The Loneliness of Motherhood

Motherhood can be singularly isolating. Sure, there are play groups, play dates, church, preschool and gymnastic classes. But conversation with other mothers is so often reduced to whatever chatter prevails over the noisy din of children at play – and that ain’t much. So much of what we say or want to say gets interrupted, paused, forgotten – as we pretend to joyously partake of plastic vegetables, sip air out of cracked tea cups, facilitate snack time and encourage sharing, then stuff cranky children in car seats, exchanging hasty plans for our next get-together as we pull away. I’ve yelled more things out a car window these days than I care to admit.

Gone are the days of long, penetrating conversations while slowly sipping lattes. Gone are the questions like “What is my purpose in this world?” “What is going on in your life?” “How are you…really?” I miss it…some days I miss it desperately.

Today, much of my deeper dialogue with friends must occur over the phone, because we can clean or prep dinner while we talk. Multitasking diminishes some of the guilt brought on by trying to fill one’s own relational needs. Yet, phone conversations are still wrought with frequent interruptions as we take turns responding to needy children (made instantly needier by the mere fact we are on the phone).

I enjoy all the opportunities to mix and mingle motherhood provides. And I am thankful for this season of my life. The community of moms is vast, varied, interesting and held together by the strand of procreation and the act of raising children into responsible adults (an altogether complex undertaking made up of a million simpler, sometimes nearly mind-numbing, tasks).

There are days, in the center of some conversation about meal preparation or sleep schedules, I’ve suddenly had enough. I don’t want to discuss the best sippy cups on the market or what Johnny had for lunch that gave him loose stool. I want an uninterrupted exchange of ideas and thoughts and feelings that has absolutely NOTHING to do with breastfeeding, potty training or how to make gluten-free granola. Other days, we are stuck at home due to weather or illness. I am pouring over dishes when I’d rather be pouring my heart out over that latte…with no time limit and no other things on my to-do list. I feel lonelier than usual.

But relationships are not simply about what we get out of them. Relationships are what we give. The mommy dialogue, the one where we exchange recipes and ideas, is necessary and helpful. I would be foolish in overlooking the benefits of community with such amazing and incredibly diverse women. It’s good to talk about finger foods and pregnant celebrities. It’s also good to build and nurture relationships that feed deeper parts of ourselves that still exist, despite the repetitive nature of our present everyday lives. We honor this need by first acknowledging it and then by fostering close, authentic relationships with other women — not just with women we’ve always known, but with new friends. We cultivate these friendships by looking past the busy, self-sufficient veneer and asking the harder questions…and by setting the example through our own authenticity. I can be the first to offer the truth about myself – that I don’t have it all together, that I sometimes miss the things I used to do. Or I can share what I am passionate about beyond the four corners of my child’s universe.

Prayer helps. When we lift our hearts to God, we surrender our loneliness and embrace communion with our Creator. And we can pray for friends who will challenge us in new ways. Several times now, I’ve had a chance-meeting with another mother who I liked so much that I yearned for her friendship. But I wasn’t sure I would ever see her again. Then, within a day or two, I did see her again in the most unexpected place. Whenever this happens, God’s love for me overwhelms my heart. He knows my intense need for special friendships, because He created me. This small act of “coincidence” is His love letter to me. “Jessica, I know you. I love you. I’m on it.”

Reading His Word also helps to provide spiritual and intellectual food when we feel starved for deeper meaning. Scripture reminds me of the bigger picture and emboldens me to reach outside my comfort zone. Chances are, there are other mothers who feel like I do. Maybe I can minister to them in their loneliness. Every person we meet, after all, is an opportunity to see God at a different angle. When we begin to see everyone this way, there is no opportunity, no conversation too small. And our focus is no longer on our own loneliness anymore.

In this season of busy chaos, we will sometimes still feel alone. But God knows. He cares. And He’s on it. In the meantime, keep having interrupted conversations over the din of noisy children. Some day, we will miss that too.