My son was born in the dead of winter. The days would end before they’d even really begun, the sun edging up over the horizon only to dip back down again as if it had made a mistake.
By the time I’d be ready to go outside—the baby in his little snowsuit, me in anything that would fit (which wasn’t much) and a coat—it would be dark. Where had the day gone? I could never remember. We’d emerge, bleary-eyed, into the freezing night. Walk around the block. Head back home again. Fresh air accomplished.
Being a new mom far away from extended family is isolating.
Research from the charity Action for Children suggests that around half of new parents experience loneliness, and a little over two-thirds feel “cut off” from their friends and family. A study from the British Red Cross found that 82% of mothers under 30 feel lonely some of the time, while 43% feel lonely always or often.
82% of mothers under 30 feel lonely some of the time, while 43% feel lonely always or often.
It’s an issue that Britain’s Kate Middleton — as part of her recent work with parents and children — is trying to address. In a rare personal revelation, Kate told a group assembled at a parenting center in Wales about her time as a new mother. “It was the first year and I’d just had George — William was still working with search and rescue — and we came up here and I had a tiny, tiny baby in the middle of Anglesey. It was so isolated, so cut off. I didn’t have any family around, and he was doing night shifts. So if only I had had a center like this.”
On the one hand, it’s easy to roll our eyes at poor Kate. She’s a princess, didn’t she have a nanny or something over there in Anglesey? Couldn’t she have paid some local Anglesians (that’s probably not a word, but let’s go with it) to be her friends? Surely someone would have joined her for tea and crumpets and a good cry? But, on the other hand, Kate’s experience speaks to the universality of new motherhood. Princess or pauper(ess?) or somewhere in between, caring for a new baby can be lonely.
This phenomenon is hardest on stay-at-home moms.
According to psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, “having conversations with children only over the course of the day can be isolating.” Findings from Gallup seem to agree, revealing that stay-at-home moms tend to experience more depression than working moms. It makes sense. Spending all your time with a tiny poop machine who can’t talk — let alone engage in witty repartee — is enough to make anyone feel a little weepy.
Having conversations with children only over the course of the day can be isolating.
But that doesn’t mean that being a stay-at-home mom isn’t worthwhile. It is. To my mind, it’s the most worthwhile thing you can do. What it does mean is that this trend of isolation and depression is something we need to be aware of. And something that we need to find a solution for. Like Kate Middleton is trying to do.
What can we do?
As the days grew longer and the nights receded, I began to poke my head up out of the fog. I learned to manage the stroller and the baby and the stairs. We took the subway, sat in coffee shops, lounged in the sun, our translucent skin regaining pigment. But we were still alone. Far from my extended family, and so far out of the loop of my old social circle that I found myself wondering if there had ever been a loop to begin with.
So what saved us? Joining things. We joined parenting groups and baby classes, meetups and mommy book clubs and playgroups. I swallowed my social anxiety and reentered the world in a new way: as a mother. And we built a new circle. You have to. Otherwise, you go insane.
I swallowed my social anxiety and reentered the world in a new way: as a mother.
It’s easy to idealize stay-at-home motherhood because of how important it is. And because of how, in the age of modern feminism, it frequently seems like it’s under attack. We want to defend this lifestyle because we know — deep in our bones — that it’s good for us and for our children. But defending it and living it and believing in it doesn’t mean we have to deny the things about it that are hard. Stay-at-home moms are, in my opinion, the backbone of society. If they’re struggling, let’s give them a helping hand. Right, Kate?