The Lonely Parents Club: Karen's Story
Please tell us a little about yourself
I'm Karen, I am 42, I have two children who are almost 12 and 8. I live in South West London, we have two cats, and various other pets. I am an ex nanny, ex children's nurse and now I run a family charity and write a parenting blog. I haven't had a decent night's sleep since I don't know when and I drink far too much coffee as a result!
What does being a parent mean to you?
I always wanted to be a mum, but I had no idea what the reality of parenting was actually like, despite having worked with children and families in my professions, before I had my own. I love my kids and a lot of my identity is around being a mum, but as someone who has struggled with her mental health, particularly since becoming a parent, it has been challenging. My son also has some extra needs, he has a diagnosis of SPD, which makes my parenting journey a bit harder, and not quite what the parenting books tell you about.
What has your experience of loneliness been as a parent?
I struggled with anxiety and post natal depression after my daughter was born, and non of my friends had had babies so not only was I kind of alone in being a new mum, but my mental health was quite fragile, so I often felt that I had no one who understood or got what I was dealing with. We struggled to get pregnant and stay pregnant so it was really hard explaining that I had PND and wasn't coping so well with the baby we had tried so hard to have.
How did you improve or are you improving your situation when it comes to feeling isolated?
I went out a lot, just to cafes or to the library, and did things like swimming, just to get us out of the house. I didn't enjoy our local toddler group, it felt really cliquey and like there were little groups of mums and if you didn't fit in, you just sat around with no one to talk to. So, I started my own. I approached the church I am part of and said I wanted our own group. They gave me a building space and some money and my first toddler group started small, but grew and now I help to run 5 across our local area, each one is very different and with different demographics and families and we work with our local children's centres who support us and promote us. I am very aware about helping and working with families and we (my team of volunteers and I) work very hard to make sure that anyone who comes to our groups isn't sitting alone, isn't not being welcomed into the group, doesn't not have anyone to talk to, we try and make sure we support mums and dads, if they are having a tough time (if their toddler is having a tantrum, we will try and support them for example, so they don't feel like they are being judged or watched) and I often am sat with a toddler or a baby on my lap whilst their mum goes to the loo, or just enjoys a hot drink with two hands, and a few minutes peace or you may find me changing a nappy, or doing messy play with a small child, so mum can chat and get a break. I watch out for mums who I think may be feeling anxious or possibly even showing signs of PPD, and if I see a group looking too "cliquey" and someone is sitting alone, I have been known to go across and gently try and help them to approach that person and involve them. I have developed relationships with some families and even had the honour of being asked to be godmother to one new baby of a family that have been coming to our groups for a long time, and been on the list of people first to be let known when important family moments happen like babies being born. I have also been able to share my own mental health issues and point some families to the right place to get help. For me, to be active and helping others has been so good for my own mental health, and to know I am at least trying to help other mums out there makes me feel like all the hard work is worth it.
How do you feel society as a whole could improve the lives of anyone struggling with isolation or loneliness?
We don't live in an age where families lived close together, where mum was just down the road, auntie was a street away, gran came over to help after baby was born, mums are expected to give birth, and bounce back and be perfect and get all parenting right, and when you take a woman who has been working hard, in a job, with adults, paid, professional, and then she's suddenly at home alone all day, with a baby, not getting much sleep, and not much adult contact and very little help and yet we wonder why mums struggle? Also, we don't support new mums very well, and there is so much parenting advice out there, but really what is needed is a sense of solidarity, less judgment and more understanding that this 24/7/365 unpaid job raising the next generation is actually really hard and we need support and that actually mother hood can be incredibly lonely at times. Parenting books and advice are all very well, but when you have been up all night with a screaming baby and you have no one to just give you a hug and make you a cup of coffee, or take the baby for a few hours. We have so many mums from so many walks of life, all fighting hard to be the best they can, but we forget to just support them. it's the only job in the world I think where you don't get training, or on the job support, and the only time you get feedback is when you are supposedly not getting it right.
What tips or wisdom would you share with others who might be experiencing loneliness and isolation as a parent?
ALWAYS remember you ARE NOT ALONE. You may feel like you are he only one who feels lonely, anxious, tired, and sometimes utterly overwhelmed, but you aren't and that it is ok to say how you feel and to ask for help. Try and get out and about, try baby groups, classes, etc. Also, do something for yourself, a hobby or thing you love, to have a bit of the old you, too. Also, don't be afraid to ask mums who have been there and done that for some tlc and support. Most of us are more than willing and remember how hard it can be and want to help.
More About Karen
Karen is a blogger at The Mad House of Cats and Babies, where she is knee deep in suburbia trying to keep order and maintain her sanity!
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