One of the things I hear all the time from new mothers in Canberra is how isolated they feel. They didn’t realise that motherhood would be so lonely.
And maybe you can relate to this, if you’ve just had a new baby, and you’re really struggling to keep in touch with your old friends. Logistically it’s hard. It often just feels like too much effort, and you might even feel like it’s a chore. But, at the same time, you’re not really sure how to get out there and meet new people. It can feel really intimidating, or just too hard. And you might even be thinking, “What’s wrong with me?”
Or maybe you’re pregnant, and you haven’t had your baby yet, and you’re starting to feel a little bit worried about how your social circles will look after you have the baby.
I have a really simple and easy strategy that I want to share with you, that will hopefully help you to overcome some of that maternal isolation.
I was talking with a friend of mine the other day, and she told me about some social research that has actually been around for, I think she said, since the 1950s. So it’s quite well established. I had never heard of it, and it just gave me a little bit of a new framework for thinking about how we make friendships, and specifically how we make friendships as new mothers. So I want to share that research with you, and then tell you about a very easy strategy that you can use, to start to form closer connections in your life, and hopefully feel really good about your friendships.
How friendships work
So what these sociologists discovered, in their research – they were researching how people actually form friends, so how do close friendships actually work. And what they discovered is that there are three sort of criteria, or elements that are required, for close friendships to form.
The first one is proximity. So you have to live close to someone, you have to be geographically close to them. Maybe you can walk, or it’s just a short drive away.
2. Unplanned, regular interactions
The second one is the one that really blew my mind. It’s unplanned, regular interactions. So I think the best way for me to explain this, is – if you remember back in high school, or university, or maybe a job that you had – the way that your friendships formed were very organic, very natural. You didn’t really have to put a lot of effort into them.
That’s what we mean when we’re talking about unplanned, regular interactions. So it might be something like, you get to know someone because you’re in the same class as them, and you gradually see them once a week for many months, that’s how that friendship grows. Or maybe you’re going out after work with your co-workers, and it’s kind of a regular thing, you don’t really need to plan it or invite anyone along. It’s just happening.
So in those types of interactions, it’s regular, because it’s happening weekly, fortnightly, monthly, and it’s unplanned, because you’re basically outsourcing the planning of it. Someone’s planning it, but it’s just not you! So that part’s really, really important.
3. Safe space
And then the third element for forming close friendships is safe space. So you have to be in a space where you feel comfortable just to be yourself. You don’t have to put on a mask. You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not, just to fit in. If someone says something that you don’t agree with, you’re confident to speak up and say, “hey, actually I have another perspective.”
So those are the three criteria that my friend Bonnie told me about, that social researchers are saying are necessary for close friendships to form.
Now I’ll recap them – so we had proximity, we had unplanned, recurring interactions, and then we have safe space.
A simple strategy to overcome maternal isolation
So now I want to tell you about a really simple strategy that you can use, with those three things in mind, to take a little bit of the stress off yourself. So that you’re not putting so much effort into trying to maintain your old friendships – and maybe being a little bit down on yourself, and maybe blaming yourself for the loneliness and isolation that you might be experiencing.
And the strategy is very simple. It’s simply: put yourself into situations that meet those three criteria.
So look for somewhere – it might be a recurring event, or a group meet-up – it needs to be near to you, so you can walk there, you can drive there. It’s something that someone else is planning, but it happens regularly. So that might be a book club, an art journaling group, a yoga class, a women’s circle. If you’ve got a special interest or a hobby, that you’ve had a hard time finding the time and energy for, maybe it’s some kind of group centred around that special interest. It might be a walking group or an exercise group.
Think about what appeals to you, and look for some things like that. Actually, underneath the video, I’ll post a whole list of things that I know about, that happen in Canberra, that will hopefully give you some ideas, or you might want to go along to. If you’re not in Canberra, have a look at the list; it might give you some ideas for things to seek out in your area.
Now if you’re not really a sort of groups person, or classes person, this might seem like a little bit of a contrived way to make friends. But as a new mother, you do have to approach friendship a little bit differently.
And then remember, of course, the third element: make sure that it’s a safe space for you.
So if exercise feels intimidating to you, don’t go to an exercise class! Do something that you know you’ll feel comfortable with. If you’re comfortable in groups of 4, 5, 6 people…don’t do something that’s a larger group, where you might feel even worse after doing it.
Have a look, have a little play with that idea. Maybe don’t put so much energy into your one-on-one interactions and trying to catch up with friends. Maybe invite them along to do something that’s a regular interaction with you, or, if you’re looking to meet new people, go along to some kind of event that happens regularly, and just see what happens. Just see how those friendships start to organically form.
This might seem like we do have to put a little bit more effort into starting new friendships and maintaining friendships, as a new mother, or as a pregnant woman. It does take a little bit more effort in the beginning. But the good news is, that the friendships that do form, often become very very close ones. So this might be the start of a village of support that might last you a lifetime.
What do you think?
That’s all from me. I hope that this has been helpful for you. And I would love to hear your thoughts.
Have you been struggling with feeling isolated and lonely as a new mother? Or are you pregnant, are you worried about what’s going to happen after you’ve had your baby?
Or maybe you have some really great social circles, and you’re not struggling with being lonely at all! I would love to hear if you have any tips that you’d like to share with other new mothers.
If I haven’t met you before, I would love to see you at one of my events, which you can learn more about at peacefulpostnatal.com.au.
Some safe spaces in Canberra for nurturing your social connections
My year-long membership program. It’s a women’s circle for new mothers & pregnant women who are ready for transformation and want to feel supported, nurtured and listened to.
MEGA provides all mothers, grandmothers and mothers to be, of all backgrounds with access to free and low cost exercise options. Events are facilitated by volunteer mums and are child friendly. Events take place all over Canberra.
Bella Insch runs these in her beautiful art studio next to Glebe Park. Groups are small and intimate.
- Southside – Yoga for Birth and Beyond with Julia
- Northside – Yoganatal with Vedanta
- Gungahlin – Yoga Mums Fitness with Sharn
A daytime community a cappella choir, run by Bonnie, the friend I mentioned in the video. This takes place at one of Canberra’s best kept secrets, the volunteer-run Cafe L’Amour at North Belconnen Baptist Church Hall in Evatt. The choir sings songs from around the world in a relaxed, supportive environment. Kids and babies tag along with the singers or play in the secure outdoor playground or dedicated indoor playroom. Rehearsals are 11am to 12pm Thursdays during ACT school term.
The ABA was founded by a group of mothers with the aim of helping other mothers and this ‘mother-to-mother’ support is the keystone of the local groups. Whether you are pregnant, fully breastfeeding, partially breastfeeding, expressing or bottle-feeding you will be welcomed. If you follow the link and enter your postcode you can find your local group.
This Northside group provides opportunities for women at home with young children to meet and participate in stimulating and creative activities. There is free on-site childcare. There is also Brindabella Women’s Group on the Southside, which I have no personal experience with, but I’ve heard it’s similar to the Majura group in the format and activities.
You are not alone
These are only a few of the spaces that sprung to mind, but there are heaps of others. Some I haven’t listed because I don’t have personal experience with them or don’t know enough about them. See what resonates with you. In Canberra there are actually so many opportunities to connect with people, but it can be really hard to break free of that loneliness spiral.
So be gentle with yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just in a unique phase of life and you’re learning a whole new way of being in the world. You are not alone.