Combatting Loneliness with a Baby

As I was speaking with a mommy friend today about having our first babies, I was saying to her that one of the reasons I don’t want a second child is that I was pretty miserable when my son was an infant. Looking back now, I’m not sure if that’s just because having an infant is difficult, or if it was because I was so lonely. I hadn’t yet found my tribe. And my friends were all working. 

There is so much effort needed in taking care of an infant. And for many parents, there is so little reward at first. No smiles, no giggles. And certainly no intelligent conversation. It’s a rough time. If you can somehow plan your pregnancy with your friends, so you all have babies at the same time, that’s really what I recommend (haha, what, like it’s hard? :-P) For the rest of us, we have to build a tribe, as I mentioned in my last entry. But besides that, allow me to give you a few tips that helped keep me sane on those days when I was running on very little sleep. 

  • Join Facebook/social media groups – It can be a great place to vent and commiserate, even if you’re not actively planning play dates from it. At three in the morning, someone else may also be up and will like your post. Or maybe you will notice the next morning that they liked it an hour after you finally passed out, and it was their turn to be up. Comraderie is valuable. 
  • Make a cheat sheet – This is a document I put into Notes on my phone. Quick little ideas for when I was feeling stuck or frustrated. Go for a walk. Give the baby a bath. Dance around. Bake cookies. Call a friend. Things like that. It is unbelievably easy to forget these things when you’re in the thick of it. And add to the list kid friendly places you can go: zoo, mall, library, park, whatever. 
  • Use online calendars – Here is what I did.
  1. I researched local events in my area by checking library pages, radio station websites, national websites like Macaroni Kids, local kids’ centers (trampoline parks, indoor play places), malls, maternal wellness centers, hospitals, town websites, and anything else I could think of. (Facebook mom groups may already have lists  like these — take advantage!) Google “kids activities near me” if you’re stuck. 
  2. I found any weekly events and programmed them into a separate Kids calendar on my phone (I personally used Google calendars for this). All calendar apps these days have the ability to make multiple calendars. 
  3. As this made my calendar look crazy (overlapping events and such), I hid this calendar from view. 
  4. When I needed to get out of the house and had no idea what to do, I turned the calendar back on and found something (always confirm events and update your calendar from time to time). This did not work like a charm every single time, of course. A lot of events were in the morning, and I’m by no means an early bird. And there were some days I just couldn’t find something that worked. But it still helped. Even just knowing I HAD these options helped. If I go here, there will be other moms who haven’t slept! That’s such a powerful concept when you’re combatting loneliness.
  • Attend mom groups/play groups – As I’ve said before, I know that can suck if you’re shy, but I will also tell you that it is all but essential. You don’t have to find your new bestie. Just go sit beside someone else who probably has spit up on their clothes. 
  • Go places with baby! – I know this can be so intimidating and seem like so much work. But just think — it only gets easier. Until you have another kid, haha! But seriously, it will not get harder, only easier as you get practice and your baby grows up. Load up that diaper bag. Make yourself a checklist. Always pack two changes of clothes for baby and at least one for you (TRUST ME). Pack formula, snacks, toys, blankets, wipes, diapers, bottles. Pack a book or headphones for you in case baby falls asleep. You don’t even have to talk to anyone else if you don’t want to. Push the stroller around the mall and enjoy people smiling at you. Ignore anyone who gives you stink eye when your baby cries. You’re in public. It’s allowed. It’s not like you took them to a movie theater (don’t do that). Go to a park and enjoy the sunshine. Or just walk around your neighborhood. Anything is better than sitting at home with your loneliness and apprehension. I know it can be scary, but it is so good for both you and your child. 
  • TV/Screentime – I don’t care what the crunchy organic granola sanctimommy in your mommy group says, a little screen time is not going to hurt your child. If you are spent, tired, frustrated, it is okay to turn on the TV or YouTube as a distraction (YouTube Kids is a great app). IT IS OKAY. I, PERSON IN CHARGE OF NOTHING, GIVE YOU PERMISSION. And, just so you know, children’s TV is most likely very different from when you were a child. There are regulations and everything on how much of it needs to be educational. So much of it is. Don’t be hard on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect. You just need to get through the day. Also … if it annoys you the first time you hear/see it, pick something else! Don’t fall for Caillou, people! 
  • Remember those who came before you – Okay, this one’s going to sound a little weird. But it helped me a bit. When you’re trying and trying to get that baby to sleep or nursing them through their first cold, just remember all the moms that have done this before you. Think of the sisterhood whose steps you are walking in. Back and forth, back and forth. Mothers have done this since the dawn of time. You are not alone when you are rocking and feeding that baby. You’re part of something more. There are millions all over the world in the same boat as you. And so many who came before. 

Oh, and state specific suggestion for finding events, including ones that are not just for kids, check out New Hampshire Magazine’s online event calendar. 

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    Building Your Tribe

    I had heard of people having difficulties making mom friends. So, I kind of expected it might be a thing when I became a mother. I only had one close friend who was a mom, and she started waaaay before I did, so our kids would be nowhere close in age. I think that many women sometimes strike it lucky in birthing class. You make friends, all have your babies right around the same time, and then start going to play groups and mom groups together. Built in friends. 

    But in my birthing class (HypnoBirthing, incidentally), our instructor was not very warm and welcoming. On the third or so week of class, my dad came with me when my husband was unavailable, and SHE DIDN’T RECOGNIZE ME. Thanks, lady. Anyway, in addition to that, it was obvious that my husband and I probably had almost ten years on the other couples in class. And most of them were hipsters, planning to go a “birth cottage” or have a home birth and other things that scared the crap out of me. (And, in my case, it was handy to be in a hospital as I had severe preeclampsia and needed a lifesaving C-section. Fun times. HypnoBirthing helped not at all. Not to rail against hypnosis in general, because I otherwise find it very helpful.) So, there were just no connections to be made. 

    I also attended a pregnancy group at a local women’s center. There was a former coworker, so that was at least helpful. But most of the women there were going to be working moms, and I wasn’t. I hadn’t worked in almost a year and was planning to continue staying home. I just wanted someone like me, who could get together spontaneously when we were both losing our minds. Finally, someone spoke up who was also going to be a SAHM and was from England! I saw my opening. Introduced myself, announced that my parents were from across the pond as well. And she had another two girls in the group who she connected with. My introvert instincts kicked up, telling me to back away, but I held out and made sure I was included in their plans to get together. 

    This is it, I thought. This is how you build a tribe. It’ll be great. Even though I was 2-4 months ahead of them in pregnancy months. It would be fine. Months later, two of them moved away, and the other went back to work. I started attending mom groups, but I just couldn’t connect with anyone. I made friends with another woman whose baby was only a week older than mine. Unfortunately, her husband was military, and they moved across the country. It was disheartening, discouraging, demoralizing. I’m an extroverted introvert with geeky interests. It shouldn’t be impossible to make friends! But it seemed like everybody already had somebody, or the age gap between the kids made it awkward. (This does become less of an issue as they get older. But when they’re under 2, it can be really tough! The activities you can bring them to are quite different.) 

    But I kept going to groups. Tried new activities. And I forced myself to keep saying hi to other moms. Just keep taking the chance that you’ll make a connection. And if they weren’t on Facebook, I kinda considered it a dead end. Social media incompatibility! How are we supposed to coordinate? Email??? 

    The thing I started to notice was that a lot of other moms were nervous, too. Uncertain, lacking friends. And when I realized that, it did make it easier. When I confessed to one mom that I did consider myself shy, she was shocked. That’s how far out of my shell I have grown and pushed myself. 

    And in the end, it paid off. I connected with a mom at a children’s gymnastic class. When I asked for her last name to look her up on Facebook, I recognized the name. Her husband’s cousins played soccer with my brothers as kids. Small world, right? 

    And I was able to take those outgoing skills and apply them in other situations, including Zumba class. Besides asking about pets, you know what’s a great conversation starter? Tell someone with ink that you like their tattoo. And because I did that, I got introduced to her twin sister: mom with a little boy a year older than my son with geeky interests. Bingo. 

    So, you keep putting yourself out there, keep chatting, ask if they’re on Facebook (or whatever method of communication you prefer). Join Facebook groups and, if they have events, attend them. 

    Now, here’s the important part, and this goes for new friendships as well as older ones that you’re maintaining. Mom friends, non-mom friends, whatever, this is the key. When someone says that they want to get together, stop what you’re doing and PULL OUT YOUR CALENDAR. Make a date. Right then. Everyone’s got a calendar in their pocket with smartphones these days. If you don’t make a date, IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN. If you want the friendship to grow beyond whatever weekly meetup it is that you see each other at, you have got to make plans. Don’t just say that you will. DO IT. Make a date. Do what you can to keep it (obviously, we moms have to be very flexible). Or, if you start suggesting dates, and the other person doesn’t respond or brushes you off, take it as a possible sign that they don’t want to get closer. Try again maybe one more time and then move on. Maybe you do make a date and get together, but it’s awkward. You’re too different; conversation doesn’t flow. Whatever. Let it go and try again. 

    You can find fabulous friends, but you have to do the work. And I know that sucks; it can suck even more than dating. Please don’t sit at home alone, going crazy with your child(ren) and thinking that maybe you don’t even deserve friends. Someone else out there is just as lonely as you. I guarantee it. 

    It’s easy to make friends at work and school. You’re stuck together all the time. Outside of those arenas, you gotta work at it. It doesn’t just happen. Even introverts need these connections. So, for your health, try and pretend you’re an extravert, even for a little while. At least until you can make a tribe that respects your introverted ways. This is a literal “fake it ‘til you make it” situation. Fake being more social and outgoing than you are in order to build your friend circle. After that, you can relax more and more with the friends you are meant to keep. Because if you can’t be yourself around your friends, you need new friends. The ones you feel relaxed around, that you can share secrets with and vent with, keep them in your close circle. Let the others fall away a bit. Introduce your friends to each other to let the connections grow stronger (hopefully!). 

    You deserve friends. You deserve GOOD friends who respect you, support you, and accept you for who you are.

    We all need support. So, support yourself by making these connections and making dates. You can do it! 

    Can’t Make This Up

    Guess what we did in Zumba tonight? (A class I am attending, not teaching. Well, sometimes I lead a song. The message here is that I am not in charge.)

    We got in a big circle to dance. 

    Of course! But it was actually pretty fun. So, maybe I will loosen up on circle dancing. 

    Circle Around

    I love to dance. I mean, that’s a good thing, since I’m going to be teaching Zumba, right? I took about three years of ballet when I was little (age 6-9, I would guess) and watched my VHS of The Nutcracker Motion Picture so many times that any strain of music from that ballet makes my brothers’ eyeballs twitch. It’s lucky that I married a man who loves the Nutcracker as much as I do!

    But there are some pretty unhappy memories around dance that are floating around in my brain as well. I find them coming back to haunt me as I ponder what it will be like to step in front a Zumba class, face them, and expect them to follow me. And oddly enough, almost all of those bad memories associated with dance have to do with circles.

    So, sorry to any Greek readers who enjoy circle dancing, but I just don’t like it: in contra dancing, when dancing The Chicken, the Hokey Pokey. Dancing in circles is not my jam. Let me tell you why I think that is.

    I believe I was turning six when I invited a bunch of friends to our house for a party. I was so excited leading up to this event, because I planned to get everyone to dance. Since my mother is from Ireland, I listened to a lot of Irish music growing up (Clancy Brothers and the like). And, though I wasn’t trained in Irish dancing, I loved to dance around and around to it. So, I just naturally figured that everyone else would want to, too. Didn’t all American families listen to Irish music all the time?

    I had a whole routine choreographed for a group in my head. And it started with everyone galloping in — can you guess? — a circle. So I started the music, and everyone sat around as I went in a circle and tried to get them to do the same.

    Yeah, it didn’t go well. I really don’t remember who was at this party. Were they friends from first grade? Holdovers from kindergarten? Neighborhood kids? Friends of my brothers? It’s probably better that I don’t remember exactly. Because not only did no one follow me, they laughed, and they tripped me. I got up a couple of times and kept going until my mom stopped the music and moved us along to something else.

    Unsurprisingly, I don’t really remember much else about that party. The year after, I tried to put together my own production of the Nutcracker, complete with hand-colored invitations, but no one came to my house to rehearse. Don’t worry; I did eventually launch two stellar basement productions: the Phantom of the Opera and Aladdin in the following years. Thankfully, there’s only video evidence of one. 

    Another source of embarrassment came in junior high, that era of sheer torture for all teens. I was at a school dance with a guy I was dating. It was a horrible time. He spent a lot of the dance pining over this girl he had dated previously, while I was hounded by this ridiculously hot popular guy trying to pretend that he liked me. And my boyfriend fell for it! It was one of those schemes cooked up by popular kids to humiliate an unpopular kid like me: make the girl think the cute guy likes her and laugh when she falls for it. I had evidently seen enough TV and movies to see right through it, much to their shock. “You’re breakin’ my heart!” Jim cried dramatically as his friends laughed. Boy, did the movie Carrie resonate with me when I finally saw it years later! 

     When I told my boyfriend I wanted to dance, he actually said I should go dance with Jim! “He really likes you.”

    Are you fucking serious? Yeah, one of the most popular guys in the grade above likes the girl whose name he didn’t even know before tonight who has glasses and sings in the chorus during school mass (Catholic school … yaaaay). In fact, I doubt Jim even remembered my name AFTER that night. He never spoke to me again. But no, my boyfriend was totally falling for it. Somehow, by the end of the night, I finally convinced him to slow dance with me to Janet Jackson’s “Again.” But he was nervous and didn’t want to dance next to all of the other happy couples, so we danced a little bit away from them.

    That was a mistake. The same crowd that had been trying to pair me off with Jim came and formed a circle around us, dancing around and laughing. I told my boyfriend to ignore them and, to his credit, he stuck it out until the song was over.

    That was my first slow dance with a boy, by the way. Hijacked by a bunch of idiots dancing in a circle. This scene was unintentionally reenacted by my friends a few years later in high school. It was another school dance with another boyfriend, and my friends somehow thought it would be hilarious to dance in a circle around us.

    Yeah, that time I didn’t stay quiet.

     So, it’s good thing that Zumba almost never involves dancing in a big circle; I’ve never seen it done, at least. But to circle back around to the point (ha!), remembering that first party with the Irish dancing has been haunting me. What if I lead a class, and no one follows me? I’m going to be facing them, so I will see their reactions immediately. What if they all just get up and leave? What if they demand a refund? 

    None of those fears are rational, as the situations are so different. But anxiety and insecurity are seldom rational. I continue moving forward, picking songs, memorizing choreography, making some of own, and learning to cue it. I have people who are excited to take class with me, who are encouraging me. People who will hand me money to guide them through a workout. They want to be there, for the express purpose of dancing their cares away. I think I can give them that. I will try my best. It’s got to be easier than a bunch of six-year-olds, right? 

    Think they’d mind if I played the Clancy Brothers?