This was not the post I intended to write. The topic was still loneliness, but it had little to do with my children. Then, like everything, my issue was side-swiped (and eventually enlightened) by one of my children.
The Mom Island-Your trip to Loneliness awaits!
Have you ever been to The Mom Island?
Well, if there was a brochure advertising this destination, it would read,
Your trip to loneliness awaits on the Mom Island!
Want to feel like no one else has even been through what you are facing at this moment? Mom Island is the place for you!
Craving the experience of total isolation? (It’s easier that way!) Then there’s a spot for you.
On The Mom Island, you can be surrounded by a group of people, but feel completely alone!
Mind flights leaving all day long in a limbic system near (heck, inside of!) you.
If you are still confused, let me lay it out there. The Mom Island is that place of loneliness when you feel like no one else is experiencing the same parenting struggle or issue as you. No one can understand what you are dealing with, and no one can help you. I am almost certain these feelings arise outside of the mom realm but when a friend described it to me as “The Mom Island,” it just stuck.
It’s something that is hard to explain, but even harder to experience.
Let me note that I’m not talking about postpartum depression or the baby blues. I’ve had experience with both, and they are terrible, too. The Mom Island is a destination for parents of children a bit older. And it’s not a place people talk about. The above kidding aside, there are not brochures or even information sheets. It’s actually not a place you want to visit at all.
But at some point, I think most moms find themselves in this place. What I didn’t realize is that there was a kid room on the island, too.
Wisdom from a 5 year old
So there I was basking in the not so sunny rays of Mom Island during a recent exhausting, yet typical, day of motherhood. Bickering kids, conflicting schedules, unmet obligations, picky eaters, e-mails from concerned teachers, laundry, fights over hair washing, etc. These are of course things all parents deal with at some point, but as I was bombarded with some extra (unmentioned) challenges that day, I felt very alone. Then suddenly, it was bedtime.
I went through the routine with my kids, and after goodnight kisses returned to bring my youngest a cup of water. He didn’t see me coming, because when I walked in, he was sitting up in bed saying to himself,
“I am a good person. I do good things. People would be lucky to have me as a friend.”
Well if that didn’t do it right there. My typical urge to tell him to lower his voice as to not wake up his twin sister was no where to be found. My eyes welled up, and instead of whispering this affirmation, I wanted him to shout that from the rooftops.
The above noted e-mail from the teacher? It was about the trouble this little guy was having making friends. And how he was feeling very lonely.
First aid for loneliness
Loneliness, the signature special on The Mom Island, makes us afraid to reach out because we are afraid of rejection. It’s pretty much the opposite of the frozen drinks you can get on most tropical islands.
My little guy had been burned by another kindergartner during recess this year, and the felt that no one would ever be his friend again. In my sadness over this as well as some other struggles, I convinced myself I was friendless, too.
As I was sitting with my own loneliness and contemplating my son’s struggle, I came across a Tedtalk recently by psychologist Guy Winch called “Why we all need to practice emotional first aide” (he’s a Brit hence the extra “e”). In the talk, Dr. Winch discusses many interesting things, but the one that struck me the most was that, “loneliness messes with your head and makes you think things that aren’t true.” He also documents data showing that loneliness is as bad for your health as cigarette smoking (wow!)
Dr. Winch’s big takeaway is the grave impact that emotions like loneliness (as well as failure and others) have on our health. He notes society’s tendency to prefer treatment for the body over the mind (no one ever told someone with a broken leg to walk it off). And he explains that we must must treat our psychological wounds.
You can swim ashore.
Dr. Winch suggests that a 2 minute distraction can break rumination on loneliness (e.g. I’m all alone. Now one gets me. No one is feeling the way I feel.) The pause from cycling on the negative emotion weakens its hold on your head space.
I’m suggesting that affirmations like my son’s can be the distraction that breaks this cycle.
What if I adopted my son’s affirmation? If I said to myself, “I am a good person who does good things. People are lucky to have me as a friend.” And, what if I added another affirmation specific to the Mom Island?
“I am not alone. There are people around me who care and who understand what I’m going through. These people have been here before, and want to help me and connect with me.”
For my son it was the feeling that he has no friends. For myself, I can feel surrounded by friends (hey, guys!) but still feel like totally isolated. It is time to break that thought cycle and swim away from the island.
Affirmations are like magic paddles that calm the waves of rumination. It’s very hard to get off that Mom Island if you don’t believe that you will a) are capable of swimming ashore b) that there will be someone there to help you when arrive on land, and c) that you deserve that connection. Affirmations help with those things.
Somehow, my entire existence has become focused on mothering and connecting mothers. My blog, my podcast, and even the group I lead for mothers at the wellness center where I work are centered on this valuable profession. When my kids are asleep I’m likely reading or writing (or both!) about motherhood. About how to be a better parent, about how to protect and nurture myself while growing small people. I have an amazing community of support, but even I feel the pangs of loneliness sometimes.
The Mom Island is not Hotel California. You actually can leave, even if you wind up making repeat visits. And as deserted as the Mom Island might feel, I guarantee and affirm that you are not alone.
And in the throes of loneliness, the thing that might help you swim ashore is a wise kindergartner whose baggage free arrival on the island makes the swim back that much simpler.