They say it takes a village to raise a child. This saying does not help when you have young babies and no support network or visitors. Now with the Coronavirus isolating the World within the walls of their homes, every family will be able to relate to this isolated situation. There are many Mums who face this even without a nationwide shutdown. It can lead to Mum guilt, depression, anxiety and stress. What can a Mum do to raise her children the best way possible without sacrificing herself? How can she find ways to remain calm when she feels overwhelmed and lonely? Is it important to find social networks and build a support system, and if so, how? This blog post answers these questions and hopes to leave you feeling like a better Mummy by the end of the post.
Why Does The Supporting Village No Longer Exist?
Besides the current exceptional COVID-19 situation, the village to raise a family has generally disappeared in many parts of the world anyway. Grandparents are often at physical distances than their children and grandchildren. Financial pressures can make friendships and family support brief, intermittent or short lived. There is less community spirit in many places due to excessive working hours, lack of funding available or family traditions having vanished through the generations.
Remember, too, that the industrial revolution and the technology internet era has created a generation of parents who did not have the generational wisdom to teach our parents how to use technology with us. Our ancestors were used to saying no to pudding before having some of the main course for dinner, but this message has not been passed down for technology. Kids are being put in front of the TV or game devices without having yet had their ‘main course’, i.e. interactions and connections with their families. The technology has taken over our children’s and our own lives. We feel our kids learn by watching the TV or online rather than spending their time with their families. (Read more on this in Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate’s book).
What does all of this mean? Our support networks are not as available as they were in previous generations. Grandparents are travelling the world, pursuing their own interests, and parents are used to being raised by television and games. Grandparents feel connected to their children’s and grandchildren’s lives enough via social media and so feel less desire to go and do the hard work of helping raise the kids. Why would they need to physically help their kids out when they can do a 10 minute Skype and then go and enjoy a morning walk with friends?
Our society is also rampant with anxiety and stress, which can be debilitating for some people. They may feel unable emotionally to support their local families in raising their children. Anxiety and depression is on the rise in part because of increased childhood traumas being suppressed. In the not-too-distant past our families will have raised their children to express emotions, but since the industrial revolution there became a growth in parenting techniques such as ‘cry it out’ being recommended as good. These sorts of parenting actually told babies not to express their emotions to their parents, as they would not be cared for or supported. The lack of ability to express their sadness or other emotions significantly increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety.
Anxiety and depression, if not recognised or treated, can contribute to a parent harming their children, directly or indirectly, in frustration or anger. This then continues a vicious circle where the child feels unloved and grows up with childhood traumas that may not be expressed suitably. For example, my Mum had several traumatic experiences as a young girl and adult. She had not dealt with them on giving birth to me or my sister. She honestly felt like I did not like her as a tiny baby, that I only smiled at my Dad. I very much doubt that a baby can be born not to like their mother. Maybe a postnatally depressed Mum may feel these vibes, regardless of whether there is any truth to them. She expressed frustration and anger a lot through shouting and smacking.
With the repetitive hurt caused by my Mum’s reactions mounting up in my poor emotional wellbeing, I do not recall an apology about her internal pain being wrongfully aimed at me. She simply did not recognise that her frustrations came from within herself, not from her children’s behaviours. It has raised me with childhood traumas, including the feeling that she does not love me. That is one big trauma to try and deal with. I am no longer in contact with my Mum in an aim to protect my children and myself from the anxiety the relationship causes me. I know that my story is just one of many who feel the same about their parents. Even without going no contact, this sort of question mark about whether their parent loves them, can cause new parents to avoid interaction with the grandparents. The new parents fear the having much contact will harm their own children by allowing the grandparent into their lives much. They would rather face the parenting task alone.
How Can Loneliness and Isolation Contribute to Postnatal Depression and Anxiety?
Even watching SAS: Who Dares Wins on TV last year, whilst rocking two crying newborn babies, I realised it is no wonder that many women get depressed while being stuck at home with a baby or two or three. How many of those physically strong and courageous contestants looked like they were about to lose their minds when they have headphones put on with the constant sound of crying babies. It makes you realise caring for a young baby requires extraordinary stamina for coping with the sound of a crying baby, let alone two or three.
Throw in being lonely and life as a new Mum can feel overwhelming. If you are one of the majority who also spend time on social media pages such as Facebook, you can be made to feel even more lonely by seeing photo after photo of happy families. All these happy family pictures and not one of them includes you or your children. Even if your family does come to visit occasionally, visits can feel few and far between when you’re stuck with a crying baby for hours on end.
For this reason, feeling lonely and isolated can contribute to your feelings of being forgotten, unloved, unwanted and all the other words named in the photo at the top of this blog post. That can lead to you internalising the emotional feelings rather than having a healthy outlet for them, which can lead to depression. I had an amazing friend who was a retired counsellor. He explained depression as being your mind’s way of telling you ‘something has got to change here.’ He said that many people get stuck in depression because they don’t make the changes needed. The depressed mind continues screaming at them that they can’t cope. It can become unbearable.
The unfortunate thing about postnatal depression (PND) is that often you cannot do anything to change a situation without a support network to help you. The depression cycle can deepen and you feel helpless. This is why loneliness and isolated Mum’s can more likely experience PND than those with support. So what can a lonely Mum do to reduce or overcome PND or PNA?
Help Reducing PND / PNA
These suggestions are non-medical and you should seek medical advice in the first instance. I was so isolated and had such little support network, and without a driving licence, I was unable to get medical help for my diagnosed PND. This drove me to find ways to change my life, in the absence of medication or other medical support available.
Join a Social Networking Group
My anxiety was so excessive about coping with 3 babies while going out alone, that I was unable to venture out to meet any fellow Mums. However, simply joining a meet up group and planning some gatherings, helped me feel a bit more connected that I could make friends if I put the effort in. Even though I chickened out last minute on every occasion, I feel it was a good source of possible friendships. Even now with Coronavirus preventing social meetings, it is still a source of friendship until socialising can start again.
Researching Parenting Styles
I reflected on my own upbringing and started researching the psychological impacts it had on me and my mental state. I researched how to be the best parent I could for my children – which introduced me to gentle parenting. I could now focus my mind on positive choices for my children rather than negative reflections on the past.
Research Childhood Trauma
Read books about overcoming childhood trauma and what it is. It helps you not blame your parents for the mistakes they made to you as a child, which lifts a big weight off feeling like any pain you endured was personal. It was not personal. I would personally recommend the following Daniel Siegel book for an introduction to childhood trauma.
I wrote stories and feelings about my children in personalised photo albums. This focused my mind on the positive things happening in our lives.
Local Support Networks
Ask your midwife / health visitor for any local volunteering or help available. In the UK I was offered free support from Home Start and the Children’s Centre. Personally I did not find them very useful, their visits were simply not frequent enough to be of much help. I heard stories of people who had very positive experiences with these offerings so it is always worth a try to see if they suit you. Perhaps I am too fussy on standards of people being in my kids’ lives, which may be why I suffered with PND in the first place.
Ask For Help from Partner
If you’re like me, you suffer with PND in motherhood because you take the whole world on your shoulders. You may feel anxious about asking your partner for help perhaps because they work long hours or you worry how they may cope with the crying baby. Using any support they can offer, and that you feel comfortable with, will help you cope in the short term.
If you can get outdoors safely, it can help calm babies down, as well as burn their energy. It also seems to give you a burst of energy to cope with sleep deprivation more easily.
Try and Work Out What Your Mind Is Telling You
Trying to work out the underlying causes of your depression or anxiety can help you create personalised solutions. I was anxious about people judging me for being a gentle parent. This way of parenting was so new to me that I thought people might think I was being neglectful / lazy. I also worried about breastfeeding in public in case people thought I should do it in private but I could not leave my kids to cry for milk.
When I questioned my reasons for not wanting to go out, I wondered why would it bother me if other parents were understanding of gentle parenting too? I cared about the views people gave if I just listened to my toddler screaming in frustration about leaving the shop, or spoke to her like a human rather than screaming at her to stop being so naughty. I felt like the onlookers were judging me for not responding suitably to my toddler. On understanding childhood trauma I began to understand other people did not matter in the way I parent my children. People also have views if someone shouts and smacks their children in a similar scenario. No parenting is consistent or perfect, but at least if you do what feels right to do to your children your children should be better off in the longterm.
Another common theme of my PND was that I was failing my toddler. I felt she deserved better. I was unable to do much with her at all, just caring for newborn twins but my toddler was only a baby herself. It riddled me with Mum guilt. Soon I realised I had to accept that I was doing my best and that the current situation was only a temporary setup. My daughter still seemed well connected to me and being at home this much was helping her adjust to having a baby brother and sister too. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate’s ‘Hold Onto Your Kids’ book helps with not feeling such guilt as they confirm that children learn best through freedom to follow their own play activities.
Online / Telephone Counselling
It is helpful to talk about emotions and worries with someone independent of your family unit. Telephone / online counselling is available if you feel like you cannot physically go to therapy as you have no support network to look after the kids while you talk to a therapist. This is also a great option now that COVID-19 is preventing people going to counselling sessions.