Lonely and isolated: Study found parents lack support in their role

  • Family
  • Friday, 17 May 2024

Exhaustion, isolation, loneliness: Parents feel a lack of support to help them thrive in their day-to-day lives. — AFP

PARENTS believe that they lack the support they need to feel more fulfilled in their role, according to a new study by American researchers into the mental health and well-being of men and women with children. In particular, they found that parenthood can be a source of isolation and loneliness, as well as exhaustion.

Researchers at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center have reported the results of their latest survey of American parents, revealing that most respondents feel isolated, exhausted and alone. “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,” said Anne Helms, a mother of two young children in Columbus, Ohio, quoted in the survey’s news 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?’”

Among the main findings of the survey, the researchers report that two-thirds of parents surveyed see the demands of parenthood as a source of isolation and loneliness, and that over 60% say they feel burned out by these responsibilities.

“Loneliness has been shown to affect both your physical and mental health. 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,” explains Kate Gawlik, associate clinical professor at The Ohio State University College of Nursing, a researcher on parental burnout and a mother of four young children.

A way to connect

The survey also reveals that an overwhelming majority of parents surveyed (79%) would value a way to connect with other parents outside of work and home.

Nearly four in ten respondents (38%) feel that they are not supported in their role as parents – a finding that Gawlik did not take lightly, as the researcher founded a six-week parenting programme inviting parents to share their daily worries and challenges, and find support and reassurance.

“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 said.

This sentiment is shared by Helms: “I think it equips us to create better futures for our children; I think it makes us healthier. 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.”

To alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation, Gawlik recommends looking for online parent groups, but not only.

Parents could also look for book clubs, playgroups or recreational sports leagues, for example, which enable everyone to break out of this isolation, connect with other parents and potentially go on to organise further meetups. – AFP Relaxnews

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