One of the most unexpected things about motherhood, for me, has been just how lonely it can seem.
Sitting with a baby at my breast, rocking her in the stillness of the night? Lonely.
Fixing sandwiches at lunchtime, one no crust, one cut into triangles, one absolutely certain to be left untouched? Lonely.
Sorting laundry into four endless piles—colors, whites, darks, delicates—while baskets of folded, already-washed-but-rarely-put-away clothes and socks mock me from the perimeter? Lonely.
Rubbing elbows with my husband as we do the long-ago-memorized dance of loading the dishwasher, wiping faces and bottoms, brokering peace between siblings, sinking into the couch exhausted at the end of another day? Lonely.
Organizing, executing, and documenting activities, birthday parties, Christmases, gatherings? Lonely.
But where is it written that admitting we feel lonely sometimes means we are unhappy?
Newsflash: the two don’t have to go hand-in-hand.
Saying I feel lonely doesn’t mean I’m broken.
Saying I’m lonely doesn’t mean I’m a terrible mother.
Saying I’m lonely doesn’t mean I’m a horrible wife or a lousy friend.
It means I’m human. It means I’m probably just like you.
You know what’s even more lonely than feeling lonely? Being afraid to admit it, even to yourself. That’s the loneliest kind of lonely there is.
Because something else I’ve learned about motherhood is we constantly place these outrageously high expectations on ourselves to be all things to all people. Somehow, we’ve come to believe everyone else is doing it all as easily as breathing, so if we find ourselves feeling like we’re gasping for air, we have to fake it.
We’re supposed to keep a tidy house, because how hard can that be?
We’re supposed to find time for date-nights on the regular, space for romance and connection with our spouses because how hard can that be?
We’re supposed to get the kids to school, practice, bed on time, because how hard can that be?
We’re supposed to practice self-care (whatever that means) because how hard can that be?
We’re supposed to giggle with girlfriends while we sip wine and bond because how hard can that be?
We’re supposed to do it all because one scroll through Facebook or Instagram tells me everyone else is doing it all—how hard can it be?
Guess what? It’s impossibly hard. And no one else is doing it effortlessly.
I have hurried conversations with friends about it sometimes—friends who nervously admit, sometimes only with their eyes, that yeah, they’re a little bit lonely, too.
“We’re so busy,” one of us will say to the other while our kids run amok in the periphery. What we really mean, what that’s code for in mom-speak, is, “I’m lonely.”
But we’re afraid. We’re afraid if we say it, we’ll be judged. Labeled as unhappy, maybe even depressed. Not enough.
Well, lean in close, my friend, because here’s the important part: you’re allowed to be lonely and happy at the same time.
You’re allowed to grab quick moments with your girlfriends in the aisles of Target and call it bonding, let it buoy your worn out spirits for days, maybe weeks.
You’re allowed to pop in headphones while the kids eat Cheetos on the couch and call it self-care, feel recharged and recentered.
You’re allowed to let everyone sleep in some mornings because you just can’t face the morning hustle quite yet.
You’re allowed to sit on opposite ends of the couch from your husband, absorbed in This Is Us while he scrolls through ESPN on his phone and not worry romance is dead.
You’re allowed to let the mess wait until tomorrow, call in reinforcements to help you manage it if suits you, and call it a success.
Motherhood is busy and crazy and overwhelming and so much.
Yes, it can be lonely.
Yes, it can still be happy.
For me, knowing that—granting myself permission to live confidently and openly in the balance—gives this mother a whole lot more unexpected peace.