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Never Alone But Always Lonely: The Social Isolation of Being a New Mother

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Article
March 8, 2019

This International Women’s Day, we are honoured to support the writing of a brilliant member of our movement, Sophie Beaton. Ms. Beaton worked as a Social Connectedness fellow in the Summer of 2018; under the guidance of Human Rights Watch, she authored a highly insightful research paper on the mistreatment of older women in the workplace. Since then, she has continued to impress us with her choice to pursue an education in law at the University of Toronto.

This particular article of hers, titled: “Never Alone, but Always Lonely: The Social Isolation of Being a New Mother” delves into the modern challenges of women as they take on the new responsibility of being mothers. Ms. Beaton calls on policymakers to make a more concerted effort to understand the social isolation that often comes along with becoming a new mother, and recommends the establishment of government programs and expanded paternity leave to alleviate this issue.

To find the full version of Sophie’s article, please read below:

Never Alone But Always Lonely: The Social Isolation of Being a New Mother

For most women, we are told that the experience of being a new mother will bring us unparalleled levels of love, joy and connectivity. While it is true that many new mothers experience all of these heartwarming emotions, there is another emotion that accompanies motherhood that appears to go unmentioned: loneliness.

Although the loneliness of being a new mother is not often discussed, the issue is pervasive. In fact, in research conducted by Action for Children, it was found that 52% of new parents felt both lonely and socially isolated. For new mothers, this sense of loneliness and isolation is hard to grapple with because it comes at a time in their life when they are actually never alone. In an article for Today’s Parent, Leah Mclaren writes: “It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the most isolated period of my life was spent with the human I loved most in the world literally strapped to my body?”

The loneliness of new motherhood can stem from a variety of sources but most commonly it is associated with feelings of disconnect from one’s past life. For instance, after giving birth, a woman becomes “shut in with her child and shut out of the workforce and the adult world.”

And even if new moms do soon return to work, the time and attention required by a newborn baby leaves the individual feeling as though there is simply no time to pursue personal interests or relationships.

In this sense, loneliness may be even more debilitating for single mothers or mothers in

low-income groups because the added responsibility of being a new parent combined with the pressure of being an essential household earner leaves no time to connect with adult family members, friends or colleagues. This is highly concerning because the level of psychosocial stress that results from high family demands and loneliness has been found to be a cause of depressive symptoms.

A vital step in alleviating the loneliness of new mothers will be to expand parental leave opportunities so that paternity leave becomes more commonplace. Firstly, paternity leave will enable mothers to return to work sooner, which will then help them reconnect to other adults as the workplace is a key arena in which adult relationships are cultivated and maintained. Moreover, studies find that paternity leave sets a precedent for more egalitarian roles early on in parenthood and often results in husbands assuming more household responsibility, providing mothers with more free time for individual pursuits.

In addition to enhanced parental leave, research conducted by the Co-op and British Red Cross shows that young mothers feel as though connecting with other young mothers would be highly helpful in allowing them to form meaningful relationships that would decrease their loneliness. To address this need, the British Red Cross has created 15 peer support groups across the country that aim to promote connectivity among individuals who feel lonely and socially isolated.

In addition to expanding services for parents, it is essential to increase the accessibility of childcare services. Enhanced daycare services are needed because it will enable mothers to

return to work sooner or free up a portion of their day, giving them more time overall. Unfortunately, reports show that child-care costs across Canada have risen faster than inflation in 71 percent of cities since 2016, and in 82 percent of cities since 2014.” The huge expense of daycare can also contribute to social isolation as it often forces women to choose whether returning to work is economically viable given the cost of daycare and adds additional pressure to the family unit.

Given the vital role mothers play in shaping the wellbeing of subsequent generations, it is essential that policymakers make an increased effort to understand and alleviate the loneliness and social isolation that new mothers experience. To do so, it is recommended that governments implement programs and services that provide their citizens with greater connectivity and put measures in place to make childcare more affordable for families of all income groups. If these solutions are implemented effectively, mothers will then be more able to fully experience the joys of new parenthood unhindered by the emotional burden of loneliness and isolation.