If you were surprised at the loneliness new motherhood can bring, you’re not alone. Thankfully, there’s a powerful tool to help combat that feeling.
Most moms feel isolated in those first few newborn months, then trapped at home by nap schedules. We feel alone when we watch our partners head off to work and when we try to figure out how to handle “doing it all”: going back to work, the invisible load, the expectations.
How to overcome loneliness in motherhood
“I think the fastest thing you can do to improve your happiness is to get in a little social connection.” says cognitive scientist and host of The Happiness Lab, Dr. Laurie Santos.
Once you start to look, there are plenty of options to get out there to figure out how to combat your loneliness.
You can go to the library story hour, join an online moms group, go to the park, chat with other sandbox moms, or attempt a playdate in your home or a stroller jog.
But I bet no one has told you that practicing daily gratitude can be more than just a practical tool – and help you strengthen your existing social connections.
Releasing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, a gratitude practice allows for the positive reinforcement your brain needs to create new neural pathways. It opens us up to new experiences and even new friendships.
Take the story hour: maybe a mom next to you asks about your stroller or your baby’s bib – you tell her where you got it, and she thanks you. It feels nice to be thanked and to help. How connected would you feel if she didn’t say thank you?
According to a new survey by Pew Research, two-thirds of parents say raising children is more complex than expected, including one-third of mothers who say it’s much more complicated than expected.
We need profound and rich friendships because modern parenting has gotten so hard. Finding ways to incorporate connection into your daily routine is essential. Still, we need to enrich those experiences with gratitude.
Using gratitude to overcome loneliness and deepen your connections
1. Try a daily practice
Making a list or journaling every day helps us to remember all the people in our lives, the moments of connection that may be overshadowed by your toddler’s sand throwing at the park, and the appreciation expressed by your partner or older child while maybe you were busy with a thousand other tasks.
2. Savor your in-person time
“Savoring” means a conscious effort to be fully present in an experience.
Yes, this is hard with a toddler or baby in tow, but it doesn’t have to be tunnel vision. Noticing the richness of a friend’s laughter, how they always compliment your clothes, or even just the environment around you as you walk together will all contribute to the experience’s lasting impact – helping you remember it later for your gratitude list.
3. Write a letter
Letters of thanks are one of the most studied examples of how gratitude can enhance our lives for the better – and for extended periods.
In one study, the participant’s mental health stayed elevated for weeks, not just a few days, from writing just one letter. And they have found you don’t need to send it – although if you do, I’m sure the receiver would be grateful.
4. Find ways to help
Find a simple way to make a fellow mom’s day better – be the person she is grateful for tonight. Contributing to others’ happiness is a simple way to feel less isolated and more “a part of.”
The community of moms is wide and varied, but we all go through very similar situations.
Hold a door for a mom with an overloaded stroller, put a fresh pack of wipes in your bag, and carry extra bandaids and snacks. My favorite thing to do as my children aged was to bring outgrown sand toys to the public park and leave them in the sandbox. One less thing the next mom had to remember.
Final thoughts on loneliness, gratitude, and motherhood
“When we focus on the good that comes to us each day, we can be filled with deep appreciation rather than drowning under the burden of our problems,” says the preeminent researcher on gratitude, Professor Robert Emmons, in his book Thanks!
And it is so easy to get bogged down by our motherly burdens. Combining the enrichment of connection and the mindset shift of gratitude can be a simple way to lighten the load.
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Stef Tousignant is a parenting expert and gratitude nerd. She is a former professional nanny of 20+ years and the author of the award-winning bedtime book "The Middle of the Night Book." Burned-out parents everywhere rely on her mindfulness tools and honest blog posts found at ParentDifferently.com. She hopes to normalize imperfect parenting by sharing her journey and the gifts a committed gratitude practice can bring to modern family life.