Everyone has heard the phrase, "Being a mother is a blessing," but motherhood is so much more than that: it's a challenge, an adversity, a mix of emotional ups and downs.
In the "Need to connect" project, partner organisations from 7 European countries have undertaken the mission to learn more about the feelings of loneliness and lack of support that are common among young mothers and to create a programme to help them overcome these difficulties.
The fact is that the initial period of motherhood and maternity leave in specific can be difficult. During that period, for the first time in her life, a woman not only takes on a new role, that of mother, but also has to completely rearrange her priorities, in some cases even giving up her previous roles as a learner or a working person. For some young mothers, this leads to a strong sense of confusion, loneliness and feeling unsupported.
A survey by the British Red Cross found that over 8 in 10 mothers (83%) under the age of 30 experience feelings of loneliness at some time, and 43% said they felt lonely throughout their maternity leave.
If we do a quick search on online search engines for 'loneliness of mother' we will find that there are thousands of materials and posts from young mothers questioning whether what they are feeling is normal; admitting that although they love their baby, they can't shake the feeling of loneliness and are often overwhelmed by motherhood - feelings that cause them a lot of guilt.
The research we did in the Need to connect partner countries of Bulgaria, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Slovenia showed us that while all countries have realistic, practical and accessible structures in place for maternal and infant physical health, many of the necessary support measures are still lacking.
First, the maternity/paternity leave laws in different countries conceptualise motherhood in different ways and are applied differently. This means that in some countries early motherhood is something that is shared between genders and/or is done by both parents of the baby regardless of their gender, whilst in others, it is interpreted and lived as a gendered activity left to mothers, which can feel rather lonely and difficult.
Second, most young mothers feel they have support networks through their families, friends and communities, however, a significant percentage of young mothers do not feel they have any support network. It is therefore vital to think of community structures and online platforms to reach out to those women and provide the necessary supports.
Third, helping mothers to combine their professional activities and childcare are still failing in most places at least to a degree. There are not enough affordable state childcare facilities and even in countries where the system works comparatively well, there are significant gaps.
Finally, and most importantly, the supports around the emotional side of motherhood are sorely missing in ALL partner countries. The above research has revealed that what the young mothers need is: help transitioning into motherhood in terms of their own emotional response to motherhood, their identity, navigating intense and often toxic societal pressures of being a mother, the cyber space, critically assessing the helpful and accurate information from spam, navigating conflicting demands and expectations on mothers, and help understanding the harmfulness of intense mothering. The Need to Connect project partners will develop the supports to young mothers based on the outcomes of this research.
The full version of the Need to connect Project Research report you can download here