“Only leaving the house to get groceries. Nobody outside of my home to talk to or spend time with.”
This is how one anonymous woman responded to the question, “What does loneliness feel like to you?” As part of a survey done by Peanut, a community app for women at different stages of motherhood and menopause, over 4,900 women shared their experiences with loneliness. It’s a shred of insight into the difficulty parenting amid the pandemic, compounded by a loneliness epidemic impacting people overall.
Peanut asked women whether they’ve ever been so lonely. It’s a leading question, but the responses are nonetheless jarring: 73 percent of people trying to conceive say they’re lonelier than any other life stage. The numbers aren’t much better for women at other stages of parenthood: 70 percent of mothers and 55 percent of pregnant people said the same thing. Furthermore, 78 percent of those in menopause are also the loneliest they’ve been.
“When my son is busy being a kid, exploring and learning [on] his own, I’m not sure what to do with my own time,” said another anonymous woman on what loneliness feels like. “When I’m not being a mom, I don’t know what to do really.”
A third woman responded with simply, “Empty.”
Loneliness doesn’t occur because you’re alone, said psychotherapist Laura Greenwood. You can be alone and surrounded by people (or your children!). Loneliness comes from feeling disconnected. “We are all hardwired to connect with others,” Greenwood said, “and so feeling disconnected can lead to so many struggles with mental health.”
Peanut’s friendship expert and author of The Friendship Cure Kate Leaver told Mashable that in her five years of speaking and writing about loneliness publicly, the group she most often hears from is new mothers. “It’s a uniquely lonely time,” she said, “and I always tell them this: first, it’s so, so common so in that sense, you’re not alone.”
“It’s clear that loneliness truly is a public health crisis affecting women everywhere,” said Peanut CEO and founder Michelle Kennedy, who started the app amid her own experience with loneliness after having her first child.
There are no doubt systematic issues at play here. Many mothers don’t receive help with childcare at home for a variety of reasons, one being that domestic labor is seen as “women’s work.” Outside childcare is unaffordable for many, and they can’t afford to take time off work, as the U.S. lacks paid parental leave.
That being said, there are some steps an individual can take to combat loneliness.
Greenwood suggests connecting with yourself, in order to create meaningful connections with others. This may be easier said than done — and might require you to see a mental health professional — but once you accept who you are, it may be easier to be your authentic self with other people.
It can be overwhelming to piece together a social life — or solve a deep sense of existential confusion — when you’re sleep deprived, hormonal, and exhausted, said Leaver. So, she advises to start small. “If leaving the house is too much, text your old friends, be active on the mothers’ group WhatsApp, send stupid memes to someone who gets you, or join an app like Peanut,” she said.
Passive social media scrolling (rather than posting or interacting) can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, Leaver continued, but being active can actually help. Talking to people, joining groups, and interacting on posts can make us feel like we’re a part of things, even if you’re too tired or overwhelmed to leave the house. Peanut, for example, has forums to talk about a range of topics, from grief of infertility to sex after childbirth.
“Mothers are sort of silently linked by this deeply private but also universal experience of having a child,” Leaver said. Know that if you’re a lonely mother, that it’s not just you, and that thankfully, there are spaces where you can be open about your experience.