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Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me About the Loneliness of Motherhood?

My husband walked in on me yelling at the kids tonight.

Caitlin COVID-19He was hauling bags of groceries through the entryway right at the moment that I lost my cool. They hadn’t gone to the dinner table when I asked—naturally. 

They had also been bickering, the baby had thrown all his food on the floor, the fire alarm had gone off in the middle of cooking, and I tripped over piles of stuff in the garage trying to reset the control panel. Minutes before, I had found wax wrappings from a cheese snack smashed into the expensive rug and watched my kids literally step over piles of their stuff placed neatly on the stairs to be put away. I had lost count of the number of times I placed shoes back on the rack, peeled coats and winter gear off the floor, tidied toys, and shut the front door that’s inexplicably open every time I turn around.

It was nothing more than the usual, really.

But by the time I yelled, I was exhausted. And when he walked in to find me at my absolute worst, all I wanted was to explain myself, to detail everything that had gone wrong. Not because he would otherwise blame me or be upset. Because I didn’t want to be alone in my frustration. I needed to share the burden with someone who would understand.

In the end, though, I didn’t. For one thing, it would’ve sounded petty and ridiculous. For another, well, I’m sure he caught at least some of it mumbled under my breath as the kids finally hightailed it to the dinner table. 

Still, I left things unsaid because I didn’t know how to convey all that happened without trivializing my heated emotions. 

Even though he had experienced it all, too—hundreds of times before!

Even though it was nothing particularly catastrophic.

Even though parenthood is a daily minefield of stress.

I felt lonely at that moment, stewing in my anger. And it was not the first time. I have felt lonely many other times in my journey as a mother. I was prepared for a lot before it started. But this? It wasn’t quite on my radar – not in this way, at least.

I don’t feel lonely at the thought of missing out. Frankly, I’m too tired to care. And I don’t feel lonely in the conventional sense, either. I’m surrounded by wonderful people every day. 

No, it’s deeper than that.

Motherhood is both intensely personal and completely universal. It has been experienced from the dawn of humanity and will continue long after we’re gone. But despite the sheer ubiquity of it, not a single person has ever experienced it exactly the same way as you. 

That’s a little overwhelming. And yes, a little isolating. 

We all come to motherhood on a myriad of paths. Some face obstacles from the get-go: infertility, miscarriage, unexpected diagnoses, painful pregnancies. Some never get to take more than a step or two along the way. Some run along without difficulty while others struggle to keep moving forward. 

We are all mothers with no unified concept of motherhood.

woman standing aloneIt can make us feel adrift – wondering what we’re doing wrong and wondering whether we’re the only ones questioning what we’re doing wrong.

And though, logically, we can usually parse out an answer, they don’t always come easily. 

There’s the loneliness in the dark of night, feeding the baby while the world around you sleeps. It’s in the slow decay of friendships you haven’t the strength to nurture. It’s there when you silently curse your partner for never taking the initiative to fill out school registration forms or knowing where the vaccine records are or planning the Halloween costumes. 

The loneliness can weigh heavily as friends coo over milestones your child has yet to reach. It’s in the guilt and the stress and the anxiety and, yes, the yelling. It finds you in the depths of sleep deprivation and the cursing of an unrecognizable body.

It’s glares up at you from that empty resume, sits atop your chest inside a cluttered cubicle, eats away at you while driving on autopilot to one of the million activities each week holds. 

It’s ever-present—maybe the single most unifying aspect of motherhood itself. We’re all a little lonely, even though we’re almost never alone.

I just wish I had known. I wish I had been prepared for the loneliness of motherhood.

Maybe then I could detail the laundry list of grievances from which my latest rant resulted without feeling tongue-tied. Because even though my brain knows everybody loses their cool sometimes, my heart retreats to that pit of loneliness, wondering whether I’m the only one struggling. 

In the end, I think the best we can hope for is to lean on one another and take the good with the bad. All I know for sure is that my kids aren’t the only ones who throw snack wrappers on the ground and leave the front door wide open. So while our experiences may not be carbon-copies, they at least share commonalities. And there’s comfort in that. 

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