By Eliza Henry-Jones
Isolation and loneliness are increasing problems for people in Australia, with one in four of us feeling lonely.
In fact, young, single parents are particularly at risk of social isolation, with 38 per cent of men and 18 per cent of women impacted.
Isolation and loneliness sometimes overlap but are separate issues.
Loneliness is a more subjective and personal experience, while isolation is more quantifiable – linking to how many people you interact with. For instance, you can be isolated by not lonely, or lonely but not isolated.
As parents – and people in our own right – it’s vital for us to find our village, the people who make up the fabric of our lives. Finding a village for ourselves and our children can be exhausting, difficult work.
One thing to keep in mind is that people don’t need to be in your life for hours every week to be important parts of your life. Think of the people in you and your children’s lives as a tapestry – even if people write a letter every few months, call once a fortnight or take your children out for a day in the school holidays, it all counts. It all adds up into something beautiful and vital.
Where have your friends come from?
Take a look at your friends – your village. Where did you make those friends? Perhaps you met them at school or grew up together because your parents were friends. Perhaps you met them at a book club or a car club or while playing sports. Perhaps you met them through mutual friends or perhaps you ran into each other at the doctor’s office and started chatting. Chances are, you’ve made friends before and you can definitely do it again.
Where do we learn how to make friends?
You’ve learnt a lot about making and maintaining friendships from your family. Are there similarities between how your parents conduct their social lives and how you conduct yours? Or do you seem to make friends in a way very distinct from your parents? It’s useful to reflect on where your approach to friendship comes from. Making friends and creating a village for yourself and your children is not only a wonderful thing to do short-term, it also shows children how to foster and maintain healthy friendships as they move into adulthood.
How can we make a village for our children and ourselves?
Be open. Notice the people around you and the ones that you interact with. Put down your phone/laptop/tablet and engage with the people around you. If people reach out to you, recognise it and (if you can) reciprocate. Go and have that cup of coffee; take your child for that play date at the park.
Be vulnerable. This doesn’t mean spilling all of your darkest secrets the moment you meet someone but it does mean putting yourself out there. Strike up conversations with people – they might be someone working at your local café, another parent at the school gate, someone who works with you. Ask them to grab a coffee with you.
Get out there. Love reading? Join a book club. Want to learn to sew? Go to a local community house. Have a child who loves swimming? Take them to the pool. Engage with your passions and your community.
Cyber-friends. Social media has been linked to our increasing sense of loneliness, but it can also help us to connect. Join Facebook groups, particularly local ones, and do a call-out for people who might like to catch up. Find other people who share your values or interests.
Don’t take things personally. If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, it’s easy to believe that people don’t want to spend time with you. If a parent at the school gate says they don’t have time to talk that day, remind yourself that it’s very unlikely to be about you. Everyone has a lot of things going on in their lives.
Reconnect. While there can be reasons we lose touch with people, sometimes it’s worth reconnecting. Reflect on the people you’ve been close to over the past few years and consider reconnecting with those who you’d like to see more of. This might be school friends, family or old neighbours.
Recognise. We’re all unique people. We might want friends who message us every day, or see us weekly, while other people might find that this is far too intense. People may not be able to support you or see you as often as you’d like, recognise that everyone has their own stories and lives and that, chances are, they’re doing the best they can.
Ask questions. Get to know people. Time is so precious, it’s a wonderful thing to spend your time actively listening to someone and asking about their lives.
Small things. Friendships need to be maintained. Send messages, write letters and make phone calls. Offer to pick up someone’s groceries if they’re sick, send a card on their birthday. Let people know you’re thinking of them however makes sense to you, even if you don’t have time for frequent catch-ups.