Recently, MPs launched a new campaign to tackle loneliness, after research showed that over 9 million people in the UK say they feel lonely, and the effects of “chronic loneliness” can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
When we think of loneliness we often think of older people or those with no family. But in reality, you could be surrounded by loved ones and still feel lonely.
One time in your life when loneliness can strike is when you have a baby. You might have a house full of visitors in those first few weeks, and you spend every waking moment (and there are a lot of waking moments) with a mini version of yourself who needs constant attention. So how could you possibly feel alone when your life is really quite hectic?
When you have a child all of a sudden your priorities change. Your mind is taken up with baby related stuff and your whole world stands still while you get your head round it all. But around you, the rest of the world keeps moving. Your partner goes back to work, the visitors become less frequent, and while your child free friends are downing jaeger bombs at 1am you are sat in the dark, nursing a baby. Alone.
When your child doesn’t sleep, or won’t eat, or isn’t developing how you think they should, you can feel like you are the only person in the world going through that situation at that time. When you feel like all you do is change nappies and feed and clean up sick, you may find yourself staring at the endless pile of laundry and feeling like you are stuck in groundhog day.
Getting out of the house and spending time with other people can stop all the days just rolling into one another. One of the best things I did very early on in my days as a new mum was to drag my post pregnancy backside out of the house and go to my first ever mum and baby group.
It was awful. I felt sick. I was shaking. I nearly walked back out.
What was I doing? It’s so hard to make friends as an adult; why was I torturing myself? But I sucked it up and went in anyway.
And it made all the difference. Most of us need other mum friends in our lives. Someone who knows the pains of trying to get a baby to sleep through the night. Someone who can share tips on weaning. Someone who doesn’t judge you for turning up to a play date late, smelling of baby sick with 3 day old hair. Here are some of the reasons why you should definitely check out your local mum and baby groups.
1.Babies are fantastic ice breakers. Everyone likes to talk about their babies, especially when they are all shiny and new. Everyone at the group has at least one thing in common – and that one thing is the biggest thing that is going on in their lives right now. So don’t worry that you won’t have anything to talk about.
2. You might have a very supportive other half, and a wide network of friends and family, but chances are most of them will have jobs or other commitments. The days can seem long when you are counting down the minutes until you can have some sort of adult interaction. You need to get out of the house before you become so desperate for conversation that you start telling the postman your life story.
3. It can be hard to reach out and make that first move. But, while I would never have gone up to someone I don’t know and asked them if they fancied grabbing a coffee in my pre-baby life, at mum and baby groups its not that weird. In fact, there are lots of mums who would welcome meeting someone who is going through the same things as them.
4. There is something about having a baby that causes you to lose the filter. Topics that would have been completely out of bounds pre-motherhood suddenly become conversation starters. Within 20 minutes you will be comparing how many stitches you had and laughing about how your bladder now has less self control than Mummy in a cocktail bar.
5. Just like any social situation, you won’t get on with everyone. But, after a couple of weeks of essentially speed-dating other mums, as you do the rounds swapping your children’s vitals (name, age, traumatic birth story) you will very likely find some mums that you could actually be friends with. The kind of mums that you wouldn’t just meet down the play park, but you could happily share a bottle of wine with. Not at the play park, that’s very much frowned upon.
6. It’s good to get other perspectives. Okay, so I think this is what puts some people off going to baby groups. They don’t want to get caught up in a “Mummy-off” with some holier than thou Mother who will tell anyone who listens that her daughter sleeps 12 hours a night thanks to a diet of purely organic food grown in their own garden, was potty trained at 10 weeks old and will never even know what a television is until they are at least 8. But while you might roll your eyes, being around people who do things differently to you isn’t always a bad thing – you might just learn something you didn’t know. You just need to keep an open mind and realise that there is more than one way to do something; it doesn’t mean that either of you are right or wrong, you are just doing what works for you and your family.
7. If anyone can offer you advice on how to get your little one to eat, or sleep, or settle in at nursery, its a room full of parents who between them have probably been through every possible situation. Not all suggestions will work for your child, of course, but you might just get some new ideas to try.
8. Sometimes, we just need to vent. About how little sleep we have had, about how we never have any time, about how we don’t want to go back to work – even if there are no words of advice to be given, its just nice sometimes to have a bit of a moan with people who know where we are coming from.
9. It’s not all about the children – you suddenly have a whole new group of people to socialise with. Sure its nice to go out with your child-free friends when you get the chance, but you can’t party like you used to (sad, but true). Mum friends don’t bat an eyelid when you ask at the bar for a sensible spacer, or head home at 10pm because you have had a grand total of 6 hours sleep… in the last week.
10. While your 2 month old might not be that interested in making friends right now, when they are they will never have a shortage of play dates. I met one of my friends at our antenatal class, and we started to get to know each other when our babies were born two weeks apart. Six years later, we have both had second children and all four are such good friends – as are we. Now I have a great group of mum friends on hand to offer support, meet up at the soft play and visit the spa with – when we just need a day off.
If you want to find out what is going on in your local area for parents, speak to your health visitor, check local Facebook groups, children’s centres and libraries.
These might be the best days of your life; don’t let loneliness take the magic of parenthood away from you.
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