When my first child was born, it was January. In Iowa. And it was about -20 F. Daylight faded around 4:30 in the afternoon, and the nights seemed to stretch on unrelentingly. In the mornings, I would wake up to more bitter cold and stare at my infant – lovely, perfect, captivating, and also incapable of conversation. We spent long, quiet days together. I was lonely. And even though she was incredible, I remained lonely. The dark and the cold felt so isolating. Some days, my only breath of fresh air was when I opened the front door to get the mail.
Looking back on my early months as a new mother, I wonder why I didn’t go more places or see more people. Yes, it was harder to get out than when it was just me, but somehow, “harder to get out” became paralyzing, and I just sat. Inside.
As I have reflected back on those first months, I can say without equivocation that parenting in isolation can be tiresome, heavy, and oh so lonely. Even as introverted as I am (and I am introverted), the time alone felt oppressive.
I did (and still do) have a partner who was incredibly involved, but he left for work every morning while I stayed at home with our new little bundle of joy.
In my work as a family childcare provider, I felt the same isolation. Long days with a crew of children under age 5 can be exhilarating, joyous, and energetic. But they can also be tedious, tiresome, and exhausting. Without other adults to share the caregiving responsibilities or engage in conversation, it was easy to feel overwhelmed.
But as I grew as a mother and a childcare provider, I began to incorporate an idea into my life that eased those feelings of isolation, and I think this is the single best way to be our best selves with our young ones:
My #1 secret for working well with children is connection with other adults. A spouse, a partner, a colleague, other parents with children close in age to our own, other childcare professionals…other human beings who know what it is like to be in our shoes and who can help relieve some of the burden!
Sounds simple, right? But it takes a fair amount of orchestration to make it happen. Between nap schedules, feeding schedules, diapering, laundry, dinner, and on, it felt impossible to reach beyond my small space.
Here are some ways to find connection:
Invite your best friends in. Usually, it was easier for me to have people over to my house than to try and make it out of the house. I had a very close friends when my children were baby-babies who used to come and sit with me. We cooked lunch together, cleaned the kitchen together, folded my laundry together, and cared for my children together.
Communicate with those in your closest circles. The early years of a child’s life are filled with new events that mean change for a family. The most important way to stay close during that time is to communicate. Those closest to us are easiest to take for granted when we feel overwhelmed. Emotionally supported adults are free to raise emotionally competent children.
Join a group. In Iowa, I served as a peer facilitator to a group of home providers. How amazing to know I wasn’t doing my work alone! There were others like me who lived their days with young children. We vented to each other, shared our successes and struggles, and asked for advice. And we received the kind of non-judgmental support that we needed to do our jobs well.
Other groups to reach out for: book clubs, sports teams, community choirs, or parenting groups. Can’t find one? Try looking for or organizing a meet-up in your area. There are all kinds of online groups for parents or educators to connect to one another. Janet Lansbury has a wonderful online community here.
Form a meal-swap group. I participated in a meal swap group with three families over a three year period. We took turns cooking meals for each other each week. What a joy to reclaim some of the daily time I spent cooking!
Go to community events. Public libraries and community centers regularly host events for children and families.
Ask for help. Feeling stuck and paralyzed can sometimes be normal and can sometimes signify depression or anxiety. I found a counselor who I met with weekly for a few months after my first child was born. The perspective I gained by having someone to process this enormous life change with was invaluable.
What kinds of support do you find significant in your journey?