Why parenting can be lonely - especially in a pandemic

Parenting can be tough at the best of times but during a pandemic, isolation can lead to chronic loneliness.
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Parenting can be tough at the best of times but during a pandemic, isolation can lead to chronic loneliness, says clinical psychologist Sarb Johal.

"[High rates of loneliness] seem to be quite consistent and there's no real comprehensive review into how or why parents experience this but we can start to patch some things together."

Loneliness can affect mental health and our ability to connect with other people, Johal says.

"Loneliness is when you just don't feel like you've got the social connection that you need with whatever it is that you're trying to do in life."

Even before the pandemic, a British survey found that 80 percent of mums felt lonely some of the time and 40 percent were often or always lonely, he says.

"The evidence that we see start emerging is that, over the course of the pandemic, with all the additional demands and movement restrictions - not being able to connect with friends and family and other parents - that experience of loneliness has probably got worse."

Even with the most supportive partner available, the emotionally draining needs of an infant or small child are significant enough, Johal says, not to mention the demands and anxieties of a pandemic.

"I think [the Covid-19 pandemic is] what's really amplified that sense of loneliness. Even as we exit out of the most restrictive times, when we think about playdates or how it is that we're going to interact with other people, it's difficult because we're being very cautious about symptoms or sniffles with our young children.

"Just when we are pinning our hopes on being able to meet with other people and connect for a chat and reflect upon these experiences with other people, we find ourselves continuing to feel isolated from each other because we need to be safe right now and that's the priority."

Paradoxically, getting very little alone time - due to the demands of a small child or baby - is also a contributing factor to parents' loneliness, Johal says.

"Part of the issue is that you feel disconnected from yourself. That's really key to understand about those earlier years of parenting - you're actually giving up so much of your alone time and so much time that you have to reflect upon yourself because you're giving so much to this relationship. The pandemic means that you feel even more disconnected from yourself than you were before and it can feel quite shocking."