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Finding your tribe and checking the noticeboard: How to cope when new motherhood gets lonely

Don’t write off that ‘community parent and baby group’. Maybe those parents are just like you, writes Jenny Sherlock.

Image: Shutterstock

TWO WEEKS AFTER my youngest child was born, my partner had to leave on a four-month stint with the Defence Forces.

Raising young kids can be an isolating job at times, but more so when you have a new baby to tend to, plus her two older siblings to keep out of trouble.

Parenting in isolation is something I’m used to at this stage, as my husband has had two other extended work trips away since we started having kids, some as long as up to six months. But it doesn’t get any easier, even with family, friends and in-laws living nearby.

If I had been raising my kids fifty years ago, I like to think I’d barely have noticed my husband being away, thanks to a constant stream of neighbours popping in and out with their own kids.

These days though, life is busier, more pressured, and we support each other in more remote ways than before. The sort of constant face-to-face engagement that may have been the norm in the past just isn’t as readily available now – and if you’re a first-time mum, the struggle is even tougher to manage alone.

The saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ now means something different than it once did, especially considering many of us don’t even know our neighbours by name. So if we can’t look to ‘the village’, where can we find that collective support?

Looking outside of your peer group

For new mum Triona Doyle, the answer came from a group of strangers in the same situation.

“When my baby was a couple of months old, a colleague of my husband invited me to an informal mammy-baby group in her house,” she recalls.

Finding that sort of external support can be vital to surviving parenthood, as Triona discovered:

We were all going through the same new parent struggles, so we chatted about everything from sleeping, feeding and crawling progress to trying to orchestrate a night out.

Finding a ‘virtual tribe’

shutterstock_755602816 Source: Shutterstock

Author and mum of seven Jen Hogan, saw the potential for a similar group online. Her Facebook page Mama-tude: Surviving Parenthood Together now has thousands of users, and she’s just published her first book, The Real Mum’s Guide To Surviving Parenthood.

“The group has become a place where parents can interact, discus, let off steam, or seek and offer advice in a wholly supportive environment,” Jen explains.

Why has it been so successful?

Parents know they’re not alone. The group offers sort of a virtual tribe or village. Babies and children don’t come with manuals and parents don’t suddenly find themselves gifted with superpowers or infallible knowledge.

Online groups are brilliant for friendly, non-judgemental advice – I joined one myself during my last pregnancy, full of other mums due at the same time as me – but there are plenty of more structured options too.

Checking out the noticeboard

Ask your public health nurse or GP for details of community parent-and-baby groups in your area, or check noticeboards in your local cafe, play centre, health centre or supermarket.

Yes, the words “community group” might conjure up images of being taught how to bath your baby while an overbearing matron looks on, but – as Anneli O’Connor learnt – it’s really nothing like that.

“I heard about a local group from my Public Health Nurse,” she says.

I mainly did it to get out of the house and avoid the isolation that can come with having a small baba. I had this idea that it would be full of boring mums talking about boring baby stuff, but I was wrong.

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As Anneli now knows – and as I know too – there are plenty of parents out there in similar situations, most of whom are just dying for a chat with someone who understands what’s going on.

“In the end I realised that the group was mainly just regular parents,” says Anneli. “Like myself.”

My tips for overcoming parental loneliness

1. Ask for support if you need it: Don’t be afraid to say that you are finding it hard. Believe me, you are not the only one. Some days are easier than others, but it is always comforting to know that there are others in your shoes.

2. Be brave: Go to that parent and baby group. It can be scary meeting new people, but a leap of faith is sometimes all we need.

3. Pass it on: If there is a specific group or type of support you found helpful, tell another parent. You never know when your information may be exactly what they need to hear.

For focused advice and support, call:

Parentline – LoCall 1890 927 277

One Family – 01 662 9212 

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