Inside the mind of...
Design to heal

Isolation comes with the motherhood territory

You know the Mother 'Hood video about the different groups of parents in the park - yoga mums, career mums, stay-at-home dads etc. - who are all having a pop at each other, until a crisis occurs and they band together to try to prevent it? (If you haven't, see it here.)

I've been a full-time working mother, a part-time working mother, and, for the past few years, a 'stay-at-home mum' (SAHM). Next year I'll go back to full-time work after almost 8 years at home - eek!

Each parenting pattern has its own challenges and rewards. The challenge I've been thinking about this week is: ISOLATION.

A fellow SAHM friend and I were chatting after school drop-off, comparing modern mothers to our CAVEWOMEN ancestors.



My friend said that, unlike the cavewoman, who would have done her work surrounded by other members of her immediate family and community,

'On Monday morning the whole of my family leaves me for the week.'


LONELINESS is one of those embarrassing/ awkward subjects. We all (most of us) feel it, sometimes. Some tolerate it better than others. Some people crave solitude, others find it hard to be alone for more than a few hours. We think of lonely old people, lonely weird people with poor social skills, but a middle-class mother/ housewife who feels lonely should just... pull herself together - or get a job!

When I had my first baby, I got an email from a friend who had already been a mother for a year or two. A line in her email struck me then, as now:


'Feelings of isolation come with the motherhood territory.'


Phew! I thought. So it's normal. It is not just I that am horribly desperate!

I found - still do - being at home ALONE all day HARD.

A lot of working mums talk about the relief of starting work again: 'having other adults to talk to', 'being able to drink a cup of coffee' and 'going to the toilet in peace' being some of the biggest perks.

We, in our industrialized world, are departing from millennia of human social tradition by raising our modern families in splendid nuclear isolation. Most of my friends (and I) live too far from our own parents to see them on a daily (or even weekly) basis. Many of our parents, having often raised us without much help themselves, are enjoying the fruits of retirement without regular childcare responsibilities.

It is not like this everywhere. In two countries I have lived, for example - Korea and China - grandparents still routinely take care of grandchildren full-time (once they are past weaning stage) while the parents go out to work.


[My son as a baby in China with Ayi - or 'Auntie' in Chinese].

Extended families live together. Children are raised, if not 'by a village' , then by a group of adults. Like Milly-Molly-Mandy! Remember her? Who lived with Father and Mother and Grandpa and Grandma and Uncle and Aunty in the nice white cottage with the thatched roof.

There is not the same pressure on ONE parent to be everything, know everything, support everything.

I live with my co-parent, and I value and appreciate his input and care.

However, Monday to Friday I am mostly alone as a child-carer. It feels like a huge responsibility.

Some Mondays, I will be honest, I am SOOO happy to have the house to myself, peace and quiet, a cup of tea in my hands, a dark chocolate almond cookie for breakfast...


Almond cookies




Other times, well, I miss my cave sisters.





Have you felt this way too?


Sometimes I ask myself: what is it I am missing? When I have so much. And I think: someone to do the work with.

In Switzerland, we were fortunate to live in a close and friendly neighbourhood community, where the children could run in and out of each other's houses. Also, there were a lot of other women to meet up with during the daytime (because childcare is complicated in Switzerland, so many families have one parent  - usually the mother - stay home to take care of the kids).

Back in the UK, I have wonderful friends that I see on a regular basis, for which I am very grateful. But the school day is much longer here, so there are more 'alone' hours.

There is PLENTY of WORK to do. I am never bored. I have a lot of projects, always a huge To Do list to take care of. What I am, sometimes, is LONELY. I crave company. The ghosts of my missing sisters haunt me :-).


I was listening to Gretchen Rubin's podcast the other day, in which she asked the question:

'Do you crave company or do you crave solitude?'

Most people feel starved of either one or the other (and of course it can change - I am well aware of the need to enjoy my solitude now, as I will crave it next year when I am in full-time work!).


We won't turn back the industrial clock. I don't fancy living in a cave. We may never go back to raising our children 'as a village', and we will probably continue this March of Progress towards age-segregated institutionalised socialization - through daycare, schools and workplaces...

But I wonder: will we continue to feel that something - or someone - is missing?


[This beautiful picture  is sold on Etsy - see here]


What do you think? Does ISOLATION come with the motherhood (or fatherhood) territory?

Do you crave MORE COMPANY or MORE SOLITUDE in your daily life?

Do you ever miss your 'cave brothers' or sisters to share your important work with?

Or do you love to work alone?


We are all different!

And we are all the same. :-)

Take care, dear ones.

See you next time, around the fire.

And happy holidays!


Elizabeth, aka The Writing Parent


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


What an interesting topic... Motherhood is sort of lonely I guess - well I remember feeling it intensely when on my own with my first baby, who would stare and stare at me while I fed him and not say anything (obviously). It took me a while to learn just to enjoy those stares along with the snuggles, and not be unnerved by them! I remember the house seeming awfully quiet. Well, skip forward nine years... Quiet? Ha! I now have three children and they are as noisy as noisy can be, of course! And sometimes I wish they would just go away so that I could hear myself think. I do relish the mornings when they are all away at school / kindergarten - now I love the peace and quiet (Gosh, I'm suddenly remembering that was the only thing my parents ever asked for for Christmas - ha! NOW I understand!)... But on the other hand I also wish I were more present with my kids when they are around - I often feel guilty when I have a friend round, or even worse when I'm on the phone with a friend and my kids are hovering around pestering me for attention and I'm not really THERE for anyone, friend or kids. I think my ideal would be to have clearly defined phases of alone time, kid time, friend time, husband time - to be able to concentrate on each interaction (or on being alone) and savour it. Instead of which it's all a bit of a muddle.

The Writing Parent

It's so true what you said about the silence of a baby! Very unnerving at first, as you say. It can be hard to understand how you can feel lonely in the constant company of another (silent) human being.
Thanks for your thoughts - as ever.

The comments to this entry are closed.