Parenthood is one of the biggest life changes you can go through. One minute you have a life filled with stimulating grown-up conversation, the next you’re spending all day with no one but your gurgling baby for company.
It’s no wonder then that just over half of first-time mums and dads (52%) feel lonely or “cut off” from family and friends, according to a new poll.
Many also harboured worries surrounding finances and the inability to leave the house when caring for small children.
And as well as feeling isolated themselves many parents worry that their children are suffering from loneliness.
The poll, which was conducted by the charity Action for Children alongside the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, questioned around 2,000 UK parents, and found that nearly one in four (24.3%) say being lonely is a problem for them, with a further 27.6% saying it has been a problem in the past.
And one in four (25.1%) said they have often felt cut off from friends and other support since becoming a parent for the first time, with 8.9% saying they always feel this way.
Around one in five (20.5%) of those polled admitted that they have felt lonely in the last week, with around one in six (17.3%) saying they have experienced this in the last month.
More than two in five (43.8%) say they sometimes worry that their children are lonely, with a further 16.4% saying they often worry about this.
Haley Minns, 34, from Hunstanton in Norfolk, admits she suffered with loneliness and anxiety after the birth of her first child.
“I’d thought I would be at my happiest, but actually it was so hard,” she explains. “I couldn’t get out the house because I was so anxious. All my friends had babies at the same time, but to me, it felt like they were all doing better than me and I just shut myself off.”
“I would literally sit by my son whilst he was napping and didn’t move,” Haley continues. “He was 14 weeks old and I hadn’t even been able to leave his side to have a shower without someone else being at home. Even when he was asleep I felt I couldn’t leave him so would just sit there. I hated the time I was having with my baby; it was such a lonely time for me.”
Action for Children, is warning that loneliness, such as that experienced by Haley can have a “devastating impact” on children and families.
Sustained loneliness can have a significant impact on mental and physical health. As well as contributing to stress, anxiety, paranoia, depression and heart disease, there is also a link with lower academic achievement in young people, the charity advised.
Commenting on the findings, Sir Tony Hawkhead, Action for Children chief said: “From a toddler who seldom meets people because of their mother’s anxiety, to a young man in his 20s afraid to leave his room in a homeless hostel, we know from our services across the UK the devastating impact loneliness can have on the lives of children, young people and families.”
“Now is the time to raise the volume on this issue and ensure much-needed research, funding and support is put in place,” he continued.
“Whilst part of the solution lies with funders and policy makers, there is a role for every one of us in addressing this epidemic in our communities.”
So how do you combat new parent loneliness?
Leading mental health charity Mind suggests taking the following steps…
Think about what is making you lonely
People usually describe feeling lonely for one of two reasons. Either they simply don’t see or talk to anyone very often, or they don’t feel understood or cared for even when they are surrounded by people. Deciding which is the case for you may help you to find a way of feeling better.
Make new connections
A simple way to ease feelings of loneliness can be to try to meet more, or different, people. Think about a new class or group you might like to join, or join an online community.
Talk about it
Most people find it hard to admit they feel lonely but reaching out to someone could make all the difference. It doesn’t have to be face to face, you could share a post on social media or make use of a charity chat service.
Take it slow
If you’ve felt lonely for a long time, or even if you’re surrounded by people, it can be terrifying to think of trying to meet new people, or opening up to people for the first time. But you don’t need to rush into anything. Take it at your own pace and treat yourself with kindness at all times.
Be careful when comparing yourself to others
It is very hard to stop comparing ourselves to others, we all do it, but it can help to just be aware that things are not always what they seem from the outside.
Social media, and the fact that we very often only see what other people want to share about their lives, can make us feel like we are the only ones feeling lonely.
It’s important to remind yourself that you don’t know how people feel when they are alone, or when their social media feeds are turned off.
Ask for help
You don’t have to go through this on your own. Lots of organisations can help you make connections.
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