Motherhood and Happiness: Social Connections and the Importance of Your Health

How is it possible to feel sad, anxious, alone and isolated when you are surrounded by babies crawling at your feet, tugging at your leg(gings) or physically attached at the breast? Well, news flash, it is.  There might be babies, toddlers or full-grown-human-children swirling around you at all hours of the day but a sense of unhappiness or lonely can still pull at us moms. 

Our neighborhood is loving dubbed ‘stroller city.’ A dense city in the heart of Silicon Valley, we are small enough to be quaint while big enough to be busy (and full of kids!). There are playgrounds brimming with children all year long, a public library that doubles as a hotspot for playdates at storytime, a popular children’s book store that is never empty, and a hopping youth center with music class, “gym class” and art classes around the clock. I could go on and on, but you get the point. It is ideal, really. 

Our house is, thankfully, walkable to all this stuff. Often, this means leaving our car parking in the garage most of the weekend. Our au pair helps out during the week, shuttling the kids to and fro parks, school, classes, and playdates by stroller only. The whole circustumance makes me happy, and is frankly, why we picked to live where we did. 

When we first moved into our own house, we didn’t know anyone in our new community yet and it took awhile to feel connected. That’s how it is for most people going through a transition to a new place, I presume. But unlike so many other areas around the country, we were blessed with a social infrastructure that lends itself to happiness and a sense of connection. My husband and I toss around the idea of “moving” as a distance pipedream – moving closer to family, somewhere less expensive, somewhere where we can have a big house, a playset of our own, a pool of our own, a two car garage! But the idea of moving somewhere else frightens me to the bone – I love California – the weather, the people, the culture, the climate, the outdoors – and – for our adopted hometown – the social infrastructure. 

On a recent episode of a great new podcast, America Dissected, the topic of social infrastructure and our health is explored – a topic I never really stopped to think about. This particular podcast is special to us because it is hosted by my husband’s good friend, Abdul El-Sayed. Abdul and his lovely wife have a daughter similar in age to our wee ones – while I am trying to just get to work on time without toddler sized hand prints of peanut butter smeared on my back, Abdul is one of the most accomplished people in our social circles – physician, epidemiologist, public health expert, and in 2018, Abdul ran for Governor of Michigan before writing a book and starting a podcast of his own. 

Abdul’s exploration of the concept of social infrastructure and our health (and happiness) has had my wheels turning for days. If you have read other posts in my blog, you may have already come across my share on maternity leave. Abdul’s take on social infrastructure influence on our health and happiness was a highlighter across my love for where we live – the social vibrantness of our community and the amazing places of public and public social events. Frankly, it makes me a happier person. 

But there was a dark period of time when I had my first son and I wasn’t quite connected in that way yet – alone and isolated with a new baby. Without a support system, without social connection, without places to go, people to talk to during those first few months as a new mom – life can feel heavy. There is depression, anxiety and physical pain we are managing, as well as a slew of other emotional, psychological and physiological challenges. Had I thought of this all prior, had I realized what I do now – I’d have set myself up better before the baby’s arrival. 

I know not everyone lives in a vibrant ‘stroller city’ and most of our country experiences extreme seasons which influences young family’s abilities to be outdoors and in public gathering places but there are plenty of ways you can find connection. And it’s important to us mom’s do connect, IRL with other humans, especially ones at similar stages as us. 

If you are expecting, recently had a child, or are still going through those early stages of raising young children, there are a few ideas to explore for social connection in your area: 

  • Ask your hospital or pediatrician about your local breastfeeding support groups – and go to them! They are more about the connection to other mother’s than it is just about the feeding part. 
  • Join your local mother’s or parent’s club – plenty of cities have these groups and you might not have even known it. 
  • Seek out parent’s / mother’s Facebook groups in your area – get activite in your group to suggest meet-ups, playdates, mom’s night out, etc. 
  • Attend infant classes prior to baby’s birth. CRP, how to swaddle, preparing for birth – whatever! Talk to other folks and do your best to be friendly and make connections with other expecting parents in your area
  • Attend infant / “mommy and me” classes – this is always an opportunity for conversation and perhaps even the formation of friendships
  • Find a walking buddy in your area for strollering around the neighborhood or getting together for coffee. Every social opportunity isn’t about groups but one on one relationships are the strongest! 
  • Join a book club – for the company and wine if not the books!
  • Start your own “club” – our girlfriends started a “cooking club”, which is really a monthly potluck with yummy wine and lots of chatting.
  • Take initiative in creating playdates in your circles 
  • Be proactive in cultivating an open dialogue with other parents at the park – exchange compliments, ask questions, exchange numbers
  • Attend seminars, speaker series or workshops in your area about topics you are interested in or parenting (like “Positive Parenting”)
  • Stop expecting connection to come to you, and to come easily. It takes proactiveness, effort and openness to form connections and relationships. Put yourself out there and put yourself out there early!