At a recent kiddie party, as I kept my toddler out of trouble, other moms around me chatted merrily, laughing and swapping stories about their kids. The only mom I knew in attendance was the party host. After 20 minutes, I felt overwhelmed and wanted to leave—immediately. (I ultimately didn’t, but couldn’t shake the anxiety.) Nothing bad happened to me or my child, but I felt very shy, even awkward, for those 2 hours. I worried if I spoke to another mom, she’d judge me. I even pondered whether or not I dressed trendy enough for this kiddie shindig—all the other moms looked so posh. I don’t feel this way very often, but when I do, it’s all-consuming. “Shouldn’t I be a confident adult? I’m a mother! Why do I feel like a gawky pre-teen all of a sudden?” I wondered.
I spoke with experts about “Mom loneliness” and social concerns, and their advice, which is outlined below, was soothing.
Keeping the focus on YOU
“Worrying about being judged is common in first-time moms,” says Madeline Orellana, LCSW-R, at Monefiore’s Comprehensive Family Care Center in Bronx, NY. “They might have family members telling them they are not holding or feeding the baby properly. Family members may criticize breast-feeding habits which could make the new mom feel insecure.”
Adds Orellana: “I help new moms filter out this criticism so they can focus on their own parenting style and what they feel is right for them. I also advocate for physical exercise for the body and mind. I encourage new moms to speak to their providers about the different types of workouts they can do either at a gym or at home.”
Additionally, Orellana tells new moms to ask themselves what is real, and what can be changed. “They learn that they are exactly who they are supposed to be and learn to stop comparing themselves to others. No two mothers can, or should, be exactly alike.”
It’s OK to be emotional and stressed
“Our society believes and promotes the idea that motherhood is a positive, wonderful, and fulfilling experience. There’s a stereotype that every woman has a strong need to be a mother; there’s a maternal drive,” says Dr. A.J. Marsden, an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida. “So when a woman suggests that motherhood has negative side effects; others will see her as not maternal, as a bad mother, as a bad caregiver. To avoid this label, many women refuse to acknowledge any negative emotions, including loneliness. So the first step is to acknowledge and recognize that motherhood includes negative emotions and it is okay to talk about them, especially with your partner.”
According to Dr. Marsden, other ways to combat loneliness include date nights with your partner—where you not only talk about the kids—arrange play dates with other friends that have children, explore your own hobbies, and make time for yourself away from the kids. “Maybe one afternoon a week, you drop the kids off at the babysitters and go to yoga, or take a cooking class, or join a book club. Whatever it is, do it for you.”
Also, when your child naps, consider looking up online mom groups in your neighborhood as a means to meet new people.
Work on that confidence
First, says Dr. Marsden, you need to let that fear of being judged go because “people will always judge you.” To help boost your confidence and feel more assertive, she also advises moms to:
- Be open to advice, but be aware of bad advice. Not everything that people tell you will work for your child.
- Understand that you will make mistakes, but be sure to put your guilt over the mistake “in check,” especially if you felt like you may have done something “wrong” in front of another parent. Stop and analyze the situation (Was what you did really a “bad” thing?)
- Drop overly competitive friends, or at least limit your time with them. “There’s no need to constantly be comparing your kids,” says Dr. Marsden. “Just tell them that your toddler is developing normally and limit your time with that person.”
- Most importantly, be decisive and listen to your intuition. After all, you know your child best.