Fostering friendships outside of family life

Even the most organised person can never be prepared for the true reality of having children. You may have gleaned all of the parenting books and learned about how your words, actions and ideals can influence a child’s upbringing, but you never considered the effects of parenting on you.

“Having children enlarges our lives in loads of unimaginable ways. But it also disrupts our autonomy in ways we couldn’t have imagined, whether it is in our work, our leisure or the banal routines of our day to day lives,”

– says Jennifer Senior in her book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.

This life shift isn’t solely for the early years. Once you have kids, you’re in it for the long haul! When friends and family are no longer showering you with the attention that comes with a new-born, your child remains the centre of your world.

When we have children of our own, we are forced to prioritise what’s important. Naturally, their needs tend to come first and unless we are consciously tending to them, ours tend to suffer as a result. One of the needs that falls by the wayside quite quickly is our social life. Nights out with friends and coffee dates become a distant memory as we learn juggle school runs, homework and packed lunches instead.

You may not even notice it happening but over time, this lack of a social life can become quite isolating and lonely. But how can I be lonely? you wonder, considering you never have a moment to yourself. Even your trips to the bathroom can become social affairs once you have a child! Well, wonderful as time spent with children is, it can never take the place of valuable friendships with other adults.

If you are feeling lonely as a busy parent, it’s important to know that you are not alone. Indeed, a survey of 2,000 parents conducted by UK organisation Action for Children found that 52 per cent were suffering from loneliness, with one-fifth saying they had felt lonely in the past week. Replicate this study in most other places and you’re sure to be met with similar results.

Yet, just because it is quite normal to feel loneliness in parenthood doesn’t mean you should settle for it. You can find a way to balance your duties as a parent with a healthy social life if you want to. All it takes is the desire and some advance planning.

Not only is having a social life while raising children possible, it’s a necessity. In his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, UCLA Professor Matthew Lieberman argues that social connection is a basic human need just like food, water and shelter.

“Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion… It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.”

There are plenty of other experts who agree. What’s more, sustained loneliness can have an impact on physical and mental health and is increasingly considered a hazard comparable to obesity and smoking.

Perhaps you feel guilty for spending a bit of time away from your kids? No need. In fact, being a social parent can actually be good for your children. In her book The Balanced Mom: Raising Your Kids Without Losing Your Self, Bria Simpson delves into this idea a bit further.

“If your children are your greatest priority…know that they benefit from seeing you as a whole person.”

“By observing you value yourself, they will learn to respect themselves too.”

If you have put your social life on hold while raising children, it’s never too late to reclaim it. Sure, it may not be as wild as your younger years and you may need to seek out some new companions but that won’t be a problem. Remember, there are plenty of other parents out there like you who crave social connection.