The Loneliness of Motherhood (and how to survive it!)

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So motherhood – in all its joy – can occasionally push you to the outer barriers of your sanity. Today was one of those days for me. Lonely, isolated and strung out. Caps lock on.

Before I go on though I must admit that this solitude was slightly self-induced.

When we first moved into our new home my husband and I decided to relinquish one of our dearest friends (the TV) into the shed. It was for all the reasons that I wrote about here. We lived without it for months and mostly loved it. The whole family slept better, those books that were gathering dust found their way into my hands and dinner time had music as a backing track instead of Friends. (No offence to Phoebe though who I adore. She is my lobster).

But then there were those days. Those days where I would be crawling the walls. Those days when my toddler just wanted to climb all over me, suck on my fingers (it’s her “thing”) and not allow me to move. The days where I felt constricted. I felt guilty about the fact that I felt smothered because I love this little girl more than life and because I am well aware that parenting is a joy and a privilege.

But those dues aside – feelings are feelings and these were reverberating through my soul. Demanding I pay attention.

My mind went into overdrive and I could feel the pressure building so the TV re-entered our home.

While there was an intoxicating distraction punctuating the air again, all those things I had grown to love slowly but surely disappeared. The news (which I loathe) crept back in, flickering lights and blaring voices. Almost overnight Boog roused more. Even though the extra noise during my day was divine – The Intouchables on repeat, thank you – the side effects were not. But the distraction was addictive.

Then the other day, while reading Eat, Pray, Love I stumbled upon a quote that made me turn on my heels;

When I get lonely these days, I think:

So BE lonely, Liz.

Learn your way around loneliness.

Make a map of it.

Sit with it, for once in your life.

Welcome to the human experience

– Elizabeth Gilbert

It grabbed me. And I realised that my constant list-writing, my doodling, my moving from room to room to room was just me; fidgeting uncomfortably next to my own company.

So the TV was banished again and I decided to ride through the storm. And it’s been great (mostly). The bits that I loved and wanted have returned. Until… and this brings the story up to the day in question…

Let me set the scene. My parents live 3 hours away and most of my friends do not have children so daytime catch ups are minimal. If I do manage to snaffle one of them on a day off I spend most of it distracted and feeling like a half-assed friend. There is no possible way to understand what having a child is like when you don’t have one. My gorgeous friends are as empathetic as they can possibly be – and it helps hugely – but sometimes there is an understanding between mothers that just makes you feel… sane.

My best friend who is going through the same experience is unfortunately on the other side of Australia and while she is my Dial-A-Life-Coach (we totes swap services) most days, on the weekend my phone had dropped out of my back pocket into the (used) toilet and died. So I was cut off from the verbal world. We are a one car family and it was a no-car day.

On this day my poor teething baby could not be satisfied. She was hungry but wouldn’t eat. She was clingy but squirmy. She would scream as soon as I put her down. A failed book attempt. A twiddle of the thumbs. A bit more struggle. A few sneaky tears.

It was the perfect storm of isolation.

I literally looked into the mirror at one stage and said “It’s just you and me, kid” like I was George Burns or something. Then I laughed at how dramatic I was being.

For those multi-passionate humans whose previous lives were largely dictated by whims and selfish compulsions (surely that is us all?); motherhood can have moments of true difficulty. It can be a really confusing feeling to mourn your old life literally at the exact same time as cuddling the new reason for breathing.

And that is where I found myself today.

Countless tears and several hours later I decided that enough was enough. As my favorite motto goes, happiness is a choice. I could react to this strange new world with fear or I could love up my life and appreciate it.

And then I learnt to swim.

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Here is what made me feel better…

  • Mascara – This is that visual reminder (to yourself) that you give a sh*t.

  • Get outside – honestly. I don’t care if you are in tracksuit or haven’t brushed your hair in a month… haul your arse outside and let sunlight love you up. And if it’s raining? Put on a raincoat and let the little drops of cold remind you that you are alive!

  • Don’t go down the comfort food path. Eat food that nourishes and energises you. Eat food that makes you feel good even after you have finished chewing.

  • Laugh. My modus operandi today was chasing Boog around the house in character as different animals. She screamed and ran away and we cuddled and laughed and I was bitch-slapped by gratitude.

  • Ring someone – if you can. Obviously it was not an option for me today but I am sure hearing my besties or my mum’s voice would have helped. As Honore’ de Balzac once said “Solitude is fine… but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine”

  • TALK. Go to a cafe and interact with this wait-staff, the barista or just absorb the buzz. Go to the park, find someone with a gorgeous dog, ask to stroke it. BOOM. Conversation.
  • Try and nap with them? It’s a long shot I know, but it might be worth the try. Sleep is healing.

  • Build a cubby. Adds extra opportunity for laughing and is also the snug little cave you might be craving without being all depressing like it would be if you just closed all the blinds and listened to Bon Iver.

  • Write it out. Try and journal exactly what you are feeling and why. (Check out my article here if you need to learn how to journal like a boss). If your child won’t even let you do that, record yourself on your phone. Make your own video journal. Ugly cry if you need to.

  • Dance. Like an idiot, preferably.

  • Keep a list of simple rainy day activities on your fridge. When you get into those stale states your mind tends to join you. Innovation can be hard. Make autopilot easy.

And most importantly…

Know that this too shall pass. The loneliness and solitude will one day be over. As will your time with this gorgeous little human that’s sole concern in life is to be on you. Or sucking your fingers. So while it is sometimes hard and uncomfortable, I know that when I looked at it that way I relaxed into it a bit more.

As for the TV? I don’t know where that relationship will go. I know I will write about it.  I have just realised that in this article alone I have referenced movies or TV shows 3 times (and that is after editing out 2 others!) so clearly I do miss it. I love movies and I don’t think there is any dishonour in occasional mindless distractions. I guess our relationship will always be a bit love/hate like Carrie and Bigs’… DAMMIT!

I guess time will tell. So for the moment I am just going to lean into my loneliness. As Elizabeth Gilbert would say, learn my way around it.

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Tell me; am I alone in this or can you feel me? What are your tips? Or if you are just needing a chat… please! join us in the comments below.

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  • Love this entry! You are definitely not alone, unless we are both alone in this! I am brand sparkling new to motherhood, and still somewhat in a little bubble of euphoria and running on adrenaline, but there are definitely moments of “mourning my old life whilst cuddling my reason for breathing.” Before baby, I was selfishly indulgent and spontaneous and now there are days when I find it hard to find 5 minutes to take a shower or brush my teeth – yesterday I showered in the company of a newborn in a pram cramped into our bathroom. She has learnt to smile though, and knows when to brings those ones out to make me melt a little more with love and appreciation.
    I do get a little tinge of anxiety when I realize this is forever – I will always have her and never again have what I had. And I would never change that.
    So far I have learnt lots of valuable tips, the learning curve is pretty much vertical. I remember to take advantage of (sometimes tiny) windows of opportunity for self-care – a cup of coffee, 5 minutes in the sunshine, do my nails, read an artical in my fave magazine, or a chapter of a book (if I’m lucky) or even just lay down and listen to a favourite song. To do this I’ve had to let go of some of my perfectionism and be okay with leaving the dishes, washing, beds, etc to wait. Looking after me is just as important as looking after our baby. I know that if I’m not okay, I’m not doing the best for her.
    Sometimes I ask myself how people do this with more than one child, or without support from a partner, family, or friends!
    Anyway, I think this is the first blog I have commented on, ever, thanks for the post!

  • I really love this post Emily. We have just moved and haven’t got the tv connected yet, nor are we hurrying to do so. I am enjoying having to download what I want to watch and being more conscious and deliberate rather than it just being background noise. I do however have a few playschool episodes on DVD that get the best workout though.

    Where are you in this lovely country? I used to live 3 hours away from family and know the isolation well. Now we are only 1.5 hrs from my family which makes a big difference.

    Thanks for sharing this. x

    Bettina

  • Ahhh beautiful words Emily. I hear ya, motherhood can be THE most lonely thing ever. I remember those days like they were yesterday (actually, it probably was yesterday).
    My youngest starts kindy next year though, so looking back, those first 5 years that you get to spend all that one-on-one time together and have them at home, really flies by… even though it feels like forever at the time. I had no family support either (they all live so far away) and I felt the same, it’s a lonely business this motherhood gig xx