Here’s what I wish someone had told me before I became a mother.
When I was 21, a good friend of mine had a baby. Though we had not spoken in years, she invited me to her baby shower and I was excited to attend. Of course, one part of this was the delight of seeing a friend after many years but another part was that I was stepping into my own desire to be a mother, one day. I remember wanting to feel close to her — to be a part of her proverbial “village” — but not knowing how. Now a parent myself, I only wish I knew then what I know now.
Why is motherhood so lonely?
Capitalism normalizes loneliness:
As an American, I live in a society that increasingly does not respect parents or care about children. There’s lots of examples of this, such as children being locked in cages, the lack of funding for education, or the short maternity leaves and lack of paternity leaves at most jobs. If you are a creative, entrepreneur, work part-time or are unemployed for whatever reason, you’ll have to penny pinch and/or try to secure government assistance if you would like to have a child. The message there is that within a capitalist society, you only deserve to be a parent if you can pay for it. If you would like to have children, fine, but you will have to figure out how to raise them in between making rich people richer.
With most people spending their waking hours trying to support themselves and whoever they’re responsible for, there’s little time for nurturing family or building community. I don’t even know the names of my neighbors, people who’s homes I pass regularly. Even pre-COVID, I barely saw them. Capitalism normalizes individualism. It normalizes loneliness. That innate feeling I had toward my friend when I was 21, went against everything capitalism stands for, and sadly I didn’t know how to act on it. It’s something I should have learned from my mother’s own village… but she didn’t have one.
Life transitions often mean losing friends:
A reason why motherhood is so lonely is because it is a major life transition. In our society, people often view becoming parents as the end of their youth. This can be difficult to navigate if your friends do not have children as well. I felt this pain when I became a mother for the first time. I remember two of my friends came to visit me for lunch and to see the new baby. While we talked, the two of them mentioned how they would be going on to a party later. I felt the first pangs of loneliness in motherhood but I didn’t say anything. It was the first of many events that it would not even occur to people to invite me to.
I felt resentment and jealousy. At 27, I was no longer the young, cool Kesia that got invited everywhere. I already barely felt like myself — trading in my trendy vintage clothes for spit up covered sweatshirts and jeans, was a major contributor to that, not to mention hormones — and now here were my friends confirming it: I was no longer myself. I had changed. I would never be the person that I was again. I had known that before giving birth — I just hadn’t expected to feel so bad about it.
In our society, people with children are friends with people who also have children. Single people hang with other singles, married folk with other married folk. It is difficult to remain friends with people who are not in the same stage of life as you. I don’t believe this is “normal” but it has become normalized. And so when a person transitions to a new stage of life — such as becoming a parent — they often lose friends. It doesn’t have to be this way, but this is often how it goes.
How can we make motherhood less lonely?
Remember the two friends I had lunch with? Well, one of them is having a baby this year. Though I had not spoken to her in about 2 years, I saw the news on social media and sent her a few gifts off her registry. She seemed happy to hear from me and we spoke briefly.
I spoke to the other friend today. She reached out to me and the conversation began as so:
I told her I was generally confused by the question but yes, she had been a good friend to me. As it turned out, our other friend had ended their relationship, stating that this friend had not been supportive of her this year.
I don’t want to move into the realm of gossip, but this friend’s genuine confusion over whether or not she was even capable of being a good friend so much mirrored my feelings at 21, that I felt this anecdote was worth mentioning. In fact, it was my conversation with her this morning that inspired me to write this piece.
I do not believe our pregnant friend truly wants to end the relationship — but I think this is an example of how motherhood is lonely right from the start.
Eventually things will balance out — the jealousy I felt towards my younger, childless friends dissipated as my son got older and I began to see that this all goes very fast and he would begin to gain independence, and thus so would I, over time.
When I asked my friend if she had sent a gift for the baby she replied “not yet”. This is one of those things that, as a parent I instantly knew to do because I know the feeling of the timeline crunching down and the worry that you won’t have everything you need. I did not understand this before having children, because I did not grow up seeing pregnancy, or young children celebrated. There was a “seen but not heard” element to all of it.
So how can we help make motherhood less lonely? Move it from the shadows! Don’t see it as the end to something — youth — but the beginning of a journey that loved ones can and should join you on!
1) Send a mom food. Either groceries through Instacart or a prepared meal through a service like UberEats or Doordash.
2) Be by their side, if you can. Difficult during a pandemic, but not entirely impossible. Ask the new mom about her comfort level with in person visits.
3) Offer to babysit — not in some vague, unintentional way, which comes off as just being polite. Set a date and time and — here’s the part so many forget— actually show up!
For those of us who did not grow up with strong villages, the right moves are not innate, but that desire to be close often is. Our society has so much to learn and unlearn about community building and support systems. Let’s hold each other’s hands here and unlearn together.
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Kesia Alexandra is a creative writer from Washington, DC. She studied at Boston University. She’s on Twitter and Instagram. She’s the author of It Ain’t Easy, Eating off the Floor and Majestic and Lynn