American society really likes the rugged individual, "go-it-alone" narrative in an attempt to describe how people should be, but humans aren't meant to spend significant amounts of time alone. We are social beings, and that need to be social — particularly with our peers — doesn't change when we have kids. If you haven't been diagnosed with postpartum depression, but you're feeling inexplicably sad, empty, or dissatisfied since becoming a mother, that's one of many signs you actually like motherhood, you're just lonely. Because we tend to live in isolated nuclear families instead of close-knit communities and extended family networks like people elsewhere in the world and in other time periods, becoming a parent can be an extraordinarily isolating experience.
There's no question that life with kids can be so rewarding and amazing. If that weren't true, none of us would choose to have them. However, relationships with kids tend not to be as mutually fulfilling as those with our peers, especially when our kids are very young, thanks to the huge disparity between what they can give you versus what they need from you. That's not a knock on kids at all; that's just the reality of the situation. They're young and dependent and they're not supposed to be our main source of human interaction (and parents aren't supposed to be kids' primary companions, either). Though that's common in our time and place, it's not the biological norm for adult humans to spend most or all of our time with just our own kids, without other adults for companionship and to help us care for them. However, because we know we're supposed to find motherhood so fulfilling, it can be confusing when we don't feel fulfilled by it. It's usually not because motherhood itself is the problem; it's because in our society, it's very easy for parents — especially mothers — to become socially isolated.
Some of the following signs may seem really obvious in print, but it's easy to get so absorbed in the day-to-day reality of keeping up with your child that you miss things that would have been obvious if you had the space to think about it. Having kids is an abrupt shift in a person's life, and once you figure out whatever routines you need to keep life moving with them, you may not realize that some of your adaptations have been really isolating until you're really used to them. But loneliness literally kills, so it's important for our mental and physical health to take care of our social lives. If the following signs apply to your life, then it's likely that motherhood is the right choice for you, you just need to break out of your social isolation.
You Get Really Sad Thinking About Alternatives To Your Current Situation...
This happened to me a lot, and still does from time to time. When I first started trying to decide whether I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom or put my son in daycare, I started to feel unbearably sad and anxious when I considered the thought of not spending my days with him. Not the normal level of sadness that all parents feel when they think about being apart from their kids/going back to work, but a crushing sense of grief that I've only felt after being told that a loved one was about to die.
For me, at that time, staying at home with my son was the obviously preferable choice, not because I thought I was "supposed to" as a mom, but because I personally couldn't bear to even imagine not doing so. If you can't bear to think of what life would be like without your kids (whether you're a SAHM or not), and you feel like your kids really do make you happy, that means on some level, you obviously like motherhood.
...But You Know That *Something* Needs To Change
At the same time, even though you clearly love and like your kids and enjoy spending time with them, something in your life just doesn't feel right. Things feel vaguely unsatisfying, or you feel restless or starved for certain aspects of your old life. Often, the thing that's unsatisfied is your human need to connect with other people besides your kids.
You Can't Remember The Last Time Another Adult Hugged You
Particularly when children are really young and want to be held a lot and/or you're breastfeeding a lot, it's common to feel touched out. While we all vary in our need for and comfort with being touched, all people need some affectionate touch. It's important to be touched in the course of expressing mutual affection and support, as in, not just when you're providing for your child's needs. If you can't remember the last time another adult hugged you, chances are your social and emotional needs aren't being met.
You Haven’t Left The House (Or Had Anyone Over) In A While
If it's been a while since you left the house, had guests over, or if you can't remember the last time you went anywhere besides work, loneliness might be an issue for you. Families are great, but we can't get all of our social and emotional needs met just by our partners (if we have them), and certainly not just from our kids. It's easy to get so caught up in your own routines that you overlook socializing, but it's really important to make time to see people who aren't in your immediate family.
You Can’t Remember The Last Time You Hung Out With Your Old Friends…
It's hard to keep up with your friends after you have kids, especially if they don't have children of their own. However, if you have close friends that you used to see all the time in person, but you now only see them via social media, you're probably missing some of the mental stimulation and emotional support they used to provide.
...Or Hung Out With Anyone Without Your Kid
Though it's great to get out and see people regardless of whether you do it by yourself or with your child, spending time with other people and your kid is often not as satisfying, if your child is still small enough (and/or the environment is unsafe enough) that you’re constantly looking after your kid instead of being able to focus on holding a conversation.
You Start Feeling (Extra) Awkward When You *Are* Around Other People
We're all a little awkward sometimes and in certain situations. But if your level of social awkwardness is all of a sudden even more noticeable to you, it might be because you're out of practice socializing with someone besides your child and their little playmates. (Luckily, other people are often more forgiving of our awkwardness than we think.) Spending more time with other people is the only way past this one.
You Don’t Regularly Get Dressed In “Real” Clothes Anymore
I am 100 percent here for yoga pants and leggings, and take pride in my "lazy mom bun." That being said, it's not always a good sign, as far as our social well-being is concerned, if we rarely have occasions to wear something beyond a comfy shirt and stretchy pants. Humans need more social interaction and stimulation than we can get just in our homes, or while out running errands, but if we're not getting dressed-dressed on at least a semi-regular basis, there's a good chance we're not doing much more than that.
You Depend On The Sound Of TV Or Radio For Background Noise
This was a big wake-up call for me. Once my husband went back to work and my son wasn't having super long nursing sessions (aka binge-watching opportunities) anymore, I started to feel weird not having Netflix streaming in the background. It was almost painful to contemplate not having something on, particularly on days when my husband was traveling. I soon realized I was missing the sound of other voices and the stimulation of conversation.
You Talk To People Via Social Media More Often Than You Do In Person
Social media has been part of my social life and my job for my entire and has been for my entire adult existence. I am a huge supporter of all social media, and believe strongly in its power as a tool, and can attest to the value and strength of relationships formed on and because of social media.
But no matter how many benefits social media can have, nothing can replace the importance of regular, in-person communication and physical touch. If our primary (or only) interaction with people outside of our families is via a screen, we need to find more ways to connect in real life. Our mental health depends on it.