Motherhood can be lonely. It’s ironic when you think about it because our days are jam-packed with our people and our schedules. Even though most mothers pine for a little “me time,” a respite from the chaos, we are still left with a sense of disconnection. Our relationships matter, our primary ones especially. Marriage and parenthood are the majority stockholders of our brain (and heart), and extended family, work, and a few casual coffee dates soak up the rest. But it can feel isolating when you’re in the muck and mire of full-time caregiving. Social connectedness isn’t a luxury for any of us; it is a need for men, women, and children alike. Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an expert in social connectedness, equates a lack of social relationships to smoking fifteen cigarettes daily, making isolation more harmful than alcoholism or obesity. But why are social relationships so crucial to our well-being? More importantly, what do we have to give up to get this connectivity? The answer is startling: nothing.
I met Mona in the McDonald’s drive-thru over a decade ago. I was on Weight Watchers, and a zero-point, one-dollar tea could stave off starvation for half a morning. So I became a regular, and Mona served up my sustenance with a smile. When a new Kroger opened down the street, Mona was there too, working the checkout register with fidelity. I found myself intentionally waiting in her line as she pragmatically cared for each customer. What began as a recognition evolved into familiarity, then amicable acquaintanceship, casual conversation, and eventually friendship. Over the years, Mona has witnessed our family grow, peeking at tiny new cherub faces in pumpkin seats, chuckling at our checkout toddler tantrums, noticing when our kids started school, watching them leave for college, and asking about them when they were gone. We shared in Mona’s life too. We prayed through her health scare and comforted her when she lost her husband. We celebrated the beautiful results of her long-awaited oral surgery and commiserated over our adulting kids. Mona gets our Christmas card. Mona gets my gratitude. Mona gets us, and we are lucky to get her.
What has this gift of relationship cost? Nothing, not one thing. Mona meets us where we are… quite literally. She offers practical help by fulfilling our needs at the store, and I provide a compassionate ear when she simply needs to vent. I value Mona, and I want her to feel it. Like all healthy social relationships, it’s a well-oiled mechanism of receiving and giving care. But in the case of Mona and me, we find camaraderie in ten-minute snippets once (or twice or three times) a week as we unload, scan, and bag. Humans are meant to live in community. It is natural, instinctive, and important – not to mention calming. Living in community with others allows us to practice caring behaviors which in turn releases stress-reducing hormones. It feels good to show empathy, and it feels good to receive it. A simple relationship can provide encouragement. It can make us feel seen or heard. Connectedness lowers anxiety and depression while building up self-esteem. Best of all, it is waiting right where we are – whether in the checkout line or the places and faces we see daily.
The simple lesson is this. We don’t necessarily need lifelong best friends to be in a quality relationship. We can sow or harvest the rewards in dozens of unsuspecting places. So, if you feel lonely, mama, I encourage you to find social connectedness in all the places you already are. It is a mutually beneficial gift that requires no equipment, no strict regime or rules, no money, and almost no effort. Connect. Find a new friend. I’m so glad Mona is one of mine.