Despite not planning it, I have ended up primarily working in womens’ health and most of my patients are mothers, ranging from the very new to those with decades of experience. As a result, I tend to see the same issues presenting over and over and over again. I see the exhaustion from excessively long ‘to-do’ lists, sleep deprivation from broken nights or too early mornings, and malnutrition from skipping meals or ‘forgetting’ to eat something fresh and from the ground. I see the conditions that have gone for far too long because there was always something else that needed to be dealt with that had higher priority – for many women, then don’t even remember when they because the least important person in their lives (more on that another time…)
But more than that – I see the loneliness. These women are connected to others in a myriad of ways – social media, work, school, family, friends – but they are essentially all lonely. Despite never actually being alone, they feel constantly alone. Within the struggle of balancing the various hats they wear – wife, mother, daughter, sister, worker, friend – the balance is lost, often to the point that ‘self’ is also lost along the way.
Many of these women have people they consider friends, but they are kept at a distance (emotional or physical) for a variety of reasons. I wonder if this new definition of friend is beneficial, because the relationships described as friendships by these women would barely pass as acquaintances. So many of these strong, intelligent women describe having many friends, but no one close at all, and they give a dazzling array of reasons as to why it has to be that way. Some of these include self protections (because you can’t be hurt if no one gets close), comfort (because even the idea of organising a catch up is too much), circumstance (moving frequently can disrupt even the best intentioned relationships) or even just societal expectation (the idea that women are natural nurturers and should be self sufficient without needing to rely on others).
The last one is the one that sticks with me most – women are burning out because they think they are supposed to do it all, all the time, flawlessly.
So many women are so set in their way of thinking that they MUST be able to do everything perfectly without assistance that even the smallest change to let go becomes incredibly difficult. We have forgotten that in the past women were not alone in raising children – there were extended families, neighbours, friends who had done, were doing or would be doing the same thing. Just as most women today have never seen a normal birth instead of the sanitised and unrealistic movie-births (yet more false expectations on women), many women of my generation have never seen a village raising a child – only the smallest units who are encouraged to stand alone and showcase show easy and wonderful it is to do it all!
When asked “Are you lonely?” they respond that of course they’re not lonely! They have 250 friends on social media and share inspiration boards with 150 more! There’s not time to be lonely! Yet they all describe, in exquisitely painful detail, exactly how lonely they really are before sometimes realising just how alone they feel.
Change takes time and effort. Not everyone is ready at any given time to attempt to change their mindset, their surroundings or their approach. For some it can take months or even years, and some never really manage it at all. Societal change takes even longer, but it is heartening to see there is more being discussed out in the open on the loneliness of mothers today, no matter how connected they may be in the digital world.
Most importantly, you don’t have to attempt anything it on your own.
You’re not alone.