Before I had my daughter, I was the life of the party. I was loud, rather obnoxious, always ready for a laugh and always game for a good time. I loved impromptu road trips, nights of beers and glow-in-the-dark bowling, pre-drinking parties at my house, girl’s nights, guys’ nights, ALL the nights. If it sounded fun, I wanted in.
Then our daughter came along. I was on mat leave for a year with the end of the year open to either going back to school and work or staying home to raise our family. Fun became a distant memory, something I gave away with the return of my last pair of bowling shoes. My days felt longer; lack of sleep does that to a person. I became the “Sleep Nazi” because I needed sleep so desperately I sleep trained my daughter at 13 weeks and I clung to that new schedule like a life preserver. Our days were broken down into three hour increments so as long as we could get out of the house by hour 1.5 and be back by hour three for nap time, we were game to get out of the house. Needless to say, that rarely worked out well for us. But we did frequent the local coffee shop for caffeine and sugary calories. When she was around three months, after the routine was firmly established and the babymoon period had worn off, I found myself really lonely. Like REALLY lonely. My days revolved around a tiny human who couldn’t converse back or even seem to care when I made (what I thought were) profound declarations: “One olive in the jar from Costco costs LESS than ONE penny!” It was me and this baby and I felt like we were the only two people on the planet most days. When my husband would get home from work, I would be so starved for conversation and adventure, I’d practically beg him to do something, anything to fill the part of my soul that was so empty now. He, on the other hand, would be exhausted from working 13 hours he would want to eat dinner and go to bed. The loneliness really settled in on those nights. Asleep beside me, I’d long to tell him about my mundane day: the things the baby did, the cute things I noticed, the walk we took, my feelings. But out of respect for him and his work, I bottled it in and the bottle turned into an even deeper well of loneliness.
Eventually, I realized I’d go crazy if I didn’t do something so I began the search for daytime activities. Fitness classes with baby, fitness classes with daycare, mom groups, nursing clinics, Facebook groups etc.
I was meeting and hanging out with other moms I didn’t particularly connect with just to have the socializing I missed and craved.
To combat the loneliness even more, I started spending a lot of our money on needless things: online workout programs, food, books, more food, gifts for others, clothes for baby, toys for baby, toys for other babies, etc. It was ridiculous and only fulfilled my happiness and closed the loneliness lid for a short period of time.
I had never wanted to be a parent so becoming one unexpectedly brought a lot of insecurities and vulnerabilities to the surface. For awhile, I wore them both like a shawl, draped over my shoulders, protecting me from judgments and mom shaming. I felt like I had no clue what I was doing and so many mommy groups consisted of sitting around and talking about our parenting style and sadly, more often than not, judging other people’s parenting: “She breastfed him until he was four. Can you believe that?” or “She didn’t even try to breastfed her, isn’t that ridiculous?” I’d sit there wondering why were discussing other women’s breasts and their choices while simultaneously thinking, “what the hell am I doing here?” What’s worse? Being lonely at home with my kid or sitting in a group with women I don’t like? So I started to forego the mom groups and started searching for ways to stay busy on my own. I started making all natural skin care products because it interested me and that led into a small business for our family. Eventually I had to start sending my daughter to day care two days a week to handle the workload and that also turned into two days of refilling my cup with “me time” activities like running, yoga and quiet lunch dates. I read a lot more books than normal. I focused on personal development books so I could learn to not use material things to fill voids in my life. I eventually did meet a few women I connected with and would seek them out personally as opposed to waiting for the next week’s group to meet. I became bolder, asking women for their numbers or Facebook info if I felt they could be someone I could connect with. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn’t. My friend introduced me to her cousin who’s baby was only three months older than mine and we’ve become great friends. Today, at three years post mat leave, I have a few friends who have either decided to work from home, start their own business from home, work shift work, run day cares from home or stay at home and raise their families. I have a beautiful circle of women who are home during the day to help me (and them too!) stomp on the loneliness. From them, my daughter has also gained invaluable friendships!
But even I still have lonely days. Day time is the worst time. It’s the time of day where most of the “shoulds” should happen. It’s the time where us stay at home moms “should” be working (the opinion of many) or we “should” be socializing our baby or ourselves. We “should” be baking or cleaning or washing or knitting or creating visible things so our husbands don’t think we were lazy bums all day and instead we can say, “but no sweetheart, look at this scarf and these mitts I crocheted and these cookies I baked with my eyes closed and these socks I learned to darn today!” Because somewhere along the line, many husbands, my own included, raised the bar on what Mom’s “should” be doing in a day.
F*ck “shoulds,” let’s retire that word and shove it in the back of the closet with my too-tight wedding dress and bell bottom jeans from 2001.
Sadly, many women don’t have friends on mat leave alongside them or even friends with kids period. Plus when you come out of the work force, whatever that is for you, it is a bit of culture shock to have your routine changed so drastically. It’s an adjustment to not wake up rested at 7:00 a.m., get ready for work, go to work and talk to adults all day, or be of service to others, and then maybe meet for happy hour, go home, change, go to Spin class, and come home for The Bachelorette and wine before a long, glorious, uninterrupted night of sleep. Instead, your world is thrown into a tailspin and you’re trying to manage the gears while not crashing in front of the Mom Police.
But I also have the friends who are new moms on mat leave for the first time with intentions of going back to their careers in a few months. Very often I hear from them that they are trying the mom groups and neighbourhood get-togethers, and mommy fitness groups and typically, each of them have said they do it to try to make connections and friends with other moms. Talk about pressure! It’s hard enough trying to make friends as adults and then you want to try and make a few friend when you’re sleep deprived, talking over at least one screaming baby while your own baby sucks the life out of your once beautiful breasts? It’s chaos. It’s maddening. It’s really hard.
Yet, the loneliness is there and we want it gone. So we try to find activities and people to help fill our days and make it richer. We want the days to pass knowing we contributed good in some way. We want to make a friend we can connect to, a friend we can relate to. We want our kids to learn an activity; to swim, to crawl, to nurse perfectly. We want to give back in some way so we volunteer, we host the mom group, we organize trips to the zoo, we invite other new moms in to our circle because we know their plight.
My advice? Don’t follow the “shoulds” set by society. Don’t feel like you should join anything because you should meet friends for your kids. Don’t feel like the dishes and the vacuuming and the windows need to be washed right this second and don’t feel like you need to justify your days to anyone. YOU’RE RAISING A HUMAN. That’s your job and its the hardest job in the world. You’re your own boss; you don’t have to answer to anyone. While I don’t condone sitting around and watching soap operas all day, I do advocate for balance.
Life is a delicate dance of balance and ebbing and flowing. You’ll find yours and it may not look like mine and that’s okay. You’ll find your parenting style and it may not look like hers and that’s okay. You may find something to fill your days that she’d never do and that’s okay.
You do you. You do whatever you want to do for you and your kids. You can ignore the haters, you can push back against the mom shaming and you can release mom guilt. Being a mom is lonely but it’s only as lonely as you make it. Think of mat leave or this stage in life as a chance to fall in love with your new role, your new self, your new baby, your new life, your potential new hobbies. Embrace the sleepless nights, the toddler sass, the baby crawls, the giggles, the night time nursing because it’s so short lived there will definitely come a day when you’ll miss these days we have today.
It feels lonely and there will definitely be lonely days but I trust you’ll find what erases that loneliness and instead makes you feel happy to be alive. It’s all comes down to choices. What will you choose? More importantly, what will you choose FOR you because YOU want it?
United we rise,