By: Dr. Jessica Kaffer, PsyD, PMH-C
Disclaimer: Solitude Deprivation can happen to anyone. Not just women in motherhood. Although this document includes the pronouns "she/her" and references "moms/motherhood" it is not meant to exclude any individual who takes on a parenting role, regardless of gender.
If you are on my email list, I recently linked a podcast from Cal Newport, where he talks about cell phone usage in children (episode 246 <-apple podcast link). It is informative, and I highly recommend taking a listen. But something he mentioned in his podcast made me take pause. He shared that the introduction of phones has created a solitude deprivation issue in our society.
You might be able to glean the basics of solitude deprivation just by putting the meaning of those two words together. But it is not simply about the lack of time alone. It goes deeper. Solitude deprivation occurs when someone is consistently deprived of moments of privacy, introspection, and personal reflection. It typically arises from a lack of opportunities or time for individuals to be alone with their thoughts, emotions, and personal experiences. Now sometimes there are opportunities for time alone with our thoughts but we do not capitalize on those moments and we instead indulge in busying ourself with apps on our phones. I wrote another blog on this you can read here if you’d like.
But this blog is not about social media or the attachments our society has to our phones. When I started thinking about solitude deprivation, the first thing that came to mind was…”Moms have been struggling with this for decades (or longer)!”
In early motherhood (which I classify as having children age 6 and under) moments of solitude rarely exist. It is a demanding and time-consuming period of life, leaving little room for personal space or alone time. Mothers often find themselves constantly engaged in childcare, household chores, and other responsibilities, which can lead to a sense of isolation (which is different than solitude) and a loss of personal identity. The constant presence and demands of children can make it challenging for mothers to find moments of peace and solitude to recharge and take care of their own well-being.
Things that get in the way of nurturing healthy moments of solitude:
When there are rare moments of being left alone, many factors can get in the way of effective solitude time. Sometimes there are interruptions by tiny humans or the level of burnout may be too high for productive self-reflection. Occasionally the brain can get caught in a loop of “must-do’s”, “should do’s”, or thoughts like "I wish I would have done differently". Our phones are another big offender. They can also impede quality time with self. Because moms are generally busy constantly managing the needs of others and fulfilling tasks, when there is a moment of solitude, it can feel..... unsettling. there is almost an urge or need to do SOMETHING and this is where your phone comes in (even when there is no real task to do).
There is also the guilt. So many moms have a difficult time reconciling the need for solitude while wondering if this need means they don’t love or want to be with their children. This is simply NOT TRUE. You can love your children with every ounce of your being, while also needing time to feel like a whole person who does not exist solely to care of others.
When solitude deprivation occurs, moms may feel overwhelmed, stressed, and emotionally drained. The lack of personal time can contribute to feelings of burnout and can negatively impact mental health.
What Solitude Deprivation is NOT:
There are moments where your brain is fried and even "thinking about thinking" feels too exhausting. That is ok. You do not have to spend all of your alone or quiet time in deep meaningful thought. Sometimes you do need moments where you space out and watch trash tv, read news articles about celebrity relationships, or scroll social media. You are not wrong for requiring moments where your brain wants to be entertained rather than put to work. But it is important to discern these moments, from moments of contemplative solitude. Both may be considered self-care but they are not the same.
That time alone for contemplation is important for mental and emotional well-being. It allows individuals to recharge, reflect, and have a break from external stimuli and responsibilities. Although distracting yourself with entertainment sources can help you feel relaxed as you disconnect from the stress of your day to day. It is not necessarily fulfilling. Intentional solitude can provide an opportunity for self-growth, introspection, and rejuvenation, which are essential for maintaining a healthy balance in life. It can help you feel more... whole.
So what can you do?
There is no day like today to give this a shot! First you have to find a moment to yourself. Away from the sounds and chaos of everyday. Find a relaxing position, it does not matter if you are sitting or lying down. You can even go for a walk, paint a picture, engage in a hobby solo. And just.... notice. Explore your thoughts.
Do you feel the urge to pick up your phone? If you do explore that. What is the motivator? What would you like to change about it?
Reflect on your feelings and what lead to them. Journaling is great for this as well. By noting how we are feeling and thoughts or experiences that lead us there, we get to know ourselves a little better.
Specifically for moms, adding grace into this practice is crucial. Overwhelmingly, mothers thoughts include themes of self-blame, shame, and guilt. As you explore your experiences and your behaviors, recognize yourself as an imperfect human-being. Tell yourself it is ok to make mistakes. Decide how you want to approach the situation differently in the future, and contemplate what that might look like. Growth occurs with mistakes, not perfection. And realistically, perfection does not exist.
It is important for mothers to prioritize self-care and carve out time for themselves. This may involve communicating their needs to their partners, family members, or support networks and finding ways to create pockets of solitude within their daily routines. It could be as simple as taking a few minutes each day for meditation, reading a book, or engaging in a hobby. It is basically an opportunity to let your brain work without outside guidance or distraction.
Mothers can also seek support from others, such as joining mother's groups or seeking professional help if needed. It is important for society to recognize the challenges faced by mothers and create a supportive environment that values and encourages self-care and solitude.
So remember... solitude is intentional. It is important. It is NOT isolation. It is NOT selfish.
It IS necessary.