My family diary: Mama no-mates

I’m pushing the pram to Tesco and trying to remember when I last spoke to a friend. It’s been at least a week. Maybe two…

Illustration showing a mother walking alone with a pram

 

I’m pushing the pram to Tesco and trying to remember when I last had a conversation with a friend.

Here are the rules. Tesco chat doesn’t count – those are just quick exchanges with whoever is at the till. Work chat doesn’t count – I work remotely and speak to colleagues rarely, and the people I interview are not my friends. And talking to my husband or my mum doesn’t count, because, well, surely I have some actual friends?

Bearing these criteria in mind, it’s been at least a week. Maybe two weeks. I decide to stop thinking about it – but then I keep thinking about it. Meanwhile, my four-year-old asks if we can have chocolate for lunch and my two-year-old screams with joy at a bin truck.

It’s so common for mothers to feel lonely – our isolation is, ironically, a uniting factor amongst us. There isn’t much concrete data on this, but a 2018 survey by the British Red Cross and Co-op found that almost half (43%) of mothers under 30 felt lonely “often or always”. Other recent studies of new mothers have found loneliness rates of 32-42%, above population averages.

For each of us, those lonely moments fall at different stages. I was often on my own during my maternity leaves but I didn’t feel lonely – the first time around I was too busy being sleep-deprived and anxiously Googling things, and the second time around I enjoyed the baby-bubble while it lasted as I’d decided not to have more kids. Because I wasn’t at work, I had time to potter to baby-groups and cafes when I wanted to see someone.

I’ve personally found things harder since my kids emerged from the baby stage. Like a lot of families, we moved to a new area when we needed more space, so we’re far away from my university friends and mat-leave friends. And like a lot of families, my husband and I both work, so alongside looking after our children there’s not much time for making new friends.

Diary hurdles and false starts

Illustration showing mother walking with toddler alone

“It’s easy to meet new people when you have young kids,” countless people who don’t have young kids have said to me. In my experience, it’s easy to meet people once. It’s a Herculean task to build an actual friendship, which involves, you know, meeting more than once. 

My recent attempts to make mum-friends are a series of false starts. The stay-at-home mum whose kids had different nap times to my kids, so we were never free at the same time. The doctor-mum whose intense work schedule changed every week. Other part-time working mums who didn’t have the same days off as me. Mums whose kids were too old to play with mine.

As you try to clear these logistical hurdles and meet up, whether you actually get on with the other person becomes a vague after-thought. 

Is work the answer?

I work three days a week and I sometimes ponder increasing this to get some more social interaction (albeit over Zoom). There’s been a lot in the news this year about mothers who want to work more hours, but are held back by childcare issues. This is largely framed as women wanting to earn more money and achieve more career-wise – which are of course important goals.

But I wonder if, for some of them, another draw is that work means chatting with other adults, versus pushing a pram to Tesco on your own. It can’t be just me, right? 

Ultimately, I know I’ll probably stick with my three days, because I like having two weekdays with my children – and I know they do too. I’d like to have some pals to share these days with and hopefully that will fall into place at some point. In the meantime, I guess I’ve got two mad little pals right here, who are literally always up for talking. 

So, let’s get into the pros and cons of chocolate for lunch…

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** This blog is part of a series called The Chaos Train, a record of daily life as a working mother with pre-school children **



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