Most Parents Say They Feel Lonely and These May Be the Reasons

The majority of modern parents are lonely, according to a new survey. Here's what could be driving the epidemic.



Fact checked by Sarah Scott

Parents in 2024 might be the most companionless bunch of child-rearers ever. According to a new national survey conducted by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, more parents today are experiencing loneliness than not.

While it's not a huge surprise that modern parents are lonely—a wave of modern parents have been vocal about this epidemic on social media, often opening up about a lack of community in recent years—the numbers are still fairly staggering.

According to the new survey of more than 1,000 people, about two-thirds of parents (66%) said that parenting makes them sometimes or even frequently feel lonely. Likewise, 62% said they feel burned out by their parental obligations and 38% said they don't have support in their role as a parent.

Perhaps the most stunning statistic from the new research, however, is that a whopping 79% said they would value connections to parents outside their work and home lives. It's curious why so many parents feel disconnected from one another, especially when that isolation seems to be hurting them.

That being said, as a woman who became a mother at the relatively young age of 24, I personally relate to the feeling of going through parenthood largely alone. While I was at home tending to a newborn, my friends were out partying and, while many of them did their dutiful meet-the-baby visits, they largely phased out of my life at the point when I needed friendships the most.

When I did try to connect with old friends, I often felt like the happenings of new life weren't a preferred topic of conversation. No one wanted to hear about diaper changes or breastfeeding struggles. Mostly, that left me feeling lonely, anxious, and like I was battling through early parenthood without a friend to lend an ear.

A decade and a half later, I'm a single mom with two kids. Many of those former friends have since had kids around the same time and have, in turn, remained close—at least, it seems that way when their gatherings grace my social media feed.

However, looking back, there were a lot of factors, despite my age, that kept me isolated in my parenting journey, like the fact that money was always an issue and that I was navigating work with babies on my lap for many years. Later, just as I was the first to have a baby and get married, I also became the first to go through an isolating divorce. After that, as I rebuilt my life in ways that looked very different from most people I knew, I felt I had little in common with people I used to know, or perhaps, who used to know me.

Still, while it's easy to look at pictures on the internet and imagine that all the mothers I once knew have seemingly endless friendships, now, I wonder how much of the images I see online are real anyway. Maybe, as social media goes, they are just highlights, glimpses of get-togethers that aren't regular occurrences. After all, the new research suggests that the parental loneliness epidemic is extraordinarily far-reaching and the reasons for it can vary.

Why Are Parents Feeling So Lonely?

Jamie Sorenson, MD, a reproductive psychiatrist specializing in women and family issues, says she often speaks to mothers suffering from loneliness, and adds that young families living far from their parents is, in part, to blame.

"I think our generation was sold a dream that to be successful and happy we had to move to a big city with an important job and be incredibly independent," she tells Parents. "Now, so many of us, myself included, find that we are far away from family and support while raising children, which is a huge stressor putting us at risk for mental health problems."

Not only do many young parents live far from their families, but modern living is also wildly expensive. And even though more families have two working parents than ever (and more mothers of small children are working than ever), the cost of living in 2024 still presents challenges. Therefore, how we work and how much we work may be contributing to parental isolation.

Kate Gawlik, DNP, associate clinical professor and director of Undergraduate Health and Wellness academic programming at The Ohio State University College of Nursing, tells Parents that some of the survey's findings reflect post-pandemic isolation.

"Technology and the pandemic have had a lasting impact on the ways we live and work," she explains, noting that opportunities to meet other parents are few and far between, especially when so many of us work from home. "Many communities have experienced a breakdown in traditional social networks.”

Factors like "increased mobility, longer work hours, and suburbanization have weakened the sense of community in some areas,” adds Gawlik.

Then there’s social media. Gawlik says it can "exacerbate feelings of loneliness by fostering unrealistic comparisons with others." Furthermore, she says that while our endless connectivity online can make us feel like we are in touch, those connections are very "often superficial" and that the need for real-life, in-person connection persists. "These mechanisms often do not allow for deeper connections to occur; therefore, our basic human need for emotional intimacy cannot be met this way," says Gawlik.

Also, families who are struggling financially may find they have less time to focus on friendship because they may be working long hours, multiple jobs, or balancing work and kids at the same time.

Building Small Connections Counts

As both a single mother and a mother who was always working and caring for children simultaneously when they were young, I certainly relate. While I'd hope modern parents would have more connection than I did when my kids were young, statistically speaking, it doesn't seem like that's the case.

Connection is so deeply important for so many reasons—for mental health, happiness, and feeling understood and less overwhelmed. Loneliness is linked to depression, anxiety, and suicide, while poor social relationships can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But for so many, connection is just not a part of their day-to-day life. Finding a local parent group, setting up a playdate, or even engaging in an extracurricular activity can help.

These days, I have a handful of friends I talk to somewhat regularly. And I find that, given everyone seems too busy to commit to plans, spontaneity often works best. A last-minute text invites a friend to meet me for coffee when I'm in her neighborhood or join me on a walk. Even the occasional girl's night comes together the day of.

But I also talk to strangers more now. I don't take for granted grocery store conversations or passing "good mornings," especially when those may be the only chances to talk to adults all day. Sometimes, I say yes to invites even when I'm feeling burned out and just want to curl up on the couch because when isolation becomes your normal, you have to remind yourself to break the pattern.

It takes time and effort to build connections, or even maintain them. And for so many, that time is not of the essence. That's not the fault of modern parents. It's a reflection of what society demands of them.

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Read the original article on Parents.