A mother comparing herself to others on social media

A mother comparing herself to others on social media (Photo by KieferPix on Shutterstock)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — No one ever said being a parent was easy, but many moms and dads may not realize just how lonely raising a child can be. A new national survey finds that a majority of parents nowadays experience isolation, loneliness, and burnout stemming from the demands of parenthood. Importantly, many parents feel like they have no support in their daily lives.

According to the poll conducted by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, two-thirds (66%) of surveyed parents say the demands of parenthood sometimes or frequently make them feel isolated and lonely. A similar percentage feels burned out by their responsibilities as a mom or dad. Meanwhile, close to two in five (38%) don’t feel like they have anyone to lean on for support, and four in five (79%) would love to explore a way to connect with other parents outside of work and home.

“I work from home full time and I actually have a job where I’m on camera a lot and I’m Zoom calling people very often,” says Anne Helms, a mother of two young children in Columbus, Ohio, in a media release. “However, you don’t get the small talk, so you don’t get the, ‘How are your children? How’s it going?’ And you don’t get a lot of genuine answers when you do ask, ‘How is it going?’”

“There are some days where the most chit-chat or idle talk that I get is with my dog because I work alone,” Helms continues.

“It’s pretty obvious that there is a huge difference between a virtual meeting and being in person,” adds Kate Gawlik, DNP, an associate clinical professor at The Ohio State University College of Nursing, a researcher on parental burnout, and a mother of four children. “You miss a lot of those small interactions that you’d have in the hallway. Just a lot more of that personal touch has been eliminated, and in many regards it’s just never been infiltrated back into our society.”

“Even the places that I do try and seek out other parents, it’s kind of like we’re lost in the shuffle because it’s at daycare drop-off or pick-up where everyone just has tunnel vision,” Helms explains. “And I think it’s hard to make friends when you’re feeling vulnerable.”

Prof. Gawlik points to the ancillary negative impacts of loneliness.

Loneliness has been shown to affect both your physical and mental health,” Gawlik explains. “So anything from cardiovascular disease to depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, even your immune system can be affected when you’re lonely. In fact, one study showed if you are in social isolation for a prolonged amount of time, it’s equivalent to smoking about 15 cigarettes a day.”

Stressed, sad middle-aged woman alone
(© Paolese – stock.adobe.com)

With the realities of parental isolation, loneliness, and burnout in mind, Prof. Gawlik developed a six-week parenting program intended to bring parents together to be vulnerable, commiserate about challenges they’re facing, and find support. This is where Helms realized she wasn’t alone.

“I think the biggest thing is she validated that if you’re working and you have children and you’re a conscientious parent, it would be wild if you weren’t burned out,” Helms continues. “So I felt very validated when she said, “It’s okay that you’re here.’”

Prof. Gawlik stresses the need for self-care, as well as the value of connection.

“To have somebody that you can relate to and that feeling of connection that somebody else is dealing with what you are dealing with can be so powerful when it comes to combating feelings of loneliness,” Gawlik notes.

“I think it equips us to create better futures for our children; I think it makes us healthier,” Helms says. “I think that the ripple effect from connecting with other parents and getting support when you need it is immeasurable. It makes you a better employee. It makes you a better spouse, parent, friend. I think that it just enriches our lives … just like parenting does, but it just makes you level up.”

For any lonely parents out there, Prof. Gawlik recommends performing an online search for parent groups in the local community, whether they’re hosted at community centers or through your employer. Moms and dads can also search for playgroups, book clubs, and recreational sports leagues or initiate conversations with parents about scheduling playdates with their kids’ friends from childcare.

Parenting can feel very lonely at times, but it will be easier if you have people around who can support you,” Prof. Gawlik concludes. “It can be hard to start seeking out connections because, to some degree, you will have to be vulnerable and, sometimes, it will take time and effort. But just take the first step.”

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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