distancing. We aren't able to hug at church, hug our kids' teachers...we're even leery of hugging our parents and grandparents for fear of being asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 carriers and putting them in danger.
To say this has been a lonely and isolating time also seems to be quite the understatement.
Still though, as we look back through our most popular forum topics and articles, we come across this a lot: motherhood is lonely and mothers feel isolated.
Why is that? What has happened in our world (despite the obvious coronavirus in the room) that has left mothers feeling this way? We pulled up this piece from one of our mamas. It looks at not just why mothers feel this way, but how that's come to be.
I recently conducted an informal survey of mothers. I asked "What are the most difficult aspects of mothering young children."
The most common response.... Isolation and Loneliness.
A huge percentage of us feel lonely. We are lonely because it feels like no one really understands, because we don't get out of the house, and because we live so far from our families and support systems.
Related: Why Motherhood Can Be Lonely When Your Only Child Is In School
History of Mother Communities
In the mid 20th century, many middle-class families moved out of the cities and into the suburbs, where there was no public transportation, and very little age diversity. Everyone was in the same boat. The good thing about this was that there was often a built-in support system (much like you see in military communities now). Fathers went to work and the mothers ran the neighborhood together. Kids were free to run around with the other kids when not in school, and the mothers with young children had each other.
Toward the end of the 20th century, when most of us were growing up, there began the big shift we are still living in--toward dual-income households. As time goes on, the number of families with a mother who stays home gets smaller and smaller. If you stay home, it's not uncommon to be one of the only mothers home during the day on your street. If you work, by the time you get home, there's often not time for socializing with neighbors. The neighborhood support system has changed.
Your Garage Killed Your Social Life
Another major change in how neighborhoods work came with the advent of attached garages in modern domestic architecture. It used to be that when you left the house or came home, you had to walk outside and see your neighbors. If you lived in the city, you probably used public transportation where you also passed and met your neighbors. Now with our garages securely attached to our homes, we're able to ignore each other quite easily.
Your Family Has More Important Things to Do
A hundred years ago, there wasn't the kind of lateral mobility we have now. You probably were born in the same town your parents were born in. You likely stayed there yourself. Now, with faster, cheaper, easier transportation and lightening speed communications, we move ourselves all over the country and sometimes the world--often multiple times.
My grandparents, in their 80s, have seven children. I have always felt that one of the reasons for having children is that there will be people around when I am old. My grandparents both grew up in Cleveland and there they remain. In the same house. All of their children have left Ohio, and they are scattered to the four winds. None live less than a day's drive from Cleveland or each other. I don't know about you, but I don't want to have eight children just to try to guarantee someone will be around when I'm 80.
For thousands of years, women 'at home' with young children had their own mothers to help them. Aging parents lived with their children and grandchildren. Your mother or mother-in-law was always there, keeping an eye on the kids, doing the dishes, telling you how not to peel onions. Now, even if our mothers live in the same town, they often have jobs of their own. They're not around to help either.
Families leave each other. Parenthood is more isolating.
Women from the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), once one of the largest labor unions in the United States.
Related: 5 Tips for Creating Real Community From a Once Lonely Mom
It Takes A Village to Feel Isolated
People are social creatures. We're meant to live in groups, not insular families. In village societies, your children are everyone's children. Your hurts and needs are felt by the others. We're a far cry from this. Our grandmothers may have had neighbor women to lend a hand and talk with over the fence, but 1950s communities were not villages in the communal sense.
We have long had the problem of keeping our inner-most troubles to ourselves. This was worse mid-century. You just didn't talk about your family or personal troubles. Now we have a lot more in place to support each other, it's OK to talk about most things, and you can get professional help without shame.
But mothers still feel isolated in the deep inner workings of their mind where we believe that no one really understands, or that in fact it is not OK to ask for help. We wonder why it seems like everyone else is 'handling it,' why it is so hard for us. It's hard to ask for the help we need. Someone might think we are doing it wrong, that we are weak, that we are selfish. Also, we might have to put on pants.
You Don't Leave the House
Other times, we are isolated simply because we don't leave the house for days at time. The children are hard to take out. We are exhausted. We haven't showered. We need to just have an hour where there are no needs to be met. It's hard to leave the house.
If that sounds like you right now, I feel ya. Most of those days, for me, are past. My youngest is almost two. I can get out if I want to (though putting on pants still gets in the way). This form of isolation, for most mothers, is not forever. Being home with babies or children with special needs has its own rewards, but please ask for help if you want it. Note I did not say if you "need" it. When you get to "need" you've waited too long. Just ask someone to come over and sit with you for an hour. It's a start.
What Can We Do About Our Loneliness? And What Can We Do In The Age of Social Distancing?
This mama feels this is not her area of expertise. She too feels lonely, too.
Pre-social distancing, she'd tell you to find your tribe. Find the people who are in a similar boat, people who you feel good around. Find them online, yes. But also find them in the flesh.
Go out sometimes, intending to talk with people. Go to storytime, the playground, church. Walk in your neighborhood and ask people you meet to be your friend. They need you. You need them. We need each other. It's scary as hell, but you have to be vulnerable. It helps you be happy. It's what connects you to others. It's what makes us a village.
But feeling less lonely in an age of social distancing? It's not so easy to do. And we're conflicted about finding friends/groups/connection online because : online.
So here's what we suggest in this time. Be gentle. If happy hour with your best friends every Thursday via Zoom is what lets you feel less lonely, then do it. If you are finding connection in Facebook groups or online study sessions or heck, even taking some neat Outschool classes with your kids or for yourself--keep doing that. This is a time where it's too easy to draw inside of ourselves even more and that just leads to more loneliness.
Be brave. Venture out. All we have is each other, and connecting now is more important than it's ever been.