Loneliness is a topic which has been in the news a lot recently, mostly in relation to elderly people. It's a horrible thing to experience and goes hand in hand with isolation.
One group of people who seem to be affected often by loneliness and isolation are stay at home parents, though it is not often as spoken about as much in the public domain. I'm not sure why this is – perhaps there is a little less sympathy for parents who don't work and seemingly 'have it easy', or perhaps we just don't talk about it enough to make the wider public aware.
I am feeling that way today and that is why I have chosen to speak about it now.
Loneliness tends to creep up on you. One day you'll be enjoying slumming it at home in an unwashed, non made-up state then the next day you find yourself going stir crazy. It can be made particularly worse if you have small children at home with you: the perpetual high pitched whining; the demands for food, entertainment and attention; the endless laundry and washing up, not to mention Mr. Tumble on a loop. All, I believe, are methods of torture used on prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
Even if you have a supportive partner who will take over as soon as they return home it can all seem overwhelming and isolating. Pair this with having no fresh air, no adult contact and no time to enjoy yourself it can lead to mental health problems such as depression or anxiety.
My partner is on average out of the house for about 12 hours a day, so I have had to take care to ensure I don't slump into a funk as I have done before. I have listed below some measures I try to take in order to tackle my loneliness and keep isolation at bay. It doesn't always work – today is a perfect example of that – but it does help in the bigger picture. These go hand in hand with my tips for basic self care too.
Get out of the house
Yes, it's obvious and not always possible but making the mammoth effort to get the kids together and get them out can be worth it. Some days, it's just not happening and that's okay, but even just getting to the park, out for a walk or to your nearest cafe can help on the days you can manage it.
Let the kids be bored
Don't think that you have to perpetually entertain the kiddos. Let them get used to entertaining themselves from time to time. Boredom can encourage creativity and thoughtfulness so don't beat yourself up if they're playing alone now and then.
Think outside of the toy box
If there is somewhere you want to go but it's not necessarily a children's activity – take them anyway. Of course, I'm not talking about taking them clubbing but if there is some live music at the local pub, check to see if its a family friendly environment, or if you fancy taking up a hobby, see if the groups will be happy for you to take the kids. It may surprise you if you ask. Don't rule things out because it's something not child oriented. A good example of this was when I enquired about a knitting club who invited my 9 year old to take part where I'd initially thought I couldn't do it. We also took her to see Craig Charles in the Summer at Chepstow Castle which she absolutely loved.
A lot of the time, I feel lonely because I am not organised enough to make plans. This also goes for other people too so it's important to reach out others to make the plans when you can. I used to always wait to be asked to go somewhere or meet someone but have found that people do actually want to do things and sometimes it's just a case of asking.
Sometimes, in order to get the time that you need you need to be firm with someone. Even if you have the most supportive partner in the world, if you are caring for the kids all day it can be easy to take over when your partner is with you. Be firm with them and with yourself. Let them take the reins, make them take the reins.
Tweak your perspective
Make home somewhere you enjoy being. If you have a night by yourself, try to look at it as a time to pamper yourself or indulge in something you enjoy – a good movie, a spot of knitting, a nice meal. I have also realised since having child number 3 that I am actually lucky to have all the wonderful moments I have with her. I am naturally quite a cynical type and have a slightly negative outlook on life so in the past I have always thought about what I'm missing out on. Now, however, when I'm feeling that way out I try to remind myself that there are some great advantages of being the stay at home parent which I'll miss when I return to work.
Make practical changes
If things are really tough, could you look at changing the big things, like who is the "bread winner". It might mean taking a financial hit but if it's plausible it might be worth it, weighing it up against your sanity. Of course, we are all in different situations but it's not unreasonable to expect compromise, especially if it's in the interests of your family's happiness and stability. Don't rule anything out. It could mean looking at swapping roles, or it could mean sharing responsibilities more equally, cutting work hours or looking at the possibility of working from home for either parent. If you are a single parent, it could mean looking into getting back into work. Asking other family members for their help or the options for childcare. This is not something to feel guilty or ashamed about, whatever the expectations put on us by this backwards society. Look at what could work for you.
I hope this has been helpful, and if you have any tips that have worked for you or even if you're just feeling a little isolated yourself, get in touch. Comment below or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org