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Parenting: ‘I’m so, so lonely. . . Some mornings I could cry on waking’

Jen Hogan: When it comes to sustaining friendships, we’ve let the chaos of a life that demands so much convince us that important things are not a priority

It’s uncomfortable admitting you’re a bit lonely. And it’s verging on the ridiculous when you’re mother to your very own seven-a-side team.

Loneliness in parenthood is something we tend to associate with the early days of parenthood, when sleep deprivation, non-stop feeding and the need to bring a ridiculous amount of paraphernalia with you for even the briefest of trips anywhere, was enough to convince you it was just far too much effort to leave the house.

But even in a house that’s always chaotically busy, noisy and full of people, there is space to lament the lack of company of people who use your actual name and don’t throw wobblers at the prospect of visiting a shopping centre.

I’ve always been mildly obsessed with my children’s friendships. Not necessarily about who their friends were, but rather that they had friends. It was of far more interest to me than their academic performance or really any other aspect of their education. Knowing that they had pals meant they were more likely to be comfortable and happy in their environment, and that, to me, meant everything.

I imagine I’m on the same page as lots of parents in this regard. Why else would we run ourselves ragged and brave the unpredictable world of play dates if not to foster and support friendships for our beloved offspring? And how, in knowing how important friendships are to our children, and recognising how central they are to their happiness, have we managed to deprioritise friendship and normal human interactions to the point that somebody actually making a phone call, rather than texting, is the subject of so many memes?

Let’s be honest: even a step down from that, the lowly voice note, risks you becoming a social pariah – forever labelled as “yer wan who sends voice notes”. And yes, I am that person, and I’m not even sorry, (even if I do start every voice note with an apology).

But all of it feeds into a narrative of not wanting to disturb people, or impose on their time in any way, bore them with our lives or takes on things beyond minimal words in a text. We’re too busy for calls, voice notes and dealing with people. There is almost a pride in minimal interactions.

Here we are, in the land of a thousand welcomes, which holds the dubious honour, according to a study published in 2023, of being the loneliest country in Europe. Though many things may contribute to our holding of this title, the way our lives are set up, including for parents in contemporary Ireland, most certainly plays a role.

As parents, we sometimes miss the importance of leading by example. The things that were important in childhood are often no less important in adulthood

A recent Mammies and Daddies report conducted for Aldi revealed that 24 per cent of parents say they have no time to spend with their friends, while 67 per cent of parents spend less than 10 per cent of their available time per week socialising with their friends.

It’s not much better when it comes to spending time with partners. Some 63 per cent of parents say they are only able to give 10 per cent of their time per week to spend alone with their partner.

So it didn’t come as much of a surprise to me to discover, when I asked other parents whether they found loneliness a feature of their lives at times, that they did. What did perhaps surprise me was that parents replied in their hundreds to say this was their experience.

“I feel like I’m friendly with lots, but have no friends. No one calls or invites me anywhere, or visits,” one parent replied.

I have “one friend. See her maybe twice a year. Sad,” another described.

“I don’t really have any [friends]. Know a few partners of my husband’s friends and some mums from the sidelines. Get asked on a few nights out a year, but don’t have anyone to text to meet for a coffee. Live in a small town and am a blow-in,” another mother explained.

“Not too many [friends], and the ones I have are always busy or just have their own lives. Chronic rejection hurts,” was the experience of one parent.

“Terrified, when my kids move out, how lonely I’ll be. Parent of a neurodivergent child, so the circle is small,” voiced another.

“So, so lonely,” replied one parent. Another admitted to feeling lonely “every single day. Some mornings I could cry on waking.”

This is just a sample of the many, many replies I received. The thing is, if we were to hear such stories from our children, we’d be on the case trying to resolve the situation, realising how critical this was to their wellbeing.

As parents, we sometimes miss the importance of leading by example. The things that were important in childhood are often no less important in adulthood. We’ve let the chaos of a life that demands so much manage to convince us that important things are not a priority.

A phone call might be a good start.

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