If you’re a mother, you’re surrounded by others who have much in common with you. We mothers know about dog throw up, dirty diapers, angry teenagers, homework stress, work stress, marital stress, wrinkles and sags. We know about money problems, health problems, problems finding the right job, the right friends. We know about fatigue, fear of forgetting, fear of failing. We mothers know. We stand at soccer practice, on playgrounds, in churches at school assemblies.
But still, too often we mothers, standing right next to each other— we feel alone.
When I became a mother, I thought I was folded in the arms of heaven for three weeks. I was the mom who had the out-of-belly birth experience. As I lay on the operating table, surrounding by supportive doctors and nurses, something spectacular happened. A brand new soul, wrapped in bones and skin, was handed to me to hold, to care for, and I became a mom. It was magnificent. I felt that he and I (and we) are most certainly not alone.
But still, so many of us mothers, so many days, we feel alone.
When my baby had open-heart surgery at three weeks of age, my heavenly experience ended. But back then I found myself surrounded by caring mothers. The nurses, doctors, the friends and relatives who were moms— they showed up. They could see clearly that my family and baby needed them. His wound was deep, running down the center of his chest, his tubes trailed to machines with sirens, making it was impossible to miss his and our pain. So the meals, the prayer cards, the hospital visits, the emails and the kind words all flowed in. And I did not feel alone.
But it was later when my oldest child developed challenges less explainable, or even visible at times, that I discovered motherhood loneliness. I saw moms on the playground, in playgroups and moms in the stores. They had showered, they wore cool clothes, and formed complete sentences, they drank lattes at the park. They breathed. Meanwhile I panted by chasing my growing toddler. He never stopped running, talking, pushing, throwing, fleeing, chewing and kicking. He never stopped.
My first therapist explained, “People with children like this don’t go to those places. That’s why you don’t see them. That’s why you feel so different!” I now wonder— where were those other moms? Were they at home— alone?
When I showed up places, people often cleared away, other kids acted afraid— I acted afraid. I trailed behind my extremely loud child searching for a sign that he was going to do something like run in front of a swing or pick up a stroller and hurl it. My body twitched constantly, anticipating his next move.
“Not that. Wait! Put that down. Don’t throw sand, wood chips. Use your words.” I also tried my best to point out the positive to him (and to myself.) “Yes! Nice throw!” I would watch another toy sail across the playground. At least it didn’t hit anyone.
Preschools kicked him out. Gym daycare wouldn’t take him. Babysitters refused to help. Some mothers rolled their eyes, but most would simply turn and look the other way.
And I felt so alone.
As my oldest boy grew, and I had two more children in tow, my isolation expanded. There were the moms at the Catholic school who dressed in high heels, chattering about play dates and parties. They stood in little circles blocking traffic. They crowded the school entrance while my son fell apart, day after day, waiting in the car line. I would finally get out, frazzled, tangled, tired as I tried to help him inside.
He wasn’t allowed to stay for more than a couple of hours at school. He couldn’t play on the soccer team or go on field trips or join the kids when a writer visited to share his book. Each year I tried to hide my tears when I watched the slide shows at the school parent meetings and dinners. Moms and dads sat near bye clapping and whooping for their kids in cute costumes, in plays, in choirs. My son wasn’t there. And I felt alone.
Eventually the weight of our struggle became too great. I had to change. I stopped going to the restaurants, stores and parks that didn’t work for my child; I removed him from the schools that were hurting him; I pulled my attention away from the parents who were unkind— I even changed our church. I sought out the people who could open their arms, many struggling themselves, and I began to feel less alone.
But perhaps most importantly, I found my people and my voice through my pen. I began to write and share and speak about our struggles. I started support groups, and I began to advocate.
“I don’t buy it.” Stacey, a mother and aspiring writer, wrote to me recently. “I like your writing, but I don’t buy your story.” Her words hurt, but she also reminded me why I had become so lonely before my writing, why I write at all. At times, we mothers refuse to accept that each one of us has a unique story— a story worth sharing. If we haven’t embraced and been honest about our own feelings and experiences, then sometimes we try to minimize others’. We blame. We build walls. And this is where our isolation begins.
Now, on most days, I do not feel alone; but too often I hear from other mothers who do. They need resources, community, acceptance, and kindness. They need moms to slow down, to withdraw judgment, to send the text, make the phone call, to notice the space where that one mom isn’t sitting, where that mom’s daughter wasn’t included. They need us, mothers, to open our doors, to invite one another in, to share kind words.
Mothers, we are not alone. There are millions of us. And so we need to work harder to find our voices, to look outside of our tiny worlds, and to pull each other in, surrounding our children in the enormous, loving bond of motherhood.
We are not alone.