I have just finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. This book is both funny and touching. Eleanor is a single woman in her early thirties and apart from her work colleagues, she has little to no contact with people; she is profoundly lonely.
This got me thinking about being a parent. You are definitely not alone once you have had a child. In fact, every second of the day is taken up with their care. However, being alone and being lonely are two very different things.
When I had my first child I was not prepared for the drastic changes that occurred overnight. I had taken for granted that I could eat when I wanted to, go to the shops, go to the cinema, go for drinks, watch a film, read a book, chat with a friend, sit on a train and just zone out, sit anywhere! (babies really do know when you do that and they don't like it)
Your time is not your own anymore. Even at night you are not allowed to sleep. I was struck by how relentless it was (is). You are suddenly cut of, not just from your old life, but your identity. You are a mum. When people spoke to me it was to ask about my baby, not about me. I no longer had colleagues who I could discuss work problems with...no Christmas party for me.
No one sees the millions of things a parent does on a daily basis. Sometimes I imagine a team of faceless business people in suits making notes as I manage to stay particularly calm while trying to feed three screaming children (Oh yes 1 has turned to 3). "You smashed bath time tonight'. 'You have exceeded your behaviour management targets and will be getting your bonus this month'.
Being a parent can definitely be a lonely place. As humans we have an innate need to connect with others around us, to be part of society, to feel useful and valued. Of course, being physically alone can lead to loneliness if it's for a prolonged period of time. But I believe being mentally lonely can be even more dangerous.
To parents - talk to each other, try to avoid baby chat, join a gym, join a book group......
To everyone else - make them feel valued, show/tell them you know how hard it is, give them some time away from parenting so that they can be even better parents. Give them food and alcohol. If they haven't slept for a while tell them to take a nap while you look after the kids. Ask them their opinion on stuff that is nothing to do with kids.
Give them food and alcohol!