‘I have never felt as alone as I did in the early days of parenthood’
Jen Hogan: My friends had travel, nightclubs and parties on their minds, rather than dirty nappies and sleepless nights
“I planned an outing most days, albeit alone with my baby, but sometimes the effort and struggle to get out the door meant those best-laid plans never came to fruition.” Photograph: iStock
I’ve never been one for my own company – not in large quantities of time anyway. It’s probably just as well because these days, as a mother of seven, going to the loo without an audience or taking a shower without an avalanche of children bursting through the door wailing “he breathed/looked/smiled/farted at me” are just distant memories.
As, obviously, are keys in the door.
Much as I adore my children (in spite of their omnipresence and constant interruptions), there was a time I found parenthood excruciatingly lonely. I loved my job and dreaded my first maternity leave, even though I was incredibly excited to become a first-time mum. I was living in a new area where I knew no one. I was the first in my family to test the uncharted waters of parenthood. And my existing friends, who lived a distance away anyway, had travel, nightclubs and parties on their minds, rather than dirty nappies and sleepless nights.
I have never felt as alone as I did in those early days of parenthood.
Stumbling through a myriad of new experiences and self-doubt as I struggled to get this most important of jobs right. I planned an outing most days, albeit alone with my baby, but sometimes the effort and struggle to get out the door meant those best-laid plans never came to fruition, so my home became somewhat of a prison – a lonely, quiet prison, broken only by the sound of a baby crying and, frequently, her mum too.
And though I longed for visitors – someone to have a cuppa and an adult conversation with, to distract me from the big purple dinosaur or to even hold the baby while I tried to get a much-needed shower – none came, because people were too busy getting on with their own lives. The village it allegedly takes to rear a child was missing in action and I was a lone sniper.
I took a while to fully appreciate the less collaborative approach to parenthood that exists these days and to realise the company I longed for would need to be actively sought rather than my waiting for the calvary to arrive. I needed a tribe – a tribe of mums – but I needed a tribe with whom I had more in common than just having given birth. Because I didn’t fundamentally become a different person when motherhood came knocking.
Experience brings a degree of confidence but it doesn’t necessarily bring any more visitors knocking second and subsequent times around – because you’re no longer a newbie to the motherhood game. It’s figured you know the score – and hopefully what you’re doing.
I worried a lot about loneliness again when I made the move to working from home. The thoughts of no colleagues or friends for company or coffee breaks filled me with dread, even if the pay-off was a more manageable home-life balance. With many of my friends who had stayed at home deciding to head back to work now that their children were older, the prospect of having to procrastinate alone was a real and terrifying one.
Because even though as “your woman with all the kids”, I know more parents than I’d ever have thought possible, many of these parents wouldn’t be quite sure how many children I actually have, just that “it’s a load”. As a busy society, we don’t know much about the intricacies of the lives of people we exchange niceties with on the school run or in the supermarket and park. And while five-year-olds can go up to children, who are complete strangers, in the playground and say “hey, wanna be friends”, that sort of thing is deemed less cute when you’re an adult!
Even now, avoiding loneliness takes a concerted effort. Several of my hobbies and personal outlets have fallen foul to the ever-changing demands and time commitments of parenthood. So, recently I joined a book club – something this very proud mammy of seven would have previously discounted, considering it altogether too “mammyish”.
It seems I was wrong – it’s the perfect degree of mammyissh. I haven’t managed to finish several of the books, but they forgive me, appreciating the workload involved with my family – them being mothers and all themselves.
We chat and laugh about much more than books – because we’re a tribe, subtly watching out for each other, checking in between meetings and bonding over wine, chocolate and mixed views about Fifty Shades of Grey!