Parents are feeling lonely. Here’s why it matters

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Despite working full time in human relations and caring for her son Chase, 6, and daughter Millie, 3, Anne Helmes often feels isolated and alone.

Lindsay Hutchinson

Anne Helmes is pictured with her son Chase (right) and daughter Millie (left).

“I work from home and when I have video conferences or calls with our colleagues, it is very focused on the subject in question. I don’t have a lot of personal interactions like, “How are you?” ” How is your family ?’ said Helmes, 36, who lives in Powell, Ohio.

“There are obvious advantages to working from home: it allows me to avoid a commute that takes away time with my children and my husband in the evening,” she said. “But there are days when my most personal conversation is with my dog.”

Many parents today find being a parent a challenge to their ability to connect with other adults, according to a new national survey released Wednesday by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

In fact, 66% of the 1,005 parents surveyed felt that the demands of parenting sometimes or frequently left them isolated and alone, while almost 40% felt like they had no one to support them in their parenting role.

“I’m a mother of four,” said Kate Gawlik, an associate clinical professor at the Ohio State University College of Nursing in Columbus, who conducted the research.

“My life is incredibly busy,” she said. “Staying busy, however, does not replace the need for friendship and more intimate conversations with others who share your interests.”

About 62% of participants Respondents felt exhausted by their responsibilities as parents. This makes sense because isolation and loneliness go hand-in-hand with burnout, said Kacey Cardwell, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Atlanta. and clinical researcher for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

“When parents feel alone and isolated, it tells me that their adult needs are not being met because they are giving everything they can to their child. It’s a recipe for burnout,” said Cardwell, who was not involved in the research.

By definition, burnout is an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion, Gawlik said.

“Burnout is nothing new for parents, but I think the pandemic has taken it to a whole new level,” she added. “We were expected to be these super humans who worked and homeschooled our kids nonstop. »

Helmes was pregnant with her daughter when the pandemic hit. It didn’t take long before her husband was furloughed and they lost her son’s daycare.

“We had to be frugal,” she said. “And because I was pregnant during the pandemic, I had to be very careful about my exposure and was quite limited in my interactions with others. »

Justin Paget/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Don’t let burnout set in, experts say. Ask for help.

Like many other parents, Helmes worked in an office before the pandemic and was used to the social interactions that often came with the territory.

“I would see people in a break room, walking down the hall, between meetings, after meetings, and I would grab them and start talking about what’s going on in our lives,” she said.

Even that hasn’t overcome the isolation that parenting can sometimes bring, Helmes said, especially when her children go through age-appropriate challenges that baffle her and her husband.

“My husband is great, but I really needed to hear from another mom,” she said. “My best friend’s children were much older and I didn’t know anyone with children the same age as mine.

“It’s easy to feel alone, like you’re alone in something. »

According to the survey, nearly 4 in 5 parents would appreciate a way to connect with other parents outside of work and home. However, even then, many parents do not want to admit their feelings of isolation and loneliness, for fear of appearing as if they do not care about their children.

Don’t think that way, Gawlik stressed.

“We’ve all had the experience of being in a room full of people without communicating with any of them and feeling alone, right? she says. “It’s the same with parenting. You certainly build a bond with your children, but it is a parent-child bond, not a friend-to-friend, family-to-family, or spouse-to-spouse bond.

Networking with other parents is a priority for parents who feel isolated and burned out, Cardwell said.

“I always suggest looking for connections in your immediate community, with people who live near you,” she said. “You could find a walking buddy, DIY buddies, carpooling and child care in your own neighborhood.

“After that, you can try community organizations, parent organizations, school associations, churches or synagogues,” she added.

Social media groups aren’t enough, Cardwell said.

“It’s one-dimensional. social commitment,” she said. “It doesn’t replace talking to a person one-on-one, like when you’re with a group of mothers, for example with babies and toddlers who are all the same age. All children experience similar things and moms can share and get support.

Helmes joined a positive parenting group led by Gawlik and credits him with renewed energy as a parent.

“It made me feel a lot less alone,” she said. “When a parent shared, I would nod and say ‘Yeah, it’s the same here, I’ve been through that’ or ‘Yes, I’m experiencing that right now.’ And it was so rewarding.

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